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Bringing Intranet Radio out From the Shadows

Corporate radio is nothing new, but it’s reemerging as an effective way to engage and communicate with employees

Intranet managers have turned to video as a dynamic way to communicate with internal teams, via enterprise video channels and live streaming of events.  

Yet businesses are exploring another communication option, one with a rich and varied history within corporations — the “intranet radio” station. 

Remember, just because video has the spotlight doesn’t mean that intranet radio isn’t happening. 

Grassroots Radio at IBM

For example, Cale Guthrie Weissman recently wrote about IBM’s intranet-based radio station. IBM Radio broadcasts from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days, is live streamed, and features a mix of employee-centered programming including call-ins, discussion panels and interviews with senior management. 

Approximately 5,000 people tune in from across the global IBM network. While that number may sound modest given the size of IBM’s workforce, it’s not insignificant either, as the IBM station is a bottom-up rather than top-down initiative. 

The station emerged from a group of designers in Austin, with common radio or creative experience, seeking to share reflections on work. The station has now spread across different offices and appears to have no roots in internal communications.

Corporate Radio Has History

Corporate radio stations are nothing new. Retailers have branded “radio stations” piped into stores for customers to listen to, and hospital radio has been around for many years. But these focus on the external or public world.

United Biscuits in the U.K. operated its own corporate radio station in the ’70s (hat tip Alex Singleton) which piped music and relevant safety announcements across four factories. The station employed both DJs and newscasters, some who went on to be household names in the U.K., like Dale Winton. You can listen to a documentary of the station in action, as the DJs dedicate records to the ”part-timers on the digestive creams” and newscasters deliver safety announcements in the style of cheesy ’70s commercial radio. 

Workers couldn’t turn the radio off as it was piped throughout the factory over loud speakers, so if you hated top 40 music you might have had a bit of an issue. However, it must have meant a lot to management as it looks as if the company invested significant money in the project.

With the growth of intranets from the late ’90s, the possibility of stations broadcasting inside the workplace were given a new lease of life. There are examples of products and offerings from the early noughties which facilitated internal radio, and today there are a few other examples of intranet radio stations. These take on a number of different forms and have slightly different objectives. 

The Many Faces of Intranet Radio

Driving an occasional audio-only broadcast

Occasional webcasting via the intranet or similar channels is commonplace but leans towards video coverage, perhaps from a live event. However, video is not always ideal because some stakeholders may be uncomfortable appearing on camera and it requires specific equipment. 

An occasional audio-only broadcast offers a valid alternative. 

For example Orange’s subsidiary in Amman, Jordan runs something called Orange Radio, a weekly live audio broadcast with some interactive features (comments via SMS) which the company makes available over the intranet. 

Another “occasional” station is the idea of rebranding podcasts as a “radio station” in the same way corporate video platforms are often branded as “TV” channels. With the growth of on-demand radio and broadcasting the walls are breaking down between what’s a podcast and a recording of something originally streamed.

Taking advantage of streaming music

It’s now commonplace to see office workers listening to streaming music services such as iTunes and Spotify with headphones on and working, a situation which would not have been acceptable in many organizational cultures until relatively recently. 

For businesses where staff members already listen to individual music while working, a corporate radio station which combines music and announcements (similar to the United Biscuits Network) may be an opportunity. The internal communications team at TripAdvisor actively considered this a few years ago.  

Reaching non-office workers

Internal communications still faces the significant challenge of communicating with frontline staff who aren’t desk-based, for example factory or retail employees. Mobile apps is the current solution proffered, but radio provides an intriguing route to reach this demographic.

This was the original inspiration of the original United Biscuits Network, but organizations like Gazpromneft Aero, a subsidiary of the Russian energy giant, launched a 24 hour corporate radio station broadcasting to all subsidiaries in 2013. According to the company, “Every day the radio broadcasts current news and important events in the lives of the workforce.”

Engaging those involved

The resulting employee engagement is one of intranet radio’s positive outcomes. For example, the IBM Radio project involved what appeared to be enthusiasts who participated on a voluntary basis. London-based PR company Ogilvy & Mather Group UK launched its own pop-up radio station featuring employees which broadcast to an external audience. 

To be honest, in this case the point of the station is lost on me, but it looks to have engaged those involved in creating and delivering their own shows. 

Radio Is a Sound Salvation

I have a feeling there’s more “intranet radio” out there than we expect. If you know of any other examples, I’d love to hear from you. Even though radio or audio-only broadcasts may feel old-fashioned, they can provide another option for internal communicators in their overall portfolio of channels. Perhaps radio is the future after all.

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant and writer based in the UK. He focuses on intranets, collaboration, social business, KM and the digital workplace.


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