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This Year’s Extreme Weather Is Driving Tune In To News Radio.


A blistering heatwave. Smoke from Canadian wildfires that made New York City look like the apocalypse. Severe flooding in Kentucky. Extreme weather has become the norm in the summer of 2023. Despite the availability of weather info from apps and other sources, Americans continue to tune into broadcast radio to stay informed during major weather events.


“It’s been a summer for high impact weather,” says Bill Smee, VP of News Programming at Audacy. “But the other story here is that weather has been part of our local brands’ DNA. It's benchmarked on our all-news stations six times an hour.”


Those decades-old benchmarks have conditioned listeners to tune in for traffic and weather together on the twos (KYW Philadelphia), the fives (KNX Los Angeles), and the eights (WCBS-AM New York). Even on slow weather days, these reports are a tune-in for these and other news bastions.


Minute-to-minute Nielsen ratings confirm this with listening upticks during weather positions on the news wheel. “We see sustained spikes in our ratings during these intense crises, and it's not limited to the heatwave,” Smee explains. When Texas was walloped with a round of intense storms earlier this year, daily Nielsen ratings showed “a clear uptick,” Smee says. Ditto for air quality emergencies in Chicago, New York, and Detroit.


According to a July 2023 study conducted by Audacy on news consumption, weather news is among the leading sources of information driving audiences to radio – 69% of U.S. adults indicate they choose radio, besides other sources of information, to get weather information. This is despite having access to a weather app. In addition, 43% indicate they continue their search for weather information on their radio stations’ social media pages. Audacy says its weather page views have more than doubled (+104%) year-over-year.


When it escalates into something that threatens people’s well-being – as it has several times this summer – the weather becomes the lead story on news radio. “We do go deeper, we bring on experts to talk about the health and safety implications and offer tips – always focused on our local communities,” Smee points out.


During extraordinary weather events, that strategy can boost time spent listening. “People come for what they think is the weather forecast, which is usually a minute or two-minute report,” Smee continues. “And then they're going to get more.” That could be adjacent stories about health implications or air quality. “It absolutely is a tune-in driver and it is reflected in our ratings and in our digital analytics.”


Those sidebar stories sometimes spill over into podcasts. For example, in Dallas, where triple-digit temperatures have become increasingly common in the summer months, news KRLD-AM (1080) this week launched an episode of its “Texas Wants To Know” podcast devoted to how the city’s power grid will respond to the summer heat. Smee says the goal is to go “all in” both over the air and digitally. “It's built on the foundation of the habits we form on what I'll call slow weather news days.”


In addition to using its music and sports stations to drive tune-in to its news stations for up-to-the-minute coverage of major weather events, push alerts to mobile devices are part of the Audacy playbook. When air quality rose to “very unhealthy” in Chicago, news WBBM/WCFS pushed out an alert to not only its listeners, but those of all its sister stations in the market.


Despite the widespread use of weather and traffics apps, research shows Americans continue to use radio for both service elements. “The research we have done over the years, as well as the tune-in patterns themselves, validate this notion that people really do come to radio for this,” Smee says. Listeners cite the quality, detail and nuance of the information they’re getting. “People rely on that, “ he adds. “You get more than that snapshot that you see on your phone.”

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