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Podcasting’s Popularity Among Public Radio Listeners Looks ‘Solid,’ Says Jacobs TechSurvey.

Nearly one in five public radio listeners consume podcasts on a daily basis, while a separate group of the same size says they listen weekly. In fact, Jacobs Media’s annual survey of public radio listeners finds that just 29% of public radio listeners never listen to podcasts.

But the numbers show growth is slowing. The 39% that say they listen to podcasts either daily or weekly is nearly identical to the 38% who said that a year ago. It is up five points from the 34% that Jacobs reported in its annual Public Radio TechSurvey in 2019.

“It continues to tick up pretty much every year,” said Jacobs Media President Fred Jacobs. “Podcasting didn’t have a huge amount of growth this year, but it’s still looking pretty solid.”

The report finds news-talk listeners, already fans of the spoken word audio format, are most likely to be podcast listeners. Jacobs found 44% of listeners to that format are also podcast consumers. Among the two most popular music formats at public radio – adult alternative and classical – the numbers were smaller. The survey found 36% of adult alternative listeners use podcasts. And so do 27% of classical radio listeners.

Public radio skews older than broadcast radio overall. But among the Millennials that listen to public radio, Jacobs data shows 71% listen to podcasts at least weekly – nearly twice the all-ages average. A majority of Gen X listeners – 58% – also tune in to podcasts. Levels were lower for Baby Boomers, among whom a still solid 35% said they listen to podcasts.

“This is just more indication that podcasting is so much more native and natural for public radio fans,” said Jacobs during a webinar on Thursday.

With listeners of the news-talk format public radio’s biggest podcast partisans, it is no surprise that Jacobs survey data shows the podcast genre that had the most attention is news and politics. The survey found 58% of weekly podcast listeners consumed those shows.

Yet nearly as many public radio listeners leaned on podcasting as a way to time-shift their consumption. Jacobs says a majority (55%) listens to the on-demand version of radio shows when they spend time with podcasts. That’s more than double the time spent listening to comedy, music or arts-related podcasts.

“One of the things we learned in this year’s survey is that the way people get news and information is beginning to change, even these core public radio listeners,” said Jacobs. That is borne out in the data that finds nearly half (48%) of weekly public radio podcast listeners say they tune into a daily news podcast at least once a week.

But the most listened-to show is not a public radio-produced podcast, but rather the New York Times-produced The Daily. Jacobs says 54% of weekly public radio podcast listeners said they consume The Daily on a weekly basis. The NPR-produced NPR News Now ranked second at 38% followed by NPR’s morning news podcast Up First, cited by 29% of those surveyed.

Jacobs Media also asked public radio listeners if they would be willing to subscribe to podcasts, something that is no longer theoretical as NPR is among the publishers that have launched paid channels on Apple Podcasts.

Three in ten said they were either “very” or “somewhat likely” to subscribe, while 58% said they are not likely to pay to hear podcasts. Digging deeper, Jacobs says Millennials (39%) and Gen X (33%) listeners were most likely to consider subscribing to NPR’s $3 per month subscription podcast offering.

Jacobs Media says even as AM/FM radio still dominates in-car listening with 59% of daily in-car time spent listening to the radio, podcasting is making some inroads. Public radio listeners reported spending about 5% of their in-car time listening to podcasts. That’s the same number reported by Jacobs in both 2020 and 2019, and it is on par with the 6% rate for streaming audio listening.

But overall, the trend is clear. “Digital usage is becoming more and more popular, while traditional usage continues to trend downwards,” said Jacobs. “And that's obviously going to play a role in your strategic planning moving forward.”

Jacobs Media’s “Public Radio in the COVID Era” Techsurvey 2021 included responses from 22,858 public radio listeners surveyed online from June 25-July 25. Most respondents were members of station databases. While not representative of all public radio listeners, it offers directional insights from core users.

Download the complete report HERE.

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