Smartphones have put audio into everyone’s pocket, and as a result Americans are spending more time plugged into audio mediums thanks in part to podcasting and streaming. But the tried-and-true free option – broadcast radio remains “the center of the total audio universe” says Nielsen in its just-released Audio Today report.
“As audio becomes an even more important part of our media diets, the total amount of consumption is nearly ubiquitous,” says Nielsen. “Radio – the original ad-supported medium – alone reaches 93% of the U.S. population. When you include the unduplicated audience from ad-supported as well as ad-free streaming music services along with podcasts and satellite radio, the reach rises to 99%.”
The latest Nielsen data shows radio scores its best reach numbers among adults aged 50 and older where 98% of that demo can be reached each month with AM/FM radio. But broadcast is easily the winner across all age groups. Among on-the-go 18- to 34-year-olds, Nielsen says radio reaches 87% of those Gen Zs each month. And among adults aged 34 to 49, radio’s reach is on par with the overall adults 18+ figure of 93%.
Broadcast radio has traditionally had its highest reach numbers among people of color, and despite new options to listen to music or talk shows, Nielsen’s update shows it is AM/FM radio that is still most preferred by Blacks and Hispanics.
Radio’s reach numbers among Hispanics tops all other segments. Overall, 97% Hispanics listen to the radio each month according to Nielsen, with less drop-off among the various age groups. So, while 99% of Hispanics age 50 and older listen to radio each month, so do 93% of 18-to-34- year-olds and 98% of 35-to-49-year-olds.
Similar trends are recorded among African Americans. Nielsen says 93% of Black adults listen to the radio each month. The highest reach numbers are among those 50 and older (98%) but AM/FM’s reach remains high among Black 35–49-year-olds (92%) and 18-34-year-olds (88%).
Broadcast radio may have the biggest reach numbers, but Nielsen’s report acknowledges other mediums are seeing their reach grow too. It says when the reach of streaming music, podcasting, and satellite radio are combined, they touch six in ten American adults each month.
Yet traditional radio is also enjoying some gains thanks to the digital age, with a growing percentage of the radio audience coming from streaming. During the first quarter, Nielsen says 12% of radio’s total AQH listening came from digital streams.
The pandemic shook up a lot of work and life routines and that meant fluctuations in their media habits. But the latest Audio Today lays out an America where old habits are returning.
Two thirds of radio listening comes from outside the home -- most typically in the car according to the latest Nielsen numbers. The data also points to a continuing recovery from pandemic lows. “Seventy percent of heavy radio consumers are now spending an hour or more daily in vehicles, up 60% since spring 2020,” the report says.
The latest data from March shows a third of out-of-home listening now occurs at work during the typical workday. And for the week overall, Nielsen says at-work listening accounted for 29% of out-of-home listening this spring.
“Audio consumers are leading the way toward recovery,” the report says. “Audio listeners are more willing to shop in stores, attend events, work in office, and get on airplanes.”
The latest Nielsen consumer sentiment survey found 74% of radio listeners are willing to attend an outdoor event compared to 52% of the total population. And 69% of radio listeners said they are willing to return to an office setting versus 57% of the total population.
Nielsen’s Audio Today also shows how podcast audiences continue to grow, with half of today's daily users having taken up the habit in the past two years. Comedy and News continue to be the most popular genres overall. And while all genres have seen significant growth, Nielsen says Music, Leisure and True Crime are growing the most.