The medium gets a bum rap from media and others
By Mary Beth Garber
Jan 19, 2010
In late December, Media Life ran an article headlined "Outlook for radio in 2010: More struggle" that painted a dour picture for the medium in the coming year, focusing largely on the lingering effects of the ad recession on revenues and other challenges, such as competition from the internet (link). The story generated an angry letter from Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association, a trade group representing radio stations. Garber challenged the article, arguing that it unfairly cast the medium in a negative light. In response, Media Life invited Garber to pen a guest column to set the record straight.
Unfortunately the Media Life article was but one of a number of pieces that have appeared about radio based on misguided assumptions and personal opinions passed off as facts.
Admittedly, Iím one of radioís biggest supporters with very strong opinions about the medium. Thatís why the content of this article is supported with real numbers published by the research companies that media professionals, reporters and analysts rely on every day.
Contrary to media industry myth, radio listening has been positively affected by new technology.
Todayís radio sounds better than ever due to digital and HD technology.
But just as important as sound are the new delivery systems that have reenergized radioís reach. Unlike most other traditional media, radio was able to take its broadcast content and its advertising model intact to the internet.
Today every computer, virtually every MP3 and iPod, and any cell phone capable of downloading apps is streaming radioís over-the-air content.
Which helps explain why approximately nine out of 10 people of all age groups listen to radio each week, far more than any other medium except broadcast television (RADAR 103, December 2009).
And why the average person spends between about two and a half to three hours or more each day with broadcast radio (Nielsen, RADAR, Arbitron, Scarborough and The Media Audit).
In fact, people spend more time with broadcast radio than they spend with any other form of audio (Council for Research Excellenceís "Video Consumer Mapping Ė How U.S. Adults Use Radio and Other Forms of Audio," October 29, 2009).
Virtually all of that radio listening is done live, in real time. It's the only mass medium that can make that claim.
Letís take a quick look at some of the technologies and devices that are being used by critics to attack radioís relevancy in todayís media world.
The internet: The next time you think about moving your ad dollars out of radio and into the internet, check Nielsen or ComScore for their weekly internet ratings.
Youíll discover that in any given week, about 60 percent more people will listen to radio than will log onto the internet.
While at the same time, simply adding radio to an internet-only ad campaign can lift your unaided brand recall by 450 percent (www.Radioadlab.com).
Internet-only radio: A new analysis of Pandora (an internet-only radio site) by www.bridgeratings.com notes Pandora's 1.03 hours of listening is lower than that of local simulcast streams, which range from 1.7 hours to 3.6 hours. They also say Pandora suffers, just like iPods, from listener fatigue, sending users back to local radio (online or over the air). Over half the people who listen to any internet radio say they have listened to local radio content streaming.
MP3 players: Apple just recently add FM radio receivers to the Nano and Touch iPods because demand for radio listening is increasing. A Paragon study showed people ages 14-24 increased their radio listening 11 percent and decreased their MP3 listening 13 percent. Even more enlightening, Edison says about 60 percent of 18-64s donít own MP3 players.
Satellite radio: Has had virtually no effect on radio usage. Satellite radio subscriptions peaked in 2008 at 18.8 million, then dropped in 2009 to 18.5 million. Thatís only 7.7 percent of all adults in the country. A recent BridgeRatings study projected both subscriptions and interest will continue to fall in the coming years.
Radio listening is trending up, not down.
All media trends up and down over a period of time.
But to hear radioís critics youíd think this dynamic medium was on a slide to oblivion.
The fact is nothing could be further from the truth.
Radioís weekly reach, unlike that of print, has declined only modestly during the past several years from a high of 94.9 percent in Spring 2001 to 91 percent in Fall 2008.
But radio has, again unlike print, now reversed that downward trend and listening continues to rise.
RADAR 103 shows radio reaching 92.5 percent of people over the age of 12, more than 236 million people each week. A recent Bridge Ratings study even shows a resurgence of local radio (without online streaming or mobile listening added) by most listener segments. So imagine what they would be with these numbers added. (http://www.bridgeratings.com).
Young People Listen to Radio
All of which helps explain the fact that RADAR, Nielsen, Arbitron, Bridge Ratings and Scarborough say between 85 percent and 92 percent of teens and 18-34s use radio every week. Nielsen says 92 percent of 18-34s spend about three hours a day with radio.
Obviously thereís a big disconnect between reality and perception when it comes to radio.
Since the advent of television, radio has been the media industryís favorite whipping boy.
And itís not just somebody elseís fault. Sure all those reporters, planners and analysts are listening to their friends instead of trusting the numbers, and the truth is that part of that perception is radioís own fault, because the radio industry has been slow and quiet in its own defense or to publicize its noteworthy achievements. Itís another fact that cannot be denied.
But the time of letting others define our future is over.
Enough is more than enough.
Radio is one of the two most powerful advertising vehicles on earth. Still. And for a long time to come.
If you have questions about radio or any of these facts, check out the web sites of the sources cited or contact me at http://www.scba.com.
Mary Beth Garber is president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association.
© 2010 Media Life Magazine, Point of View