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The End Is Not Near … But the Battle Continues

Jacobs Media’s Techsurvey11 has some good news for radio, as well as a challenge

New media advocates like to proclaim that the end is near for traditional radio. But recent research shows that 92 percent of those surveyed listen to radio for an hour or more every day. The recent release of Jacobs Media’s Techsurvey11 has good news for radio, even as the number and size of radio’s competitors are increasing.

TS 11 includes two “pyramids” that track the ways in which consumers are using their new media entertainment and information options. The traditional Media Usage Pyramid consists of gadgets such as smartphones and smart TVs, along with big media activity, including TV-viewing and radio-listening, as well as key activities (social media, audio- and video-streaming).

New to this year’s Techsurvey11 is a Brand/Platform pyramid, which provides broadcasters with a visual look at the specific channels their audiences are using regularly, ranging from SiriusXM to Pandora to YouTube to Twitter.

The Web-based survey polled some 41,000 respondents spanning four generations. They comprise listeners from 220 stations in the United States and Canada, representing 13 radio formats. Some of the results gave numbers and structure to well-known trends, but there were a few surprises.

Despite the competition from new media, radio remains a strong choice for most listeners.

Techsurvey11 suggests that beyond playing the hits and personality, radio provides many strong emotional benefits to its listeners, including local information, companionship, mood boosts and an escape from life’s pressures. “And localism really matters,” said President Fred Jacobs. “Eighty-one percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that one of radio’s primary advantages is its local feel.”

Use of smartphones continues to rise, with ownership topping 75 percent. One third of those owners admit to being addicted to the devices. The bad news for radio is that only a quarter of respondents know about the FM chip included in smartphones. If activated, it would enable consumers to listen to local FM stations free of charge. And nearly six in 10 say an FM radio smartphone chip would lead to a little/lot more listening.

Pandora remains the dominant smartphone app among those who download radio applications on their smartphones and tablets, and nearly half of streaming listeners choose it at least weekly. But complaints about a lack of song skips and annoying commercials continue to grow. Other cited disadvantages include no local information, too predictable and that it’s boring.

When it comes to wake up calls, radio is losing ground. Just as many people awaken to a mobile phone as they do to a clock radio. These results track with reports of slumping sales figures for clock radios. Not surprisingly, there is a breakdown by age; waking up to a mobile phone is the preferred option for Millennials.

Techsurvey11 confirms that localism is an important competitive edge that radio need to leverage.

The car continues to be an important location for radio. Half of respondents say that most or all of their radio listening takes place while they’re in their vehicle. However, 62 percent are also able to connect a smartphone or MP3 player in their vehicles. Out of the 18 percent of the total sample who have a connected car, satisfaction with these systems is very strong — three-fourths love or like their in-car media systems.

One of the biggest surprises in Techsurvey11 came when respondents were asked about their listening choices in the automotive environment. Three-fourths say they rarely or never change their car pushbuttons or settings.

What does this mean? Jacobs says there are two implications.

“First, it speaks to the type of training and education that customers get at the local dealership when they purchase a new car. How much they embrace the features of a connected car, including the media, depends on that first experience.

“Second, it demonstrates how firmly people become set in their ways, and live with the choice they make initially. The days when listeners tuned up and down the dial searching for something different to listen to are pretty much over. It also means that if you’re changing format or hiring a new personality, you need to promote the daylights out of it with billboards, social media and other channels — because people aren’t going to discover you by accident.”

An interesting contradiction that surfaces concerns the use and importance of AM/FM radio in the car environment.

Changes in format or new personalities need to be promoted heavily, as listeners seldom, if ever, change the presets on their car radios.

“Dealers think [over-the air radio is] no longer important because no one asks about it,” says Jacobs. “Yet our survey says that nine out of 10 prospective new car buyers say it’s very important to have an AM/FM radio.”

He adds that this disconnect is probably because, for new car buyers, AM/FM radio is essential but expected, and people don’t request what is taken for granted.

Jacobs believes that these results underscore the importance of the relationship between the local radio station and the local car dealerships. “When we talk to car dealers about their experience with local radio, the response is all over the map. This is a huge opportunity for radio to take control of the conversation and educate the dealership.”

But the education process should be a two-way street. The average vehicle is 11 years old and was manufactured before the advent of connected cars. Many of those who work in radio drive one of these older cars. Jacobs said that station employees need to be proactive in learning about the connected car.

“You may not be ready to buy a new vehicle, but go to the dealership and ask for a demonstration and test drive. The next time you travel, rent one for a few days.”

Another surprise from Techsurvey11 is the influence of television. “We imagine that traditional radio competes with Pandora, iHeart Radio, SiriusXM and of course, other radio stations,” said Jacobs. “But television is steadily gaining ground, especially in terms of music discovery. Among Gen Y, 8 percent are discovering new music through YouTube.”

He adds that television slightly edges out radio on the media usage pyramid, with 93 percent, while 41 percent own a smart TV.

Tom Vernon is a longtime contributor to Radio World. Find more of his articles by searching keyword “Vernon” on