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Radio News Listening Returns To Pre-Pandemic Levels, Says New Pew Report.

In what has become a time of great change in consumer media habits, radio is holding its own when it comes to its use as a news outlet. Pew Research has released a new report on news consumption, and it finds that listening to AM/FM radio has ticked up to its strongest numbers since pre-pandemic, which is likely a result of more people making the commute back to and from work.

Pew says 16% of people surveyed listen to radio for news often, which is on par with 2020 levels – and above the numbers seen during the previous two years. Another 25% listen to radio for news “sometimes.” Although there are small shifts in the numbers of people who don’t listen to radio for news, the report’s key finding is that radio news listening has returned to what broadcasters had come to expect prior to the pandemic.

The biggest broadcast shift has been on television, as the number of people who often turn to TV for news has dropped 20% during the past four years, with just under a third of those surveyed saying they frequently watch TV news. At the same time the number who say they “rarely” or “never” consume news on television has slowly inched higher.

Pew’s data also points to a return to normal trends for digital news consumption. After six in ten people said in 2020 that they often turn to digital devices for news, that number fell by ten points during the pandemic. This year, Pew says the number has recovered somewhat. But at 56% frequently turning to digital for news, it remains below pre-pandemic levels. Yet when combined with the “sometimes” category for news, the report shows that digital devices, like radio, have come full circle.

Though digital devices are by far the most common way Americans access their news, Pew says people are taking advantage of all the ways they can to access the content. Half of Americans at least sometimes get news from social media, and three-in-ten say the same of podcasts.

Among digital platforms, news websites or apps are also the most preferred source for news. A quarter of adults prefer to get their news this way, compared with 12% who prefer social media and 6% who prefer podcasts.

Pew says which of the media options consumers lean into varies based on factors including age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and political leaning. Americans aged 50 and older are more likely than younger adults to turn to and prefer television and print publications.

For radio, the biggest factor is age. Those aged 50 to 64 years-old are most likely to listen to AM/FM for news with 62% saying they at least sometimes use radio for news. That compares to 37% of those aged 18 to 29.

There are fewer differences based on gender and race, although women are slightly more likely to listen to radio for news while Hispanics and Asians are less likely to turn to radio newscasts than White and Black Americans.

There are sharper differences in podcasting. Most pronounced is age, as 41% of those aged 18 to 29 say they at least sometimes get their news from podcasts versus 17% for those aged 65 and older.

Men are six points more likely to listen to news on podcasts – by a 33% to 27% margin – while Asian Americans are far more likely to listen to news via podcasts (43%) compared to Blacks (33%) and Hispanics (31%). Pew says Whites are least likely to use podcasts for news, which is mostly a feature of the older skew of the demo compared to younger, more diverse audiences.

There is also a gap based on income, as 37% of upper income people listen to podcast news versus 28% of those considered lower income.

The findings are based on a Pew survey of 8,842 U.S. adults conducted from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, 2023.

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