Ever since the invention of visual media, everyone has been asking the same question: what is the future of radio? And depending on who you ask, the answer varies from radio is on life support to radio is here to stay. Over 90 percent of Americans listen to broadcast radio regularly. So whoever says that radio is dead clearly has their numbers wrong, and counts out radio ads at their own peril.
But we still have to ask the question…
The future of radio has been threatened by the invention of television, the CD, the iPod, and many more devices. Radio survived both as an entertainment platform and an advertising medium. Now, we have streaming services like Spotify and Pandora and the future of radio is at stake yet again. Will it survive this time?
Well, first we have to define the meaning of radio.
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This post was updated in May 2021
The Future of Terrestrial Radio
Also called broadcast radio, this is the traditional AM/FM radio that is mostly limited to certain geographic areas. When they say the future of radio is bleak, they probably mean terrestrial radio, but this type of radio advertising continues to thrive even in the age of internet radio and other streaming services.
Brands have been using broadcast radio to advertise to listening audiences, and so far, it’s been working. But with the presence of digital platforms (which offer so much more in terms of real-time analytics), companies are reconsidering the value of terrestrial radio advertising.
Is saying goodbye to traditional radio advertising the way to go for brands?
The future of broadcast radio seems secure mainly because it has been around for so long. Radio is woven into our society’s fabric and listeners simply can’t do without it.
In many ways, this is true. Broadcast radio is truly a treasure for marketers and this is why:
Terrestrial radio advertising works because it is highly segmented.
Local radio stations differ from state to state, from city to city. With AM/FM advertising, brands already have their work cut out for them. The ideal consumer is present, segmented, and listening. All a company has to do is create a radio ad that convinces these listeners to buy.
And reason number two is…
Radio has massive reach, more than TV and mobile.
Think about it, you listen to radio when driving to work in the morning. And you still listen to radio when you get to work, and when you get back home.
So if you haven’t been using radio to advertise because you think it’s an outdated medium, it’s time you start.
Unlike visual media, radio advertising can reach consumers throughout the day. From their morning run, their drive to work, and even their lunch break.
And one more thing…
Radio evokes an emotional response in the audience.
They are called listeners for a reason; they listen. If your ad is good, consumers will listen and visit your website or call for more information.
Radio has been able to survive all these years precisely because it doesn’t use visuals to send messages.
Marketers have always gone the extra mile to make hard-hitting radio ads. From the attention-grabbing introduction to the convincing call to action, radio ads engage the imagination of the listeners, making it an effective marketing medium.
With a 93 percent reach, the truth about the future of radio is clear…
People love radio, and this is not going to change.
But there is another truth about the future of radio we should admit…
Traditional radio will do well to evolve with digital technology.
This is why a lot of local radio stations are choosing to go online. Even then, radio shouldn’t evolve so much that it loses meaning to consumers.
When listening to music, there is a myriad of online streaming services that are far more evolved than radio, YouTube included. But broadcast radio still survives because it’s free, and it has cultural significance to consumers.
Radio personalities and DJs play an important role by introducing consumers to new music and topics of interest. Consumers don’t want to search for new music, they want it brought to them. Listeners want the intimacy and connection associated with broadcast radio, which is why online streaming services are beginning to look more and more like terrestrial radio by suggesting content to consumers.
People are still listening to radio, but the ones saying that radio is dying must surely have their reasons.
When it comes to marketing, we can’t deny that radio and other interruptive advertising methods face the threat of extinction.
Not the first choice.
Radio is there, it’s dependable, but most people just listen to it in their cars because they have no choice. It’s not the first pick anymore for anyone who wants to discover new music. There are easier and more efficient ways to do that now.
People spend on average 86 minutes every day listening to terrestrial radio. But only because it’s easy. It gives them what they want when they want it. With broadcast radio, listeners don’t feel like playlists are imposed on them.
You’ll rarely find people talking about what was on the radio last night. What is the point of radio’s massive reach when there is no engagement?
The challenge is to make radio the first choice for listeners.
Radio advertising works, that is undeniable. But the question is whether it works better than other advertising mediums. It’s about whether the results are good enough to justify what you spend on terrestrial radio advertising.
There is no way of measuring the effectiveness of your radio ads with broadcast radio.
Besides the high prices that brands have to pay to book a commercial spot in AM/FM radio, this advertising medium is not as highly targeted as you might believe.
Radio ads come and go in 60 seconds. Sure, your ad can be played ten times a day, but you will have to pay for each one of them without a guarantee that listeners are actually paying attention. There is no way to measure the ROI with radio advertising. Companies also need to focus on other strategies like search engine optimization and blogging.
Radio advertising on its own is not a good enough marketing strategy for brands.
Even though radio is surviving, the advertising medium is not thriving like its counterparts. Streaming services and podcasts are gaining popularity by the day, and the future of radio is being threatened.
And speaking of online streaming services…
Terrestrial radio is not as fresh as Spotify or as interesting as podcasts.
Sure, radio has massive reach. Thousands of listeners are tuning in every hour, but does radio advertising generate engagement?
In the future, it will not be enough to say that radio advertising sometimes works when there are platforms that can guarantee both reach and engagement.
Obvious cracks are threatening the future of radio, and ignoring them won’t make them go away. What we can do is fix them, but first, let’s look at some of the opportunities and challenges for brands on internet radio.
The Future of Internet Radio
Unlike terrestrial radio, internet radio broadcasts through the internet, so the market is much wider, sometimes even global. Many local radio stations also offer internet broadcasting to reach a bigger audience.
Internet radio provides better insight into the audience.
Think geolocation and information tracking.
All the limitations of terrestrial radio advertising have been fixed by internet radio. Advertisers can more accurately target their listeners based on several different factors.
Of course, there is the issue of privacy, but let’s stay on topic.
Factors like mood, number of listening hours, and the total number of listeners can be tracked online. You can even limit your radio ad to audiences using mobile devices and not desktop computers.
Internet radio listeners can multitask on their smartphones or tablets even while enjoying music. So when an ad comes on, they are more likely to respond by visiting a website or a social media page.
The internet radio audience is global.
Advertisers can reach millions of listeners. Even car manufacturers are including streaming options that allow listeners to enjoy their favorite online stations wherever they are.
With internet radio directories, consumers can easily discover new stations, so there is no shortage of listeners. But the availability of more evolved platforms for radio advertising means that brands have to work harder to get to listeners.
Annoying radio ads
With traditional radio, consumers have no choice but to wait for the ad to run before they continue listening to music. Consumers are in control when it comes to internet radio, and they can upgrade to an ad-free streaming experience at any time.
Internet radio is just not there yet.
In as much as digital radio is available to more people, it still needs the internet to work. Broadcast radio is readily available to thousands of consumers, and brands can benefit from this. Brands want radio stations with targeted audiences (as opposed to global listeners).
Back to the Future of Radio
The future of radio is bleak, they said. People want visuals so radio is dead, they said. But years later and radio advertising is still holding strong.
- Because radio ads don’t take much to produce.
- There are no visuals to sync with the audio, and the finished product can get on the air just as fast as it was produced.
- Radio advertising also focuses on highly segmented audiences, meaning that brands have a better chance of selling when they use radio ads.
But is all this enough to secure the future of radio?
There are a lot of alternatives including TV and streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music where brands go to advertise. Internet radio is more appealing, especially to younger generations.
Streaming services are drawing a lot of listeners, particularly from younger generations. According to a 2018 survey by Edison Research, 50 percent of listeners between the ages of 18 and 34 don’t own a home radio. Still, this is not enough to say that the future of radio is dead.
Nobody is asking radio to change.
It’s clear than listeners love radio because it’s classic, dependable, local, and entertaining. But all these factors mean little to brands. If consumers don’t see radio as their first pick when they think music or talk show, then brands have no business putting out radio commercials.
Radio simply needs to evolve with digital technology while maintaining its original experience. It’s a lot to ask, but there is a lot of pressure from streaming services and podcasts. These audio platforms are not coming for radio any more than other audiovisual media has in the past. It’s about who gets the most attention, and in as much as we would like to believe otherwise, radio can’t stay in that spotlight forever, Broadcast radio is just too big to feel the impact of digital technology, but this doesn’t mean the threat is not there.
Instead of being in denial about their uncertain future, radio should work on securing this future.
Radio became this big because it inspired a cumulative listening experience that made people feel connected. This is not the case anymore. People have options, and radio listening audiences are aging by the day.
Radio supporters get defensive and argue that young people are actually listening to the radio more than ever. But young people are also listening to digital streaming services more than ever. One side is bound to lose eventually, and radio seems to be outliving its glory days.
But there is a solution…
Creating the right content.
People love terrestrial radio because of its local content. Syndicating content on a national or even global level makes it harder to gain and maintain an audience. That local radio personality invokes a sense of nostalgia in listeners. That local DJ gets people to pay attention. Without any of this, radio loses more and more listeners.
So why not make local radio content better?
Radio needs to create new content that is suitable for digital distribution channels, introduce alternative music to attract younger audiences, and engage consumers on social media and blogs. If it’s a community of listeners they want, radio has to embrace new technology and reinvent itself.
To remain a relevant advertising medium, radio first has to attract listeners that are paying attention and interested in the content.
It’s not enough to repurpose the same old shows.
Introducing real-time analysis into the mix.
When people look to the future of radio, they usually mean audio as a general term. This includes Pandora and Spotify. Broadcast radio is not going away anytime soon, but its relevancy both as a listening experience and an advertising platform is in question.
Digital advertising platforms offer real-time reporting and feedback on the progress of an ad campaign; when it ran, how many people were listening and so on.
Real-time data is important to advertisers, and a lot of broadcast radio stations don’t offer this. Radio should be more accountable to marketers and brands by investing in the right tools and resources.
Radio should remain accessible, but advertisers should also find a way to offer real-time analysis that can help brands better understand their position.
So if you’re going to take anything from this article, take this…
The future of radio involves combining the broadcast and internet experience so both brands and consumers can get the best of both worlds.
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