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Survey Says AM/FM Radio Still #1 in the Car

CD player holds on to the number three position

This story is part of a week-long series where author Tom Vernon breaks down the newly-released “Infinite Dial” report, which gives insights into various aspects of radio’s modern competitive environment and consumer consumption habits. 

How ironic it seems that the oldest of all electronic media – AM/FM radio, still holds the top position in  The Infinite Dial 2022‘s survey of in-car media. Another legacy device, the car CD player, according to the research, is still ranked in third place. That said, their lead is slowly being eroded by the newcomers. AM/FM radio slipped just two percentage points from 75 to 73 percent, while the CD player remains unchanged with 35 percent.

Those gaining ground in the car, according to the survey, include second-ranked owned digital music, which jumped five percentage points from 48 to 53 percent. Other media showing gains include podcasts, gaining two percentage points to 32 percent, and sixth-place SiriusXM, increasing by one percentage point to 22 percent.

The Infinite Dial 2022 report. Graph detailing audio sources used in car.

That’s the end of The Infinite Dial 2022’s good news for radio. When the survey’s number of radios in household data is examined, it suggests AM/FM radio’s continuing plunge into the abyss. In 2008, four percent of respondents didn’t own a radio, while 64 percent had one to three, and 32 percent owned four or more radios. Fast forward to 2022, and the reported number not owning a radio has jumped to 39 percent, while 54 percent own 1 to 3 and just 7 percent have four or more radios.

The Infinite Dial 2022 report. Graph detailing number of radios in household.

When the data is broken down by age demographics, of those age 12-34, 57 percent report not owning a radio. 39 percent say they own 1-3, and just four percent own four or more. 

Not surprisingly, most of those holding on to their radios are in the 55+ group. Just 21 percent of these respondents say they don’t have a radio. Edison’s data suggests that 67 percent own 1-3.  Clearly, radio’s heroes are the remaining 12 percent who report still owning four or more of these devices.

The Infinite Dial 2022 report. Graph detailing number of radios in house broken down by age demographics.

While The Infinite Dial offers no explanation for these numbers, it’s fun to speculate. Perhaps the persistence of legacy media in the car has much to do with the current economic climate, where new car sales have virtually flatlined. People are holding on to their cars for much longer, and used car prices are at a premium.

When you recall vehicles from the early 2000s, in-car entertainment systems as we know them today didn’t exist. The standard entertainment package was an AM/FM radio-CD player combo. The luxury option back then was usually an enhanced ‘sound system’ with outboard amp and subwoofer.

For radio, perhaps stagnant new car sales figures are a silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud of the US economy.

[Read the next in this five-part series: “Research Says Social Media Has Hit a Plateau”]