Whenever the topic of radio is broached on Saving Country Music, it solicits strong reactions from people who can’t imagine why any lover of music would ever trust their musical fate to the radio dial, especially when so many other options exist these days, whether it be SiriusXM satellite radio, streaming options like Pandora and Spotify, or popping in a good old-fashioned CD or listening it an iPod. But the simple fact remains, radio is still the most widely used format for music listeners, confirmed by a new study by Edison Research. And even more importantly, radio is where listeners go to discover new music. 75% of listeners use radio to keep up-to-date with music, while only 20% use SiriusXM, and only 18% use Spotify (see chart below).
Sure, the convenience and accessibility of radio is why it is an easy option, especially for passive, busy consumers who don’t want to make music discovery a primary focus of their lives. However the intangible of radio is that it helps music listeners connect with their community and each other. Unlike when you’re listening to music on a CD, or streaming it on Pandora, while listening to the radio you are sharing in the moment with a human DJ and thousands, maybe millions of other listeners through the radio medium. This was the warning Edison Researched sounded at the Country Radio Seminar in February about Cumulus and Clear Channel’s plans to nationalize the radio dial with syndicated programming like DJ Bobby Bones and his massive country morning show, now reaching over 60 markets. This type of disconnect from the local dynamic is what hinders streaming services, satellite radio, and ultimately could mean the demise of radio’s unique advantage, Edison Research warns.
Radio’s days might be numbered, but right now, it still rules the roost, and by a wide margin over its emerging, online competitors, while streaming local radio shows online with tools like Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio app are becoming a common way for consumers to have the best of both worlds: the local connection of radio, matched with the clarity and variety of streaming.
Meanwhile there’s talk of trying to make smartphones that actually contain radio tuners in them, especially in light of talk from automobile manufacturers about eliminating CD players and even radios from new vehicles.
Another interesting note about the Edison Research study is that amongst the coveted 12 to 24-year-old demographic (i.e. the kids that set the upcoming trends for consumers), YouTube ranks as the highest medium for keeping them “up-to-date” on music. Coupled with changes to Billboard’s charts that register YouTube data, it drives home the importance of artists having a presence on YouTube, even if it is used more for audio than for dedicated videos for songs.
For active music listeners, like ones that would frequent a site like Saving Country Music, it may be hard to understand why radio listeners would ever maintain their loyalty to the format in the face of consolidation and constricting playlists. But for the vast majority of consumers, it is still their primary window into the music world. It is also the channel through which starving, worthy artists could connect with more listeners.