The Radio Connection

The Radio Connection

Despite all the audio choices available, my last road trip was spent listening to local radio station faves in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. How does this align with the perception that broadcast radio has lost much of its impact?

Does Broadcast Radio Have a Future?

2001 was supposed to be a bad year for broadcast radio. It was the year the US consumer was introduced to Apple’s iPod and XM satellite radio, both of which represented “pivotal” technological advances and direct competition to consumer’s share of ear. Since then, we’ve seen the introduction and rise of many other options for audio consumption that are not at all tied to the world of AM/FM radio. They include personalized digital streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, podcasts, and smart speakers. What does all of this mean for the future of this medium?

Overall Reach: Perception vs. Reality

Numerous platforms can be utilized to reach the modern-day consumer. Despite more choices than ever, broadcast radio still delivers more adults 18+ than any other medium. Period.

Audio Consumption:  Perception vs. Reality

Nobody can deny the rise in new ways to consume audio content over the last couple of decades.  Consequently, the perception is that traditional radio is losing its impact as online and streaming platforms continue to grow.  And although that might be partially true, the reality is that ALL radio platforms are growing, and terrestrial radio is still the dominant of all audio platforms.  Usage of digital and satellite audio platforms has increased by much larger margins, but not at the expense of broadcast radio listenership.  New platforms are displacing more of the time spent with personal music collections (e.g. CDs, iPods) vs. broadcast radio.  This is why according to the Recording Institute Association of America (RIAA), physical & digital download music sales are down and revenue from streaming platforms is up.

Share of Audio Time Spent

In addition to its broad reach capability, broadcast radio continues to lead the share of all audio time spent listening, even as other platforms grow.  The average listener spends over 2½ hours a day with radio.  Everyone listens to the radio, but not everyone listens in the same way.  Although more Millennials tune in each week, older generations (Boomers, GenX) listen for a greater amount of time.

AM/FM radio leads ad-supported audio by even larger margins.  Share of audio time spent soars to 75% for Persons 18+ when considering ad-supported platforms only.

The Broadcast Radio Connection

“We are not providing music to people. We are providing companionship to people,” Pittman said. “If you go into this thinking our job is to put music on, you’ll miss the point.”

-- Bob Pittman, iHeart Media CEO

Radio is inherently local and community-oriented. One of the primary roles of a radio station is to connect with consumers and the communities in which they live. Consumers look for different things from the radio that music streaming services, podcasts, and satellite radio cannot match.

  • Connections to personalities, on-air and online with two-way communication
  • A place to belong to and identify with – a virtual neighborhood
  • Local information -- entertainment, news, traffic, weather, opinions, sports, events, opportunities
  • Community support and involvement
  • Instant information about critical community news

According to Katz Radio Group, 9 of 10 listeners have actively engaged with a radio station or personality.

  • 82%: Called into a station
  • 67%: Attended a station-sponsored event
  • 54%: Followed a station or DJ on social media
  • 51%: Visited a location during a live station remote
  • 43%: Met a local DJ in the community

Source: Our Media/Katz Radio Group. Based on 265 online interviews with Radio listeners. 2018

In times of crisis, listeners turn to local radio personalities for familiarity and comfort. Percent of respondents who agree with the question “Listening to my favorite radio host during the COVID-10 restrictions…”

According to Katz Radio Group, 9 of 10 listeners have actively engaged with a radio station or personality.

Keeping It Simple…and Free

Broadcast radio is and will remain a simple, direct way to reach a large audience. You can simply get in your car and turn on the radio with the push of a button. ”Seek” features added to both dashboards and now steering wheels allow drivers to easily scroll through the radio tuner if they don’t like a song or drive out of clear reception range. Radio listening does not require the use of any fancy devices, cords, downloads, or Bluetooth. And perhaps the biggest factor… IT’S FREE!. No bills or monthly/yearly subscription fees to worry about. This could become a more relevant factor in the future as consumers face subscription overload with the ever-increasing number of subscriber-based content options across all platforms.


Broadcast radio is Mass Media with local impact! There is no question that radio listening patterns have shifted in recent years, with online and streaming platforms growing at a more rapid rate. But broadcast radio still leads all audio platforms when it comes to reach and remains dominant in audio time spent listening.

Listeners have a personal and emotional connection with local radio that is difficult for other audio choices to replicate. Over the years, many advertisers have established a strong connection with the local community, due in large part, to the relationships developed through partnerships with local radio stations and their personalities.

With so many choices available, many of which require additional equipment and fee-based subscriptions, broadcast radio provides a simple and free option for every single person. For all these reasons, broadcast radio most definitely still has a future!

Saddled with more options than ever, I chose to listen to whatever was on the radio last month on my solo 3-hour road trip. Normally, Howard Stern or one of the commercial-free music stations on SiriusXM would be playing in the car. But faced with yet another increased renewal fee, I let it lapse. As I pulled away from my house, I found it so liberating to just turn on the radio and listen to the music.