Why is this SA radio legend betting big on personality-driven streaming apps?

Memeburn readers of a certain age might remember blasting their radios to the latest dance hits in preparation for a big night out. And if you were listening to one of those stations in particular, chances are the person mixing those tracks was Derek — aka “The Bandit” — Richardson. Now working at an ad agency on the Isle of Man, Richardson is also one of a handful of high-profile South African radio personalities throwing their weight behind a suite of genre-driven streaming apps.

Powered by South African media giant Kagiso, Richardson’s app is called Databass and features a mix of progressive house, trance, deep house, EDM, chill and techno.

The app, which is free, doesn’t just feature tracks curated by Richardson, but also mixes from up-and-coming DJs. It’s clear however that Richardson is the driving force, and dominant voice behind the app.

That’s something that excites him, especially as someone who always found the management-driven playlists of traditional radio stations incredibly frustrating.

That’s not to say that Richardson doesn’t respect the power of traditional radio — he still has guest slots on East Coast Radio and Mix.fm. But he has always been intrigued by what digital has to offer. He was, after all, the first radio DJ in South Africa to livestream his shows online and he’s maintained a consistent online presence since leaving the mainstream radio space. An app was, therefore, the next logical step.

But it had to be the right kind of app, built with the right partners.

And that’s where Travis Bussiahn and the team at Kagiso Media came in.

Like Richardson, Bussiahn has always been intrigued with the impact digital can have on traditional broadcast radio. Originally a radio producer, he also founded an award-winning radio blog with Daryl Ilbury — another big name in the South African radio space.

Today Bussiahn is a media consultant and strategist. He’s also the driving force behind Radiant City, a suite of radio personality-driven apps of which Databass is the first and most high-profile.

According to Bussiahn, the idea for the app suite came about when Kagiso’s Media’s Nick Grubb and Kevin Fine started thinking about the listening patterns of the future. And the more they thought about it, the more they thought about the advantages of traditional radio.

“All about the talent”

While algorithm-controlled streaming apps are very clever at helping people find new music, there’s something to be said for the strong human element that can be found in radio. People don’t just listen to the radio for the music, they also listen for the familiar personalities of the DJs, topical conversation, and that all-important blend of music and information.

They’re not the only ones to have had that insight of course. It’s the reason Apple Music launched with Beats 1, a live radio station dedicated entirely to music and music culture. Broadcast live to over 100 countries, from day one the station was led by a slew of big names, including DJs Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London.

The other big trend at the moment is for niche streaming apps, as evidenced by companies such as South African startup Nichestreem.

In a way, the Radian City suite of apps sits pretty neatly between those two trend bases, but its focus on personalities is what really sets it apart.
“We’re zigging while everyone else zags,” Bussiahn told us in an interview. “It really is all about the talent”.

That, he said, was crucial in bring Richardson onboard. With Databass, he told us, Richardson “can be fully into the genre and his space.” The same is true of Barney Simon and Jane Linley-Thomas — two of the earliest DJs to come onboard.

The money question

While giving these DJs the freedom they’ve always wanted is totally laudable, there’s no guarantee that the apps will make money. While Bussiahn says a few ideas have been thrown when it comes to advertising offerings, the focus over the next six months is growth.

What is clear however is that the personalities behind the apps will have a large degree of control when it comes to monetisation.

“Derek’s not going to advertise Pampers,” Bussiahn told us.

Another option is to borrow from the world of podcasts and use promo codes, which act as trackable events. Richardson is particularly excited about this, especially as it would allow the radio personalities to bring in advertisers that better represent their niches.

This also mitigates issues around getting reliable listener numbers, something which has dogged the online radio industry for some time now.

An “amazing wall of sound”

If that commercial model does pay off, then the ultimate vision for the app suite could come to fruition.

According to Bussiahn, the ultimate goal is to have a platform that’s open to everyone and create “this amazing wall of sound 24/7”, all accessible through a central app. And while Bussiahn believes that the app suite has plenty of potential as a standalone app, he reckons that it’ll come into its own in the car. There, he says, it’ll act like like the buttons on current car stereos, which allow drivers to switch between stations.

As data prices fall, and sophisticated car tech becomes increasingly affordable, it’s probably a realisable goal. That said, consumer apps in the South Africa have never had it easy, so however exciting a suite off apps like Databass with names like Derek “The Bandit” might be, there’s no doubt it faces an uphill battle.

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