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As the COVID Emergency Ends, More Listeners Move Away From Radio

However, listeners' feeling of connection to radio is at an all-time high

Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media recently presented the findings of the 19th annual Techsurvey. This year’s study, dubbed “Radio in the Post-Pandemic Era,” evaluated the current media and radio environment by examining listener behaviors and routines post-COVID.

The data set was compiled by Jacobs Media, drawing information from 434 participating radio stations, and yielding more than 30,000 surveys from “core radio listeners” — who are considered to be avid and active listeners, and those already subscribed to a station’s email database.

While, based on survey feedback, Jacobs shared various concerning trends depicting the future of radio both in and out of the car, there were also numerous data points that highlighted AM/FM radio’s value to survey respondents.

The top two reasons these core radio listeners said they tune in is because AM/FM is the “easiest to listen to in the car” and “it’s free.”

During his presentation, Jacobs said “radio is really a one-button solution in the car,” which gives it a slight edge over looking through playlists and trying to connect to Bluetooth. Additionally, he said three out of 10 survey respondents said they use radio as an escape, with more than half reporting that they feel a connection with radio.

(Graphic courtesy of Jacobs Media)

That “connection” was a recurring theme during Jacobs’ presentation. To those in the radio industry, it’s no surprise to learn that more people were inclined to tune in during lockdown. However, Jacobs notes that the feeling of connection among core radio listeners has held strong over the past few years and, more than that, is now at an all-time high in 2023.

“Nearly four in 10 respondents listen to the radio to hear about what’s going on locally,” said Jacobs. “Even though COVID was a global pandemic, the effects were really felt locally.”

Survey results this year show that, among core radio listeners, radio’s local edge continues trending up. Out of the 30,000-plus people surveyed, 89 percent “agree” or “strongly agree” that radio’s primary advantage is its local feel.

Further, in the graph below, we can see that a whopping 77 percent of respondents report feeling a sense of connection to the station that sent them the survey. There has also been a strong uptick in those that “strongly agree” to feeling that connection following the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

(Graphic courtesy of Jacobs Media)

So, with all of this “connection,” why are we still seeing a decrease in listening, as core radio listeners turn to other media? Jacobs attributes some of this shift to lifestyle changes post-pandemic and less time spent in the car.

“Lifestyle change is the kind of things that throw people off their normal routines,” said Jacobs.

Earlier this month, after three years, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Long before WHO’s announcement, the United States had designated May 11 as the day to end its public health emergency. Hence, most of the country has returned to its “normal” rhythms, returning to alternate sources of media and entertainment, as well as migrating back into the office.

In addition to less time in the car and lifestyle changes, the graph below outlines other reasons why respondents say they listened to less AM/FM radio in the past year.

When we look at the third and fourth most popular reasons core radio listeners are shifting away from radio, we see “more audio options in the car” and “more Pandora/Spotify/streaming services.” We see this trend amplified in another Techsurvey data point in which Bluetooth is crowned as the most important feature for respondents planning to buy or lease a car in 2023.

This is the second year in a row that Bluetooth holds a lead over FM radio, which ranks as the second most important in-car feature to respondents. AM radio, according to Jacobs, is now considered “mid-pack,” coming in at number six out of the 18 options provided in the survey.

(Graphic courtesy of Jacobs Media)

There is, however, a shining star in the radio landscape: its on-air talent and personalities.

Over the past five Techsurveys, Jacobs said broadcast radio personalities have stayed ahead of music as the key attributes that contribute to listening. So why are personalities still losing ground with core listeners and why are those respondents listening to less radio overall?

Again, we see the main two reasons listed as “less time in the car” and “lifestyle change.” However, in his presentation, Jacobs drew specific attention to the two reasons highlighted in yellow, which read the “station I like changed formats/fired personality” and there are “no DJs/personalities I care about.” Radio World has closely monitored the impact on stations and their on-air talent as the industry faces budget cuts and layoffs. Forbes even has a running timeline that documents the ongoing media layoffs in 2023.

(Graphic courtesy of Jacobs Media)

Radio World will continue to break down these findings in the coming days. Read Part 3 here.

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