Is Radio in Crisis?


There was a great article recently in the WSJ “Public Radio’s Existential Crisisby Ellen Gamerman, which brings up a topic we are struggling with as well. In her article, she talks exclusively about NPR but we don’t see this discussion as limited to only NPR. What is the future of radio and is it in crisis?

The “old guard” of radio talk show hosts are in the best of circumstances aging and retiring and in the worst dying. With hosts that boast some of the largest on air audiences around, there doesn’t seem to be much succession planning on how to recover or replace the lost talent (interestingly enough, radio is not the only industry impacted by this dilemma, it is being experienced in small businesses, trades, medical fields, education and more). Enter podcasters. Ms. Gamerman’s article states “With both its start and audience aging, NPR is struggling to adapt to the digital age: ‘The most innovative people are doing podcasts.’”

By the end of the decade, NPR projects that younger listeners under age 44 will make up only around 30% of the overall audience for its member stations, compared with about 60% in 1985. Currently more than 80% of podcast listeners are under age 55, according to recent data released by Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Here’s where it gets confusing though:

NPR itself is already the nation’s top podcast publisher with a monthly audience of 7.2 million listeners, according to podcast analytics firm Podtrac. In the past year, it has doubled the revenue it gets from corporate sponsorship for podcasts.

Despite the growth of digital, Americans ages 13 and over spend more than half their total listening time on AM/FM radio and 2% of their listening time on podcasts, according to Edison. NPR’s weekly broadcast radio audience now averages 26 million.

A recent report from Radio and Internet News proves interesting as well.

AM/FM clearly has the widest reach — a notable and much-hammered metric in the radio industry. AM/FM’s monthly U.S. audience is 240-million. Compare that to Spotify’s global 100-million, and Pandora’s mostly-U.S. 80-million, and you see why broadcasters sometimes feel they don’t get enough respect (call-back to Rodney Dangerfield). On the other hand, U.S. radio is a $17-billion business, larger than the combined valuations of Spotify and Pandora.

Radio’s reach is a cleanly brag-worthy metric, while time spent listening (TSL) has more nuance.

With radio’s reach being so significant in comparison to everyone else and the battle of “platform” and “format” wars still being fought, we believe radio is here to stay for now but when the popular long standing talent leaves and no one that connects with that audience or is able to create a new audience in the slot takes their place, advertisers leave, listeners leave and ultimately radio suffers (enter podcasts?).

We love to hear from you. Do you think radio is in crisis? Are you switching to podcasts or some hybrid in between?

12 Responses to “Is Radio in Crisis?”

  1. Rosario Guzzi Says:

    Regrettably, talk radio (an AM vehicle far and away) is making the most noise in the culture, and, as a direct result the
    voices of freedom now face the wrath of a government not wanting to hear the truth of their corruption and indifference
    toward its citizens now in peril from the same disease that befell Europe now in decline. Our Republic, just 240 years
    young faces an early death should the current administration of government prevail inm November. Let us allow our
    radio to champion the continuance of the America we know and love.

  2. Bob Ziel Says:

    Call me old-fashioned, but I’m staying with AM radio for dependable and accurate local and national news plus conservative talk shows. Also, I enjoy good nighttime reception (DX’ing) on the AM band. Aside from listening to vinyl (records) and CD’s, I enjoy FM radio for stereo music. Bob Ziel, Rigby, Idaho

  3. Kelly Mills Says:

    I’m definately a hybrid listener, but it’s mostly live radio unless I missed a program I want to hear. I listen to a mix of AM, FM, Internet radio, Stitcher and some podcasts. My podcast listening has actually gone down. Probably because broadcasters now understand the market and are making things available online.

  4. Stantheman Says:

    I listen to local AM talk radio daily and, nightly to coasttocoastam. For music I go to the FM dial. Occasional podcast for those broadcasts I feel I need to listen again so as to fully and better understand the subject discussed. All we can do is hope that the AM frequencies and formats remain so as people are able to listen to their desired choices.

  5. Louis Aloi Says:

    Radio is NOT in decline @ least in my media sources that I use.I’m right now listening to AM 760 WJR.Of all the sources I do use is by far AM/FM/Shortwave.A good radio is incredibly affordable,once you buy it and some batteries that’s it.No subscriptions just your ears and while listening you can go about your everyday tasks.Any further money I spend is @ Advertisers I heard and am interested in their products or services.I usually take my pocket sized radio with me & earbuds.Radio far & away IS the best source of ALL types of music,news,sports,talk and in an emergency is THE go to first source in any community for local news and information following an event.Is radio in crisis?No just some change like everything else in life.Maybe for NPR it is,but frankly I don’t listen to NPR.So if NPR goes away like their Prairie Home show is then OH WELL.Dying off like their audience demographic is.Long live commercial radio.Advertisers $$ goes to where the listeners are at without taxpayers $$ to fund programming.📻

  6. ridingonfumes Says:

    It certainly is in my hometown : (
    Had a huge fire that killed a couple people and destroyed over 300 home in our small community. And one of the first areas it burned was the hill witch had all of our Communications on it both radio stations and the cellular towers…… cellular is back up thanks to Temporary Towers brought in by the cell phone companies but there’s no telling how long it will be before we get our two radio stations back……. we do have a third radio station an AM radio station located in a different spot that did survive the fire but it’s signal is very weak and even my Ccrane EP can only pick it up at night…. so for several days while under evacuation our entire Community was completely without the communication sources we rely on most…… : ( it may be time for me to start getting into shortwave or at the very least buy a scanner And a CB radio

    • Louis Aloi Says:

      I did get the pocket C.Crane portable radio with AM/FM,Shortwave&Airwave bands along with the Reel Antenna for it.Would recommend for just those situations.I listen to it daily,glad I finally bought a really good portable radio.😃📻

  7. Howard Says:

    In our area, broadcast AM is essentially nonexistent except for DXing. The FM stations are thumpy noise monikered as music. I enjoy NPR game shows and like listening to them live on the day of broadcast. If the listener categories posed I’d have to say I’m a hybrid but what I really listen to the most these days are live streams. The stations I listen to for either news or music come from the internet as live streams. The AM station in San Diego specifically is one of my favorites – I’d have an AM radio tuned to that most of the day if I lived there.

  8. Terry Smith Says:

    with amateur radio I get both am /fm/ short wave and can aid in a crisis by relaying information and health and welfare info

  9. kv zichi Says:

    I get such a chuckle about this sort of analysis. The WSJ article talks about “NPR” being out of touch and uses the ‘example’ of Garrison Keillor. This is like saying ‘Dan Rather is an example of why NBC news is out of touch’ — Garrison Keillor was on MPR not NPR!
    MORE to the point, do those bemoaning the ageing of the audience of radio ever look at the demographics of society? OF COURSE the radio audience is getting older. So are we as a society! There are FEWER 40 year olds now than there were 20 years ago, and by extension there are MORE 60 year olds now as well. Go look at the census data and report back to us WHY is it a bad thing that the audience is older! This is like saying “There are so few Unicorns in the audience we need to improve our appeal to horned mythical beasts so we can attract them.”

    People in the ‘media’ can be so blind to statistical facts sometimes. But that is an extension of our innumeracy as a whole I’m sure. Radio is not ‘in crisis’ because of programming. If it is ‘in crisis’ at all it is because those on the business end haven’t figured out that consolidation and non-local radio is NOT the way to attract an audience. We need to get back to what made radio great in the 30s and 50s (and 60s and 70s) instead of trying to ‘beat’ the technology game. The PLATFORM is not relevant. The PROGRAMMING is.

  10. Chris Campbell Says:

    I’ll warn that I’m an old guy, one who grew up thinking that that it was just magic to be able to pull signals out of the air and who loved the glowing dials of my old tube radios and the cool lighted dial of the AM car radio, my companion in the dark. I’ve got lots of radios, old and new, so I’m not an objective observer. I don’t own a TV.

    All of my listening is to public radio on FM, both music and talk (our local public broadcaster has two sets of transmitters, one set for each format). Going farther afield, my state of Michigan has other good public broadcasters combining music and talk. I’ll set the clock radio on “sleep” and tune it to AM to listen to the amusing weirdness of late-night talk radio in the two minutes before I’m fast asleep.

    Podcasts? They sound interesting, and when I miss part of a show I promise myself to check out the podcast, but I don’t really have time to do that. Live is too busy. Right now as I type this the music station is on. Earlier as I did my daily post-work exercise route it was NPR’s news, a daily ritual. Then it was out to the sailboat and the music station as I sailed across Grand Traverse Bay.

    • Rosario Guzzi Says:

      I’m an old guy, too (77), love radio, but I do have a TV. I avoid all PBS broadcasts on radio, for it is too far LEFT. Big Bird gives ’em a furtune is residual sales annually, but that don’t stop them from partaking of the public feedbag. No thanks.
      I think independently. Besides, I’m a vet and PBS is on the record that Benghazi was “much about nothing.” Damn fools.
      PBS-TV is another matter where I’m a Masterpiece avid viewer, as well a few other dramatic segments. I especially
      enjoyed Riley Ace of Spies way back in the ’60’s, which gave Sam Nell his breakout to Hollywood and Jurasic Park.
      But I never, ever give the Moon Bats here in Cambridge (Ch. 2 Boston) a dime! How political incorrect I am. I am
      surrounded by the crazies who march along their chosen path of One Worldism. God Help America.

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