Tuning into the small screen

Radio stations are rebranding to reflect their commitment to digital technology and interactive content, says Scott Billings

Knocking around now for more than 100 years, radio is the oldest of modern communication technologies. It is perhaps unexpected then, that the medium is experiencing something of a resurgence, thanks to new media channels delivering content that is both richer and more portable than ever before. Largely screen-based, new media demands of radio a strong visual presence to support its audio output. Or, to reprise an old adage, stations must increasingly provide a face for radio.

Many of these new technologies play straight to radio’s strengths: interactivity and audience participation are very much à la mode and radio is a live medium with great flexibility built in. The two go hand-in-hand effectively, as illustrated by Radio 1’s heavy on-air push towards the station’s website, SMS texting and e-mail. Webcams show live coverage from the studio on-line and a large proportion of programming is now centred on listeners’ contributions. And as the drive to screen media converts ears to eyeballs, visual branding becomes ever more important.

‘You have to be able to communicate on-line and through podcasts now,’ says Ron Cregan, director at Navyblue Design Group, which has just designed a series of identities for Hungarian public service radio operator Magyar Radio. ‘This move from ears to eyes has very much increased the power of radio. Opportunities to listen have increased dramatically and the brand therefore becomes more important.’

It is against this backdrop that the BBC has just launched redesigned visual identities for each of its national radio stations, created by the design department of advertising agency Fallon. Gilda Witte, head of portfolio marketing for the BBC’s audio brands, says that the growth of digital media is the main driver behind the decision to redesign the stations’ identities, but another requirement was to create a coherent family portfolio for the first time. ‘Previously, all the brands would rarely appear together, but now they do, in things like podcast Web pages and possible future mobile activity. So we need a consistency and clarity across the portfolio, while retaining sufficient individual character for each of the stations,’ she explains.

Fallon’s concepts for the branding were deemed the best when the agency took part in a BBC roster pitch for the work against screen design consultancies Red Bee Media and Lambie-Nairn and branding groups The Partners and Wolff Olins. According to Fallon designer Jamie Craven, the existing logos didn’t work ‘as hard as they could’ in the digital space and these needed to be addressed. ‘Radio 1 and 1Xtra worked better, partly as a reflection of their younger audiences [using technologies]. So we used these as the basis of how we evolved the other brands,’ says Craven.

Each identity has to render legibly and effectively across a scale range, sweeping from the 16-pixel wide ‘favicon’ symbols (which appear next to Web addresses in a browser), all the way to outdoor hoarding for events such as Radio 1 festivals. ‘At the scale of the favicon, there is a level of simplicity imposed on the logos; you get a sense of them at this size,’ says Craven.

A collection of two-dimensional, scalable vector graphics provides the visual toolkit for each station and also lends a coherent feel to branding across the whole set. Most of the stations’ graphic devices rely on bold, simple lines, circles or curves. Selected typefaces are well-tested ‘classics’, chosen to future-proof the identities as much as possible: Radio 3 uses Sabon, 6 Music takes Akzidenz-Grotesk and Asian Network has Futura, for example.

Although certainly the highest profile radio branding job we are likely to see for a while, BBC Radio is not the first broadcaster to look at how its visual identity might need to be adapted to work on new platforms. Emap dance music brand Kiss relaunched its branding last year in an attempt to integrate all the platforms that the Kiss format inhabits – radio, television and on-line. Odd, the design consultancy behind the work, was charged with transforming Kiss from a radio brand into a broader entertainment brand and also chose a bold, simple graphic form as the primary logo.

The rising prominence of radio’s visual style, along with the inevitable convergence of media platforms, perhaps starts to blur the lines between radio, television and any other type of on-line or digitally delivered content. However, Witte maintains that the distinction is still there for the BBC. ‘We are not trying to be television stations, even though radio is now both visual and audio,’ she says.

Dom Castley, marketing director of Korero, a marketing agency working with global digital television technology company NDS, says that vitality and flexibility are even more key for radio identities than TV brands. ‘Most radio logos are derivative and quite boring and one of the most successful on-screen identities, one that’s been very flexible and constantly changing, is MTV – effectively a visual radio station,’ he says. ‘The idea of just having radio logos that you can scale to small screens is past tense: we’re going to see full Web browsers on phones very soon and broadcasters need to adapt to these delivery technologies. They need to be much smarter about things like iTunes, digital TV and podcasts. There’s a lot to compete against and they can’t be static or fixed.’

• Desire for interaction and audience participation is driving radio listeners on-line and to mobile devices where radio brands must compete with other media
• These delivery platforms are forcing radio visual identities to work harder, as ears are converted to eyes and stations become entertainment brands
• Branding must be graphically bold and simple in order to scale to a range of applications
• BBC Radio is now starting to roll out new visual identities for its family of national stations, created by Fallon

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