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Radio Remains the BBG Champ

106 million listeners a week? That’s nothing to sniff at

Radio suffers its share of jabs as dated technology. But radio’s critics might reflect on data from the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The BBG recently said that its aggregate weekly audience via radio (including shortwave, FM and AM) is 106 million people, while its TV audience is 97 million and its Internet audience is 10 million.

I find it notable enough that radio remains the medium with the largest reach among BBG’s efforts, given the commonly heard sentiment (and not only in government-funded circles) that radio in general is “yesterday’s technology.” But I was interested too in any trend lines, so I asked for more data.

Spokeswoman Letitia King gave me numbers for 2009 and 2010. I’ve listed them side by side and calculated growth compared to last year. (Individual numbers won’t equal the totals because some people use more than one platform.)

Uncle Sam’s radio and TV outlets regained some mojo in 2011 after slipping the prior year, while Internet continued to grow.

We’re talking here about Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia, Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa. Overall, those BBG broadcasters reached an estimated 187 million people every week in 2011, up 22 million, for 13% growth (though 2010’s total of 165 million was down a bit from 2009).

We can’t extrapolate too much from any one organization’s broad data. Necessarily, these are only estimates and subject to survey error. Also, such trends are affected by policy and resource choices as much as consumer tastes. And while Internet consumption might be only a tenth of radio consumption right now, I suspect that proportion will change significantly in future years.

Nevertheless, these totals and percentages suggest to me that radio’s role as part of Uncle Sam’s face to the international community is understated and underappreciated.

We see a similar theme in ongoing media coverage of the U.S. commercial radio industry, which so often is criticized and dismissed, yet continues to post total listening statistics (241 million weekly listeners) that other media envy.

Radio — the media’s best-kept secret!

If you’re interested in far greater detail from Uncle Sam about activities of his broadcast entities and grantees, read the BBG’s “Fiscal Year 2011 Performance and Accountability Report” in PDF form at