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The Usage and Ubiquity of Radio – Mike McVay

The regrowth of the radio audience is somewhat dependent upon the usage of the medium. Usage is all about where people listen, how they listen, why they listen and how often they listen. Those choices are based on satisfying a need.


While it’s commonly known that the primary reason individuals listen to the radio is companionship, the service elements, information, entertainment, emotion and use as a utility, is often the reason someone uses radio. Satisfying that need brings an audience back to the station regularly. Repeat listening builds time spent listening and that builds ratings.

How the radio makes you feel is one of the most common reasons why someone listens. Those of us who have watched countless focus groups know that you hear the audience say they listen for many emotional reasons. Comments include “it gets me up”, “puts me in a good mood”, “gives me the news I need”, “sounds like fun”, “helps me chill out” … and many more responses of emotion. It is this reason that we also know that people program their own radio station by switching stations.


The radio wakes you, provides traffic, news, weather, conversation, debate, music, fun, relaxation, and entertainment. All of which is also available on acceptable substitutes for the radio. These attributes were enough for radio in the pre-streaming world, but it isn’t enough today. There are many places other than radio to find the aforementioned benefits. The challenge to return to first choice is about the content we present much more so than the reception device. We have to satisfy the need of the audience for usage.


We should also be thinking about listening locations. The ubiquity of radio is as great as it has ever been since the invention of the portable radio. That’s because the radio can be heard everywhere that streaming is heard and in more locations beyond the reach of streaming. Edison Research, in their latest Infinite Dial study, shows that 88% of Americans age 16+ own a mobile phone, and as the availability of audio apps and podcast apps has increased, so has consumption on a mobile phone. Edison Research’s Share of Ear® database has been tracking audio consumption on various devices since the beginning of their study in 2014.


According to Edison Research, in 2014, around half (49%) of ALL audio content was consumed on a traditional radio receiver, compared with 18% that was consumed on a mobile phone. The years since showed steady growth for mobile devices as time spent with traditional radio receivers declined. As of a year ago (Q4 2021), radio receivers still had the slightest edge over mobile, with 33% of all audio being consumed on a radio and 32% on a mobile phone. With the latest release of 2022 Q3 Share of Ear data, consumption of audio on a mobile device has now passed radio receiver consumption, 33.3% to 33.1%.


The bottom-line; Americans Now Spend More Time with Audio on Mobile Devices Than Radio Receivers. That should be seen as a flashing red warning light on the dashboard of your brain. If you’re not simulcasting your content on all platforms, and you’re not promoting the availability of your content everywhere, then you’re missing an opportunity to attract an audience.


You should be everywhere, be seen everywhere and be heard everywhere. The greater the magnitude of your platform, the more in competition you are with the streaming services and rating robbers. This means having a strategy for on-air promotion, easy to use apps, revenue generation using digital resources for sales and putting yourself in position to compete with the DSP’s and digital ad sellers.


It’s been reported that podcasts are now beating AM/FM for talk/personality listening. Which should be a second flashing red light on that dashboard in your cranium. Which should serve as an encouragement to repurpose your radio show audio to be in a podcast, so that it’s on-demand. Podcasting is in competition for the audience’s ears, unless it’s programming you’ve created on the podcast, and you’re branding it as a part of your station. Radio can and should be ubiquitous including podcasting.


We know from experience that unique original podcast content performs best for podcasters. That shouldn’t stop you from repurposing your content to be a podcast of your program making it on-demand. Be aware that you can grow ratings from on-demand listening. If your podcast is encoded for PPM, and it is exactly replicated as it aired, it can get you PPM credit by being listened to within 24 hours of the original airtime. Sidenote; your podcasts should be available on your station’s app and digital platform, too.


Build a radio station that satisfies a need to be used. Take advantage of every outlet available to you to be seen everywhere and be heard everywhere.



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