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Community Broadcaster: Off Road

New reports hint at fresh approaches for radio

The author is executive director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

New reports on listening habits brought on by the pandemic are must-reads for stations. Even as states and the federal government are reviewing existing policies related to COVID-19, new audience habits may be here to stay. And, with that, our past ways of talking about radio may need to adjust.

On March 11, The Infinite Dial’s latest findings were released. The longtime initiative of Edison Research has been the gold standard when it comes to seeing where listening habits are as well as indicators for the future. Some of the dire discoveries presented opportunities, too.

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In-car listening has dropped from about the same time last year. Seventy-five percent of the more than 1,000 respondents participated in this survey said they tuned in via their vehicles in the last month. That’s a significant decline from the 81% who listening in their cars in 2020. Bear in mind, however, that the number of people in autos dipped by five% from last year.

Considering the spike in streaming service subscriptions, rivals like satellite radio and other entertainment, radio’s draw among Americans remains solid. These numbers could grow as vaccinations become more available by summer.

Photo: Getty Images- Helen Ross

Sixty-two percent of Americans listen via the web at least weekly. Online listenership, researchers say, is at an all-time high. Such a statistic may prompt your station to think about how it markets itself on the air. If your promos are more focused on “tuning in,” could you be missing out by not talking up online options? Smart speaker adoption continues to grow. Are your spots telling your loyal fans how they can find you there?

Also, AudiGraphics discussed audience metrics with Current. Most interesting is the return of in-home listening to radio. This isn’t your grandparents’ old-time living room radio, though. Smart speakers and connected devices have made streaming your favorite radio station easier than it’s ever been. Where people used to listen on their commute, AudiGraphics points out they’ve simply shifted to catch the news and other programming they enjoy through alternate means. A question to thus ask is how your station is recognizing those listeners.

The storm cloud in this research is primarily for news and talk-based radio, especially noncommercial ones. It’s not entirely surprising, though. With election day long gone and media attention away from the Jan. 6 violence, more listeners are skipping the news in favor of other programming. AudiGraphics highlights the drop in listenership for NPR stations especially. Given NPR’s prominence, one would have to think these trends will impact any station rooted in news/talk. If you are a station that leans on news and public affairs programming, you might consider reviewing the figures closely.

While stations do their best to deliver a consistent quality of service, the technology around us changes every generation, and faster. Our ability to evolve with our audience can only prove beneficial.