Radio New Zealand aims to get down with the multimedia kids with launch of The Wireless

Radio New Zealand is pretty popular with the oldies and, according to Nielsen, it was the top rating station in the country last year. But its role is to appeal to all New Zealanders, so it’s aiming to do just that with the launch of its new youth-focused multimedia brand, The Wireless. 

“Radio New Zealand has a charter to produce programming for all New Zealanders and they know that they haven’t been reaching as many young New Zealanders as they should,” says project manager Marcus Stickley. 

The project has been in development since last year but he started in April and he says there have been many questions over the past few months about what form this youth project would take. Many assumed it would be another radio station, or possibly a streaming service. But he says it looked closely at what stories weren’t being told and how youth were consuming media and, in an age of convergence, it felt an online hub where various forms of content, whether audio, video or textual, could be housed, was the best option. 

“Online you can tell stories any way you want,” he says. “And the internet is really visual, so it’s quite a departure for Radio New Zealand … It’s about upholding the quality storytelling that Radio New Zealand is known for. So we abide by its guidelines and policies. But were applying that in a new way and reaching out to a new generation. We’re trying not to be strict in terms of age demographics, but it’s aimed at 18-30-year-olds. 

As such, he says “it’s about having a young voice and letting young voices be heard”. Everyone in the team of four (Stickley, Lena Hesselgrave, Elle Hunt and Megan Whelan) is under the age of 35, and they all have varied journalistic backgrounds. 

This is also another step in the evolution of the public broadcaster. Prior to this job, Stickley, 32, was night editor at Fairfax-owned stuff.co.nz, so he knows a bit about big, well-established entities trying to transition into a multi-media environment. And he says it’s going to be the same for Radio New Zealand.

It has already started on that journey, of course, overhauling its archiving system, launching iOS and Andorid apps and clocking in with some impressive online numbers (15 million page impressions and 3.6 million programme downloads a year). The online archive, currently housing more than 130,000 items, is growing at a rate of 25,000 audio items a year. And the growth in digital listening hasn’t cannibalised its on-air audience, even though it had expected to see a decline (about 25 percent of traffic comes from outside the country, roughly proportionate to the number of Kiwis living abroad). 

Stickley says the web team of around seven at Radio New Zealand does a great job, but he believes radio in general has been slower in getting into the convergence space than other media, possibly because radio, unlike the internet, isn’t a visual medium. 

But he says he has been given a pretty loose leash to “create what we felt was right” and he says the executive and editorial teams have been extremely supportive of the project.

“Far and away the response has been very positive and in some areas there’s a real thirst for trying out new things. I’ve been really impressed with the level of support down through all the layers of the organisation. [New chief executive Paul Thompson, who arrived from a senior role at Fairfax and replaced the long-serving Peter Cavanagh] has been hugely supportive of the project.”

He says it is working closely with journalists and producers and they’re both learning from each other (for example, project coordinator Hesselgrave is leading a video training group, which is the kind of capability the organisation wants to build, and the youth team is helping to shoot video for the music team. And some of the ‘traditional’ Radio New Zealand content will also feature on The Wireless, or its news section Shortwave, where appropriate). 

“This is just the starting point. We’re running a marathon.” 

In its initial research he says it found the younger target audience often finds out about stories through their social networks, so it’s aiming to create high-quality, “very spreadable stories and social media is a huge part of that.” 

Interestingly, the mobile-first, responsively-designed site doesn’t allow comments (recently Popular Science stopped its comment function because it deemed them bad for science) as he says it doesn’t have the staff required to moderate them. But it wants to run forums in the future and hopes to push the debate through its social media channels like Facebook and Twitter

It’s also looking at running a few entertaining and educational live events to “engage with the audience in the real world” and the first of those is a panel discussion at Galatos on 14 November.

So, given Radio New Zealand has had a funding freeze since 2009 (Radio NZ has received $31.8 million in New Zealand on Air funding since the 2009/10 decision year), where did it find the money for this project?

Stickley wouldn’t say what the project has cost to develop, but Cavanagh said a few months back that it has made significant cost savings recently in operational areas (for example, Stickley says purchasing the source code for its digital production system has saved an estimated $100,000 in license fees).

Speaking of money, what about the possibility of sponsorship, advertising or donation drives? Is this something Radio New Zealand should consider, particularly for a channel like this?

“We’ve found through our research that being non-commercial means that our audience views us as having a higher level of integrity … As a journalist who has worked in commercial media, I can see how being free from commercial imperatives might be seen as a luxury, but all news organisations in New Zealand, including Radio New Zealand, are having to work under very tight budget constraints these days. The Wireless is an independent non-commercial outlet dedicated to empowering and informing young New Zealanders. We’ll be providing them with journalism that can’t be found elsewhere and encouraging informed debate. This service has an important role to play in our society, and being able to do that free from commercial imperatives shouldn’t be seen as a luxury.”

Radio New Zealand worked with Wellington-based web design agency Experience and the branding was done by Clemenger BBDO. Stickley says it is going to do some advertising to promote the site, and the plan for that is currently being finalised. 

Here’s Stickley’s mission statement from the website:

Here we are on day one. Finally, out in the big wide world. We made it.

Work on the The Wireless, as you see it now, began about six months ago on the fourth floor of Radio New Zealand House.

Four people who didn’t really know what they were signing up for got together to decide what a “youth online project” should be.

We came up with a vision, developed a strategy and what you’re seeing on the site now is the start of our plan.

The Wireless aims to produce inspiring, insightful and entertaining stories for New Zealanders who have grown up in the digital age.

Our work was born out of idea of a youth radio network, which has been kicked around in New Zealand for the past 20 years.

But the time for a radio network has passed. We live in an age where you can tell a story anyway you want on one platform – the internet.

You’re going to find stories told in video, photos, audio and text. Some will be told in two types of media, some will be told in all four, or maybe even more depending on where technology takes us.

Every month we’ll be producing stories under a theme, and each week on a topic as part of that theme [the launch theme is money]. 

Our first theme is Free. We chose it because we’re a free service, here purely to tell stories for and about New Zealanders who have grown up in the digital age.

And our first topic is Free: Money. We’ll be looking at issues around debt, savings and how you can plan for your financial future. 

Our website has been designed with mobile phones in mind, as well as tablets, laptops and desktops.

What you see today is the result of the work of dozens of people – and the support of even more. Every one of them deserves a massive thank you.

This is just the beginning, and if you want to play a part in future of The Wireless get in touch. We want to hear from writers, videographers, photographers, designers and courageous thinkers.

And here’s the FAQ document: 


THE WIRELESS delivers something different. THE WIRELESS is an online innovation from Radio New Zealand. Taking a multimedia approach, the website will target the interests and issues of an audience that has grown up in the digital age. Radio Zealand is taking its informative, insightful and entertaining storytelling to a new generation.

Where did the idea come from?

Radio New Zealand has been developing this concept of a youth network for several years because New Zealanders under the age of 30 do not currently have access to quality public service radio broadcasting relevant to their age, lifestyle and interests, which older listeners take for granted.

So why is this not a youth radio network?

Radio New Zealand does not have the resources to provide a full public broadcasting service targeting younger listeners. Even if the national radio frequencies were available, the cost to produce high quality audio content on a 24/7 basis, along with power and transmission charges, would be prohibitive.

However, there’s a more significant reason – as audience research shows a clear and increasing trend of non-engagement with traditional broadcast media among those under 30.

Nielsen focus group research undertaken for the development of the youth online website confirms these trends – as every participant confirmed that their lives are significantly online, and that the single piece of technology which is most important to them is their smartphone.

What is the purpose of THE WIRELESS?

Despite New Zealand having one of  the most deregulated media markets in the world, there is a gap in what is provided for people aged from 18-30: high-quality, impartial, public service content targeted to the interests of this group, and delivered in a way which suits the way they prefer to consume media.

It might be argued that people in this younger age group are among those in greatest need of accurate, reliable news and information which comes with no strings attached.

Who is it aimed at?

Our audience is defined more by a stage of life than a strict age group. They feel they are still trying to find their place in the world and have a number of major life decisions ahead of them. They are less likely to have bought a house, married and/or had children. Loosely, they fall between the ages of 18 and 30. However, anyone of any age can appreciate great storytelling.

Why Radio New Zealand?

Radio New Zealand already provides innovative broadcasting services for a full range of age groups, however audience research shows our current services (including Radio New Zealand National, which has extremely high levels of audience satisfaction, and audience share) do not always appeal to a younger demographic.

Radio New Zealand has long argued that there is a pressing need for a national youth network underpinned by the values and objectives of quality non-commercial public service broadcasting.

We have the skills and background to produce authoritative, engaging content which can be trusted and shared readily by New Zealanders aged 18 – 30. Content will be delivered in a style and language that is relevant to that audience.

How is this different to what you can already view online at www.radionz.co.nz?

THE WIRELESS will explore stories in depth, with each month dedicated to a theme and each week exploring a topic as part of that theme.

We’ll be delivering multimedia content – writing, photos and video, as well as audio.

Content will be underpinned by the same editorial policies that apply to all Radio New Zealand services.  Being a source of trustworthy information, free of commercial imperatives is a keystone for this project.

Who is creating the content?

THE WIRELESS is produced by a team of four.

Project leader Marcus Stickley has spent most of his journalism career working in digital media. Prior to joining Radio New Zealand to set up The Wireless he was the night editor of Stuff.co.nz. He cut his teeth as a news reporter at The Nelson Mail and has had major stories published in all of New Zealand’s daily metropolitan newspapers.

Senior producer Megan Whelan is a highly experienced radio journalist. Over the past several years she has worked as a reporter for both Radio New Zealand News and Radio New Zealand International.

Producer Elle Hunt was named the Junior Magazine Feature Writer of the Year in 2011 Canon Awards.  While studying, Elle worked for the student magazine, Salient.  She held several roles, including chief feature writer and co-editor.  After graduating, Elle worked as a journalist for The Dominion Post.

Project co-ordinator Lena Hesselgrave started at Radio New Zealand in 2012 working in the scheduling department for Radio New Zealand Concert. Prior to joining Radio New Zealand, she worked in advertising as a video producer and campaign specialist. She trained as a classical pianist at the New Zealand School of Music and during her studies contributed to student media in New Zealand and the UK. She brings valuable technical and organisational expertise to the team.

We also have four blogs

Adam Goodall and Hugh Lilly will be covering film and television.

Ally Garrett will provide social commentary.

Amber Craig is our resident technology geek.

Jamie Wall and Zoe Ferguson take on issues in sport.

Emma Smith and the Radio New Zealand Music 101 team will provide an insight into the music industry.

How is it funded?

THE WIRELESS is owned and funded by Radio New Zealand.

Radio New Zealand’s funding has been capped for the past five years but cost savings and reallocation of existing budgets have allowed us to develop this cutting edge project.

At the time of the launch of THE WIRELESS, an announcement will be made about a significant stage of content being curated under the Fresh Voices strand, giving exposure to a generation that is not often heard in the mainstream media exploring matters of concern to those in the same age range.

How does the project fit in with the rest of Radio New Zealand?

THE WIRELESS is another service of Radio New Zealand to complement Radio New Zealand National, Radio New Zealand Concert and Radio New Zealand International. The difference is that instead of being a radio station, we’re an online platform.

We’ll be producing some radio content, which will be broadcast on other Radio New Zealand stations as well as being published on thewireless.co.nz.

We’ll also be working closely with other Radio New Zealand journalists to develop stories on-air and online.

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