When the pandemic left radio stations stretched thin, both in terms of personnel and ad revenue, one place that many cut back was on news coverage. But as business returns to normal and more staff is in the building, the Radio Television Digital News Association reports a double-digit increase in the amount of local news on radio this year. On any given weekday, its annual study of broadcast newsrooms finds there is an average of 108.8 minutes of local news on the radio stations surveyed.
The study, conducted by the RTDNA and the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, says more than two-thirds of radio stations (68.3%) report running local news.
With more news and talk stations on the AM dial, unsurprisingly it had a lead on its FM sisters. The data shows 73% of AMs and 67% of FMs say they run news. While the overall percentage running news is up three points from a year ago, the report finds the number of AMs airing news has grown more – it increased five percent year-to-year, compared to a two point gain for FMs.
“That kind of one-year increase suggests that stations that stopped local news because of COVID may well have brought local news back,” say Newhouse Journalism Professors Bob Papper and Keren Henderson in a report detailing their findings.
The RTDNA study shows that not only are more stations airing news, but the amount of time they are dedicating to it has also grown. The average number of weekday minutes of local news increased by 21.2 minutes year-to-year, which the authors say suggests some stations had much bigger jumps than others.
Papper and Henderson say some of the difference is accounted for in the major and large markets where the average number of news minutes soared – up 33.5 minutes in major markets to an average of 165.1 minutes per weekday, and grew 93.1 minutes to 165.1 minutes in large markets. That is compared to an increase of eight minutes per weekday in medium markets and a decline of 7.5 minutes on average in small markets, which still typically run two more minutes per day than mid-sized market stations. “Meanwhile average minutes increased across the board on the weekends, but with the typical station not running local news at all on the weekend,” they say in the report.
The RTDNA study also concludes that the common perception that locally owned radio stations are more likely to produce local news than stations that are not locally owned is just as false as it has ever been. “That’s never been the case every time we’ve looked at the issue, and it’s not the case this year either,” Papper and Henderson say. The data shows 74.9% of locally owned stations run local news, while 83.9% of non-locally owned stations do.
Even more myth-busting is the fact that fewer locally owned stations said they air local news versus a year ago, while the number of non-local stations that said they do increased about seven points.
Bigger swings instead are tied to whether a station is commercial or noncommercial. That remains the case this year. The report shows a 10-point drop in the percentage of noncommercial stations running local news – falling to 62.7% from 72.5% a year ago. At the same time, the number of commercial stations running local news rose slightly to 66.2%. Papper and Henderson say there is no good explanation for the swings, but they say it is possible that more noncommercial stations programming music on their digital subchannels rather than news could be a factor.
Looking ahead, the RTDNA says more stations are likely to add news hours than cut back during 2023. While nearly three-quarters (72.5%) say it is likely their news coverage will remain the same, the survey finds 15.7% expect to air more news compared to just one percent that think they will pull back their news coverage.
Noncommercial news directors and general managers are three times more likely to expect to increase news than commercial stations, according to the report. It also says managers in the smallest markets are less likely to expect to increase the amount of news.
The annual study from RTDNA and the Newhouse School is based on data collected from a random sample of 4,819 radio stations during the fourth quarter of 2022. Valid responses came from 777 radio news directors and general managers representing 2,514 radio stations.