Broadcasters are gathering real-time data about how listeners are using radio in the case of an emergency, and the results are a mix of the expected and surprising.
During a number of storms over the last year, including Hurricane Harvey, a team at NextRadio has been tracking how listeners tune into radio during storm situations, and are finding patterns in both the numbers of listeners and the way in which they listen for information.
After Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 at Corpus Christi, Texas, NextRadio noted that local listening was up 186% and session starts up 124%. Sessions starts occur each time a NextRadio app user turns on the app or changes radio stations inside the app.
Perhaps somewhat surprising, total listening minutes were down 3% and time spent listening (TSL) per session down 54%.
As the storm continued to roll over Houston on Sunday, Aug. 27, the NextRadio data team found that the number of NextRadio listeners rose 50% with session starts rising 22%. Yet again, total listening minutes were down 11% and TSL per session was down 26%.
This echoes what NextRadio saw during a tornado in Kokomo, Ind., in 2016. The number of NextRadio listeners spiked 4.2 times the daily average, yet session minutes were down. Similar results were found when Hurricane Matthew hit the coast of Florida in 2016.
In a blog posting titled “What Mother Nature is Teaching Us,” the broadcaster said it sees a correlation of sessions going up but length going down. “We believe people are checking back more frequently for up-to-the-minute news,” NextRadio said in its post.
The team also noted another trend: that of listening numbers rising outside the direct path of a storm. In Texas markets not directly impacted by Harvey — including Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio — the number of listeners tuning to radio via the NextRadio app was up 79%, 52% and 34%, respectively. TSL by session was down 27%, 29% and 8% for these markets.
During Harvey, the local broadcast association chimed in on the need for people to stay up to date via radio.
Oscar Rodriguez, president of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, encouraged all stations to mention the benefit of listening via the NextRadio app on an Android device, citing benefits of the FM chip in preserving battery life and data packages.
“As always, the radio industry comes together on one of our core missions: public safety,” NextRadio said in its blog. “We’re proud to play a role in helping people seek out the lifeline that is local radio when they desperately need information, and tune in and out as their situation requires.”
“People need radio. And radio never fails them. No matter what kind of day it is.”