As more Americans get out of the home and return to traditional workplaces, in-car radio listening is recovering from earlier phases of the pandemic, new research shows. Among core radio station consumers, more than half (53%) say they are listening “a lot” to a regular radio in the car, up from 47% in May.
An online survey of more than 27,000 listeners in the U.S. and Canada, conducted Sept. 29-Oct. 1 by Jacobs Media for the Radio Advertising Bureau, asked station database members which platforms they were using “a lot” to listen to the station that sent them the survey. While in-car radio was No. 1, with a bullet, a regular radio at home came in second place with 28%, followed by a regular radio while working outside your home (20%).
“There has been a lot of disruption in the last six or seven months with many people working from home or just not in their normal places,” Jacobs Media President Fred Jacobs said during a webinar on Monday. “This underscores the point that in-car listening is beginning to normalize.”
Listening to broadcast radio streams on various devices remained solid, although it softened a bit from earlier in the pandemic. The portion of respondents who said they are listening to streaming on the station’s website “a lot” dipped from 24% in May to 20% in October, while streaming on the station's own mobile app fell from 21% to 16% over the same period.
Aggregator apps held steady from May to October (13% said they use them a lot), while smart speakers (14% in May, 11% in October) wireless audio system such as Bose or Sonos (12%-9%) and podcasts from the home station (9%-7%) each declined a few percentage points.
While it is down slightly, the amount of listening taking place online remains significant. “This really emphasizes the importance of radio stations making sure that their content is available on all different gadgets and platforms, since especially during COVID they got used quite a bit,” Jacobs commented. “Your stream absolutely matters, both its quality and how you promote it.”
The latest study follows earlier studies conducted in April and May by Jacobs and the RAB. Entitled “Radio’s 2020 Holiday Road Map,” it also delves into consumer sentiment about the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn. Nearly half (47%) of respondents said they are more worried now about their household’s financial situation than a year ago with Gen Z (52%), Millennials (52%) and Gen X (51%) more likely to agree with this statement than Boomers (43%) and the Greatest Generation (31%). Broken out by ethnicity, more Hispanics (62%) and Blacks (57%) say they are more worried than Whites (46%). And in a trend prevalent throughout the survey, women (51%) expressed more elevated concerns than men (42%).
There is good reason why respondents are concerned about their financial outlook. The number holding full time jobs dropped to 52% in the October survey from 63% before the coronavirus outbreak while the number who said they were unemployed tripled from 3% pre-COVID to 9% currently. Still, unemployment numbers improved since May when 15% indicated that were out of work.
And in good news for in-car radio listening, 58% of those who are employed said they are working outside the home, up from 46% in May, while the amount working from home fell to 26% in October from 41% in May. “We have a lot more people now, nearly six in ten, working outside the home,” Jacobs said, “People are commuting to work once again and that is a really good thing for radio.”
The study turned up a mixed bag about where listeners say the nation is right now in the coronavirus timeline. A larger portion (37%) says the worst of the outbreak is behind us, compared to 26% who believe the worst is yet to come. Men, older generations, Whites and Republicans are more likely to believe the worst is over while females, younger generations, Latinos, Blacks and Democrats are more apt to be more pessimistic.
It also showed that listeners fall into different camps when it comes to getting back to the activities they put on hold due to safety concerns. Two in three core radio listeners said they are resuming at least some of the activities they engaged in pre-COVID. That breaks down to 26% who have resumed many/all pre-virus activities and 41% who are participating in some pre-COVID activities. But three in 10 (31%) are being extra careful and have resumed only a few or none of their earlier activities.