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Amidst Social and Economic Upheaval, Radio Continues to Flourish

Annual survey suggests some trends changed with COVID, others remained on course

The Jacobs Media TechSurvey2021 is out, and as always, it reflects both consumer adoption of new media technology and the social environment it evolves in.

For 2021, the survey says some areas were heavily impacted by COVID-19, while others continued on their established trajectory. Of course, there are always surprises.

TechSurvey, Jacobs Media, radio listenership data

The annual survey samples opinions from core radio listeners so its results need to be read with that in mind. The survey does not claim to reflect habits among Americans more broadly, but rather among those who already are core radio listeners.

Its familiar media- and brand-usage pyramids fall into the “business as usual” category, with little change over the past year. In usage, the leader is still TV/video, followed by smartphones and AM/FM radio. Brands are led by Facebook, down four percentage points from last year with 68%, followed by Netflix and the respondents’ home station stream, referred to in the survey as P1.

TechSurvey, Jacobs Media, radio listenership data

The 2021survey results for AM/FM radio are a mixed bag. Overall, listening is trending down, especially among younger demographics, but it was headed that way before COVID. On the plus side, localism remains a key secret of success. The number who strongly agree that a local orientation makes the difference has trended upward from 43% in TS 2017 to 49% in TS 2021.

TechSurvey, Jacobs Media, radio listenership data

AM/FM has, according to TS 2021, picked up some momentum this year. The number who reported listening more in 2021 increased from 15–23% over the previous year. While those listening less also increased two percentage points to 13%, that loss, according to Jacobs, is largely explained by those who later in the survey reported spending less time in their cars as a result of COVID.

TechSurvey, Jacobs Media, radio listenership data

High on the surprises part of TechSurvey 2021 are the reasons that respondents suggest for why they tune in. Six out of ten who answered say that personalities are a main reason they listen to radio. Of those, CHR and hot AC fans seem to value them the most. TechSurvey’s data suggests this is part of a larger trend.

TechSurvey, Jacobs Media, radio listenership data

Over time, the long-standing appeal of music on the radio seems to have been replaced by the popularity of its personalities as a main reason to listen. This trend began with TS 2014, music and personalities reached near parity in 2018, and since then, the trend clearly favors personalities. No reasons are posited for why this switch might be happening.

Has the music industry gone into a slump, producing fewer hit songs?

Have radio personalities become more mainstream in their presentation and delivery?

Or could it be a bit of both?

One wonders.