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Techsurvey: Even With Aging Audience And More Consumer Options, Radio Shows 'Stability And Resilience.'

Opening Jacobs Media’s webinar reviewing the findings of its 20th annual Techsurvey, President and founder Fred Jacobs noted that “broadcast radio is at an inflection point — the audience is aging, there’s more choice for consumers than ever, we’re still feeling some of the reverberations of COVID — yet we’re seeing indications of stability and resilience.”

Indeed, the survey, based on the responses in January and February 2024 from more than 31,000 core radio users from the databases, websites and social media pages of 500 commercial radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, shows participants’ average age keeps creeping upward, from 54.8 in 2021 to 56.7 this year, officially outside the coveted 25-54 demographic. As the results point out, the sample’s audience is aging similar to radio, with just 5% in the 18-34 demo, 39% 25-54, 35% 55-64, and 27% 65+.

Nonetheless, 77% of respondents either “strongly agree” or “agree” that they feel a sense of connection to the station that sent them the survey. The 42% that strongly agree is the same percent as in 2023’s Techsurvey, in either case an all-time high — and skewing more female and toward GenZ, Millennials, and GenX. “This is becoming a bigger indicator of why radio works,” Jacobs says. “In general, the younger you are, the bigger a deal this can be.”

Another big plus for radio is the importance of local content, which for four in 10 participants (38%) is a main reason for listening. Nine in 10 (89%) strongly agree or agree that one of radio’s primary advantages is its local feel, with 57% of those in the “strongly agree” category, again matching the sample’s response in 2023 and again an all-time high. “That local piece, the idea of getting a sense of place from my local radio station, that’s what sets broadcast radio apart from some of these other options like digital streaming platforms, podcasts, [or a] personal music collection,” Jacobs says.

Another constant in Techsurvey’s results is the importance of personalities compared to music, continuing a trend first seen in 2019, when the former passed the latter as a main reason for listening. This year, the two are the third- and fourth-most mentioned (following “easiest to listen to in the car,” and “it's free”), with personalities mentioned by 61% vs. hearing favorite songs or artists at 57%. It's a far cry from 10 years ago, when music significantly led personalities, 70% to 57%. Among the formats overindexing for personality appeal are hot AC, CHR and sports. “These are not insignificant numbers,” Jacobs says, “personalities are in fact one of radio's secret sauces.”

In-car listening remains strong vs. an ever-growing menu of audio choices. Just as last year, 51% said they listen to AM/FM radio all or most of the time when in a car. Among the 12% of the sample in the market for a new vehicle, mentions of both FM and AM as “very important” features in a new car are up vs. a year ago.

“There has been so much conversation in the news media about the automotive companies getting rid of AM, what’s going on with FM, and what’s happening in EVs [that] I think that talk set off some alarm bells for a lot of consumers and gave them the idea [that], ‘Hey, you know what? It's not a done deal that radio is going to be in dashboards forever,’” Jacobs said.

While other results emphasize the challenges AM/FM radio faces, Jacobs feels there are many reasons to remain positive about the medium. “We continue to see the same trends in survey after survey — the idea of being connected to a favorite station and how that really stands apart from other audio platforms and sources, [and] we see both connectedness and local news continuing to rise,” he says. “Not everything looks wonderful, but overall, radio is to a great degree hanging in there, holding its own. We actually see some pretty good vital signs here.”

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