By Emily Labes, Associate Publicist
It seems that every time there is some major technological advancement in broadcast media, there’s always that one guy who pipes up and says: “I’m curious to see how this [insert catchy name of newfangled app or device here] will affect the radio industry.” This is almost always inevitably followed by that other guy, who knowingly replies: “Well, radio is a dying medium anyway.”
Is it, though?
While smug guy and even smugger guy might be content with this resolution and ready to turn their conversation to more pressing topics, perhaps they should look at all the facts first, or more specifically, one incredibly statistically significant fact: terrestrial radio reaches roughly 9/10 of the American population each week.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, 91 percent of Americans over the age of 12 reported listening to the radio at least once a week. This number dropped a mere 1 percent from 2012, when 92 percent of Americans heard AM/FM radio each week. In fact, although there has been some fluctuation, this number has remained virtually unchanged for the last decade.
This data doesn’t even take satellite radio, online radio, and podcasts into consideration. Sirius XM subscriptions now sit at a hefty 26.3 million, up from 25.6 million in 2013. Given that many of these subscriptions likely belong to families of two or more people, it’s pretty safe to assume that there are at least twice as many listeners as there are subscribers.
Internet radio is, unsurprisingly, on the rise as well. Edison Research reports that 47 percent of Americans over the age of 12 currently tune in to internet radio at least once a month (up 2 percent from 2013), with 36 percent of Americans listening to internet radio each week. Terrestrial radio stations are starting to take notice of this trend. WGN-AM, the #1 News/Talk station in Chicago, with 1,085,800 estimated listeners, recently launched a .fm station, in lieu of an FM counterpart.
There is a subtle difference between internet radio and podcasts – internet radio is streamed directly from an online platform, while podcasts are typically downloaded. It shouldn’t take a master of deduction to guess that podcast listenership is also trending upwards (again). Apple boasts over 1 billion podcast subscribers on iTunes. Not to mention the undeniable cool factor that podcasts have going for them; it is completely beyond me how something that rose to popularity in 2004 could already be considered “retro,” but that certainly seems to be the case. I would be remiss if I didn’t include an obligatory mention of “Serial:” it has become a global phenomenon and has more downloads than any podcast in history. In short, people really seemed to like it.
When you really think about it, it makes sense that audible media remains a staple of American society. Television may be our main source of news (according to Gallup in 2013), but it has its limitations. One can’t exactly watch TV while driving to work, and it’s a lot easier to be productive when you aren’t compelled to keep looking at a screen. Besides, when is the last time you went on a date that ended with the phrase, “Make yourself comfortable, I’ll go pour us some drinks and crank up the ‘Seinfeld’ reruns?”
Perhaps radio isn’t immortal, but it will take far more advanced beings than us to truly vanquish one of America’s favorite mediums.