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Amidst Stay-at-Home Orders, Radio Listenership Remains Strong

But trio of surveys also reveal that more education is needed on how to listen outside the car

What do listeners want during this time of coronavirus and stay-at-home mandates? According to several recent surveys, they want reliable information, entertaining hosts, a little less COVID-19 coverage and a healthy dose of local coverage.

Several recent surveys reveal what listeners want right now from AM/FM radio. These include a listener survey conducted by the Radio Advertising Bureau and Jacobs Media; the March 2020 Nielsen Portable People Meter Survey; and a Westwood One survey that polled more than 1,150 listeners between March 31 through April 8, 2020, about their listening habits.

The key takeaways: Listeners are still tuning in. They are flocking to their home stations. But many listeners aren’t aware of exactly how to tune into their AM/FM station on a secondary device like a smartphone or laptop computer. That presents stations with an opportunity to intensify education efforts around how to access AM/FM radio on different devices — particularly now that many of those listeners may be sheltering at home.

[Read: AM/FM Holds Fast in a Volatile Media Landscape]

One key finding as part of the Westwood One survey was that listeners may be a bit tired of round-the-clock coronavirus updates. By nearly a four to one margin, listeners say they prefer normal programming over coronavirus updates. Among regular listeners to a variety of AM/FM radio formats, between 72% and 78% said they preferred to hear normal programing. The survey revealed that listeners to urban format stations reported the strongest desire to hear programming focused on coronavirus.

The survey also found that listeners like what they like: They still want to hear their favorite music, and they still want to be entertained by funny, lively AM/FM radio personalities. The Westwood One survey found that music, personalities and information continue to draw listeners. When asked about why they listened to their favorite AM/FM radio station in the past seven days, 56% of heavy AM/FM radio listeners chose “they play my favorite music” as the main reason.

Radio also scored high marks when it came to providing localized programming. According to the Westwood One survey, AM/FM radio is closely linked with local news and information. A total of 27% of listeners surveyed said they consider AM/FM radio as the media most likely to provide information specific to their locale.

AM/FM radio was also considered to be a key outlet for reliable, enlightened information about current events. The RAB and Jacobs Media study found that for coronavirus information, consumers place their greatest trust in government medical organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health followed by their favorite AM/FM radio station. Social media ranked lowest on the trust scale — at 1% versus 54% for the CDC and 48% for a listener’s local radio station.

listenership, Westwood One, Jacobs Media

The survey also found that radio is still reaching a wide swath of commuters despite the shelter-in-place orders that exist around the nation. The Westwood One survey found that 60% of heavy AM/FM radio listeners who normally work outside the home are still commuting to work. Though might come as a surprise, 47% of those who normally work outside the home are still making the commute to work.

“AM/FM radio is the soundtrack of the American worker,” according to the Westwood One survey. “Those who are still working away from home are power AM/FM radio users. The more people listen, the more likely they are still working away from home.”

Radio stations should also be aware that a sizable number of those surveyed still do not know how to listen to AM/FM radio on certain devices like a smart speaker or desktop computer. The Westwood One survey found that one out of four smart speaker owners do not know how to listen to AM/FM radio stations on their device. The same is true for smartphone owners — one out of five of those individuals don’t know how to listen to AM/FM radio on their phones. The trend continues when it comes to laptop/desktop users as well as tablet owners: 17% of laptop/desktop owners and 26% of tablet owners do not know how to tune in to an AM/FM radio station on those devices.

There’s one listening format in particular that could use a dose of smart speaker education: country radio listeners. But those listeners are not alone. A large swath of listeners of oldies/classic hits, adult contemporary and rock formats also do not know how to listen to AM/FM radio stations on their smart speakers.

The Nielsen survey also revealed a happy trend: Even after states like California issued shelter at home orders in mid-March, listenership to AM/FM radio proved to be much stronger than some have predicted. According to Nielsen, when comparing March total audience deliveries to February, the survey found that American AM/FM radio maintained nearly all of its audience.

listenership, Westwood One, Jacobs Media

Specifically, AM/FM radio retained 96% of its reach and 90% of its average quarter-hour audience between February 27 and March 25, 2020. Cume and average quarter-hour audience retention was consistent across demographics, race and ethnicities, the survey said.