What I Recently Witnessed About Radio Use

Sue & I just returned from a seven week trip out west to visit our children and grandchildren who are living in Nevada, Montana and Washington. For me, our trip would also be a chance to witness how radio is used (or not used) in three different households, as well as in hotels, businesses and public transportation. What I would witness, was concerning.

Nevada

In Nevada, I noticed that for a household of seven, not a single radio was to be found. Audio was accessed by asking Alexa (Amazon Echo) to play something or a particular playlist was sent wirelessly to speakers via someone’s iPhone. Everyone, even the very youngest grandchild, who’s five, had their own iPhone.

In a house where both parents work, and can be called out at any hour of the day, this type of communications for all family members becomes a necessity.

Radio listening, if done at all, was something only done when in the car. Television, was connected to a cable bundle and only CNN or Netflix seemed to get viewed. The grandkids spent most of their time playing video games on the house computer, game console or their iPhones.

Montana

Here a Sonos home speaker system had been installed in the home. I found that two different local radio stations (country & classic rock) were programmed into rotation, along with an Amazon Echo smart speaker. Our grandkids called up songs they wanted to hear by asking Alexa to play them, so in the week we spent, Alexa was pretty much the default choice for anything musically played.

Television programs were all streamed via YouTube TV.

Radio pre-sets in the car were set to several country stations, several classic rock stations, several contemporary music stations and an oldies station. In all, 22 different radio stations were loaded onto the pre-sets. I added KBMC to that pre-set list when we borrowed the car a couple of times. KBMC programs a variety of jazz and classical music.

Washington

Our stay in the State of Washington took place on Whidbey Island. The only radio signal licensed on the island plays regional Mexican music and the majority of its content is in Spanish. So, it wasn’t surprising to find the pre-sets on the car radio did not include KNZW – La Zeta 103.3.

What was surprising was to see that all the pre-sets were to HD1 signals in this Mazda 6 sedan. (It appears Mazda has their radio default to HD signals and you have to toggle it off to get FM signals.) Since the island is just across the water from Seattle, all of the pre-sets were to Seattle radio stations. The two that dominated the listening in the car were KSWD (Audacy’s 94.1 The Sound) when mom was behind the wheel and KQMV (Hubbard’s Movin’ 92.5) when either of the grand kids got control of the radio. However, what is dispiriting to witness is how frequently the radio stations get changed whenever something comes on that they don’t wish to hear. When commercials come on, the station gets changed. Likewise, when songs they don’t like come on, the station gets changed. It’s like watching football using the Red Zone.

Here again, not a single radio receiver was to be found inside the home.

The Bus & Hotels

When we departed Whidbey Island, we took a bus into Seattle. On the bus we listened to KSWD 94.1 The Sound out of Seattle. It provided a nice sound track for the ride and the bus driver never changed the station for the two hours it took to reach our destination.

Every hotel room we stayed in featured flat screen TVs but none had a radio. The old clock radios have been replaced by digital clock/USB charging stations for our iPhones, iPads and laptop computers.

Summing It All Up

I realize there is nothing scientific about this, it’s all anecdotal, but it was a dose of reality that confirms much of the research I’m reading about today’s radio landscape.

No one in our seven weeks on the road tuned into any AM radio station. FM, was radio to everyone, but then, only in their vehicles. Listening to radio in the home was not possible, because there was only one radio in any of the homes we stayed at and that was in the garage.

HD Radio sounds great, but in all honesty, the one family that had this easily accessible in their car, probably didn’t know that’s what they were listening to and it certainly wasn’t the reason they were listening to any particular station.

With the exception of our two hour bus ride, radio exposure could be measured in short segments, that only happened to occur because the radio comes on with the ignition switch. Sadly, changing radio stations occurs constantly, so any commercial content never gets heard.

Likewise, businesses we frequented either had their own franchise “radio station,” like Walmart Radio or streamed a music channel from some other music service they subscribed to.

In our travels, we didn’t see a TV commercial, billboard or bumper sticker for any radio station. Lots of shirts and sweatshirts promoting lots of things, but not one for any radio station.

Radio, it would appear, has become the Rodney Dangerfield of media.

“We don’t get no respect.”

But then maybe, it’s a self-inflicted situation

46 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

46 responses to “What I Recently Witnessed About Radio Use

  1. Sad, but true. The times are “a changing,” and yet we don’t want to admit it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember the days on the boardwalk in Atlantic City when all you heard everywhere were radios playing, in business after business — to say nothing of all the portable radios that played from beach blankets on the sand by the ocean’s edge. You don’t find that anymore Art.
    -DT

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doug

      We “oldsters” are the generation that grew up with radio. Case in point, in Jacksonville, Fl, the alternative station with the stronger signal switched dial positions with the light AC, which now has great ratings . The alt station’s still are pathetic .

      Liked by 2 people

  3. VBaskin2010

    Uh you’ve mistyped Rodney Dick. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Doug

    Great read. I’ve always said that once people could access new music through other means, everything changed (plus how much new music do certain formats play ? How much would a new Tom Petty have been played in the last 15 years of his life ?!) The top 40 radio for us teens then conveyed a sense of excitement for a world that most of we future radio needs/junkies weren’t experiencing in real life and ,later, AOR, for a world we might have been experiencing.
    My hip successful professional daughter in her 30’s says she only knows two people who listen to radio and I’m one of them .
    And yes, who listens to commercials ?!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Doug for stopping by the blog today and sharing your perspective.

      Lee Abrams was always good at getting away from the data and getting out in the real world and observing what people actual do with their radios.

      Managing by spreadsheets can be a death spiral.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bob Harlan

    As I have asked before, what do the younger generations want that radio could deliver? The industry appears to be sitting back, waiting for the end, rather creating a new beginning.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is a famous quote (somewhat dubiously) attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Customers can easily describe a problem they’re having — in this case, wanting to get somewhere faster — but not the best solution.

      In a world of ON DEMAND and PERSONALIZATION, the linear forms of media will have difficulty in competing with.

      Thanks Bob for once again asking the question.
      -DT

      Like

    • Hi Bob,

      I think you’re the Bob that I know in California. Our LPFM is engaging with young people to A: get them on the air with B: Content that they create, C: that they and we promote, and create community awareness of.

      We also have access to a marvelous location at the intersection of the two state highways in Yuba City where we will be able to place “We support 94 Three! KXYS 94.3 FM” signage in our board presidents RV dealership lot.

      We are also making presentations to community groups like the Kiwanis and Rotary, and others to create more awareness of our brand and of radio. And also deal with signal issues by streaming.

      But our identity is very much Broadcast, over the air radio. As part of a mon-profit, Community media center.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Additionally, we are M Dash as far as I know—the only local radio outlet that has FRESH local weather forecasts, conditions, and temperatures each half hour. Our temperatures are from at least three different locations in each update. And this is something other stations in the market are not doing because their automated or satellite-based and it’s not practical for them to have someone doing updates that often.

      Further, the fact that we began streaming in April, appears to have caused another popular station in town to resume streaming several years after they stopped.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. John Spahn

    Dick Taylor, we have one clock radio in the entire house, for four people. It is only used for the time, not even for an alarm. Alexa is used for music in the house. When in the car, my sons are listening to playlists on their iPhones. My wife and I, listen to SiriusXM in the car. We both have short, local commutes, so no need for traffic reports. If there is a traffic situation, we receive alerts on our phones, the same thing for weather. When I am in my car, I listen to podcasts, from shows that used to be on the radio. I spent 25 years in radio. Whether it is music, information, or talk, I rarely find content on the dial, that compels me to listen. What is to become of my old industry?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I do mornings on a classic rock station. 99.1 in Pittsburg, Kansas. 100.1 in Joplin, Mo. And 98.5 in Paris, Tx. I live in Pittsburg…It’s a small college town (PSU) I’ve heard the station in a Subway restaurant, And when I had my hair cut at Great Clips they had my station on the overhead speakers. I had my oil changed at quick lube and they had my station on.
    I went to a place that sells music, video games etc and they had my station on too . This isn’t a big community oriented radio station…dont really mention local stuff at all because the show is heard in in MO. KS, ARK. OK. & TX. I know radio is a tough sell these days but people are listening and the TSL is huge..biggest complaint from these folks listening all day is hearing the same songs over and over.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. So what is the answer, is ready dead. I hear of no solutions or ideas ..

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Going, going. GONE!

    Like

  10. Ken Dardis

    The radio smoke screens went up after 9/11, through mid-2002, as advertisers across all media took a reprieve and reassessed spending, before fully returning in 2004. Only, then they began experimenting with online advertising and they liked this thing called “accountability.” Radio could have offered it, but never tried.

    Through 2008 Consultants were solidly behind the same phrase as iHeartMedia CEO, Bob Pittman would outright say in 2011: “…broadcasters shouldn’t become too hung up on digital revenue.” At the time, CC owned Inside Radio reflected that view.

    As RAB head Gary Fries continually put out assertions that radio was following the Yellow Brick Road. It wasn’t. Hyperbole was flying:

    July, 2005 on the flat revenue for Q2 2005:
    “The Radio industry is very actively and aggressively pursuing
    new technologies, formats, and platforms which will drive the
    business as we move forward into the second half of 2005 and
    into 2006.”

    July 5, 2005 – May Revenue: “Looking forward, we anticipate that
    Radio revenue will continue to progress as a direct result of the
    significant programming, operational, and business advancements
    that are being implemented by the industry.”

    June 3, 2005 – April Revenue: “Radio’s growth is on the horizon
    as recently introduced technologies, programming formats, and
    advertising platforms take root and propel the industry forward.”

    April 28, 2005 – March Revenue: “Radio is evolving at a rapid
    pace, both technologically and creatively… Growth should
    remain steady throughout the year, as the medium and its
    advertisers explore how to maximize the advantages emerging
    from this new landscape.”

    One reason we all go through “updates” of software and operating systems in tech is because programmers improve their platform’s existing backbone. When’s that last time radio went through an update? (Sports Talk?) Programming – there’s that word again – is still Hot Clock based and commercials are made the same was as in the 1960s – even with a drop in creative quality upon consolidation.

    One question never answered: What is it a radio station can put on the air that a listener cannot find on their own within 10 seconds today, when they want?

    A growing lack of relevancy was pointed to since the beginning of radio’s decline, and that’s exactly what has ended up happening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you have clearly stated the problem for broadcast radio when you ask the question: “What is it a radio station can put on the air that a listener cannot find on their own within 10-seconds today, when they want?”

      Thanks for all you wrote Ken.
      -DT

      Like

  11. Dick, as always, I love your blog. Anecdotal or otherwise, radio, as we know it, has a lot to consider. I will say this; I have been placing a lot of advertising on radio in the last year plus. I can say, without question, every campaign has been successful to some extent. Every client will continue to use radio advertising based on results. Some have been low budgets as well.

    I have two critical keys, I believe, to my success for my clients. The first, as always is creative. The message has to be amazing in some way shape or form. The second, is replacing the importance of frequency on one station, with multiple stations, and working on reach. I go for as many commercials as possible, with less of a worry on time placement (other than overnights).

    I know it is still working. And that’s good for radio, and for my customers, at least for now and the near future!

    Josh

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh, you are a radio sales pro, so I’m not surprised to hear you’re making the medium work for your clients.

      Kudos to you on your success.

      As Roy H. Williams, a big radio user himself likes to remind us, one exception doesn’t disprove the rule. In this case it’s, the world is always in a state of constant change. You either change with it or be changed by it.
      -DT

      Like

  12. John Span’s one sentence: “I rarely find content on the dial, that compels me to listen.” pretty much sums it up. I can get a smile from NPR, a tech tip from Leo Laporte-but have to sit through an inordinate amount of irrelevant, poorly created commercial material to get it. Other forms of media have yet to consider their production values and radio needs to fix theirs up. As noted here, radio is operating in a vacuum as well. We need Film House in 2021 more than we EVER have.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m a lifelong career “radio guy” and worked at quite a few stations with a variety of formats and even pioneered rock on commercial FM here in New Jersey in 1969. Since deregulation in 1996, radio has been . . . IMHO . . . in a nosedive. It’s no longer “broad”casting and narrow formats bore me and do not offer the full “menu” of what radio can provide. I don’t want “all anything” all the time. I just wonder if a “full service” radio station could work and, if it did, would it start a trend in the industry? Traditionally, radio programmers have been anything but innovative and mostly follow others. These days I basically listen to only two radio stations . . . one is all news and the other all sports. I’m an old coot so today’s pop/rock music is just the same stuff repackaged. I grew up with rock (the first single I ever bought was from the Father: Chuck Berry) and . . . frankly . . . it’s all been done. Nothing new (that’s “different”) or intriguing. RIP . . . Radio In Pieces.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. James Heckel

    A day at the beach on the Jersey Shore circa 1965 would feature hundreds of what used to be called transistor radios, 95 percent of which were tuned to WABC AM 77 with their great signal and the even greater top-forty DJ Dan Ingram. All those radios spread along the beach and tuned to the same station created an echo-like sound that I’ve not heard since and will never forget. No one changed the station when the commercials played. And no one will ever have a 27 rating (that’s 27-not 2.7) as did Dan Ingram at his peak. And with those ratings Ingram could get away with some funny off-color stuff too. You never knew what he’d say next! This was radio doing what it does best-uniting a community of like-minded listeners in a shared experience. I miss that.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I heard exactly what you’re talking about back in the 60s, on the beach, in Atlantic City. It was truly amazing.

      In the 80s, radio dials went from AM to FM and the station mot people played was 95.1 – WAYV.

      I know, because I was the manager at WFPG-FM and we were the station heard in waiting rooms, hotel rooms and people’s homes with our beautiful music format.

      But, I could not agree with you more about how powerful radio was back in those days.

      Thank You for bringing back those wonderful memories.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Even the big companies are building digital infrastructure over towers and transmitters. As much as iHeart is considered Satan Incarnate for firing on-air personalities, they are probably onto something for consolidating into Nashville and hiring digital content creators. Having said that, we might ultimately regret the dismantling of free over the air broadcasting

    Do we know that ditching over the air applies to all income and ethnic groups?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Brad, you make an excellent point. We are now seeing how television is moving from FREE over-the-air programming to streaming subscriptions.

      The changes to how we access media content and how it gets paid for, is a rapidly moving target.
      -DT

      Like

  16. Maynard Meyer

    I sell AM/FM radios in our station lobby. Just sold
    One to a lady yesterday and another lady with her said she loves hers.
    Newspapers sell subscriptions, radio stations should sell radio receivers. It’s
    The total answer to our problems but doesn’t hurt to make
    receivers available…they’re getting are to find.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember Jerry Lee gave away beautiful wood cabinet fix-tuned FM radios in Philadelphia to get people tuned to 101.1 FM WEAZ. Jerry believed in asking people what they wanted and doing lots of research & promotion. The station was consistently #1 in the City of Brotherly Love until the day it was sold to Audacy.

      Maynard, they don’t make radio people like you anymore I’m afraid.

      Thank You for sharing your story.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

    • Maynard, I applaud your creativity. Stations with HD capability should be giving away HD radios, selling them on their websites and on the air, making their expanded capacity for programming available to as many people as possible.

      I remember when radio and television broadcasters used outdoor advertising — billboards, bus signs inside and outside the bus, and any other form of media to catch peoples eyeballs And try to keep THEIR station top of mind.

      Radio isn’t doing that at least the way it used to, and I think it’s one of the reasons it is suffering. Out of sight out of mind. Out of sight out of ear.

      As as our LPFM gets more financially stable, will get some T-shirts on peoples bodies and community awareness that way. Or, maybe I’ll just get somebody to sponsor the T-shirts.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Another insightful article. On July 1, 2021, Albany, Georgia not only saw a format change from AAA-or “Adult Album Alternative”-to a “classic hits” format focusing mainly on 1980’s/1990’s music on 102.1 FM but also saw the market’s first-ever commercial non-music station land on the FM dial as well, in the form of translator W257ED at 99.3 for heritage news/talk station WALG-1590 about a week later. Whether or not those changes are enough to get people to tune in regularly remains to be seen. Having said that, this post proves just how much times have changed even in the last 10 years, never mind the last 20, 30, 40, 50, or even 60 years for that matter. Also, why would most people listen to a terrestrial radio signal that fades out after 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, or even up to 100 miles at best, when they can listen to an internet broadcast that can be picked up practically anywhere around the world and doesn’t fade out unless one is without internet access. Just some thoughts here. As always, thanks for sharing and posting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank You for taking the time to read and add your thoughts to the topic.

      As I read over the many comments readers have shared, I sense a common thread — everyone knows how the world has changed and none of what I observed was new, only that I put it into words.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Interesting blog and great ideas and observations in response. If radio is in terminal decline, much of the blame must be assigned to consolidation. The theory was that bringing the bulk of stations under the control of just two or three huge companies, trimming costs and running them more “efficiently” would result in the kind of growth that would satisfy the stock market. That was a moon shot, and it didn’t happen. This story is retold in every sector of society, whether it’s industry, your local school system, or government: top down management is VERY bad for creativity and long-term viability.
    We’ve essentially nationalized the radio business. Fewer people making decisions seldom results in better decisions. We should remember that when people want to consolidate other sectors, even including our elections, law enforcement and health care. It’s great if you get the right people in charge, but that never happens.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gary, you’re so very right. What’s happened to the radio industry has also occurred in virtually every other sector of our lives; and with much the same results – worse than before.

      But then 25-years ago, Carl Sagan wrote: “I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

      We are living in that world.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  19. You are correct sir! Terrestrial radio in the United States, with the exception of WWL in New Orleans, has killed itself. For years research in individual markets indicated what radio listeners desired merged in radio ignored that data. In 2007 I exited my last on air job and the radio industry in general because the writing has been on the wall for over a decade already. I spent 34 years building successful brands stations in multiple formats including classic rock CHR pop, country, how do you see , Classic soul, and others, while watching the industry die. But I would miss radio when I exit it but have not looked back. However I know I am doing another morning show in North Mississippi, from my home in Atlanta Georgia. I am not sad, others may be, about the death of terrestrial radio in the USA. I am simply happy to not ever need to tune to a over the air station except to listen to the LSU Tigers or New Orleans saints.

    Liked by 2 people

    • J Stan, like you, I’m also doing a radio show from my home in Virginia that is broadcast out of Rochester, NH on WMEX-FM. Here’s a link to our stream: https://station.voscast.com/60cb36d9defdc/

      I think of volunteer radio and LPFM similar to community theater – it’s something people do because they enjoy it.

      We now live in a bifurcated radio world akin to theater – one made up of professionals and the other made up of volunteers.

      I don’t know about you, but I’m having the most fun in radio since the days when I began over 50-years ago.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  20. “what is dispiriting to witness is how frequently the radio stations get changed whenever something comes on that they don’t wish to hear. When commercials come on, the station gets changed. Likewise, when songs they don’t like come on, the station gets changed. It’s like watching football using the Red Zone”

    Four or five years back, I had to take our daughter to school for awhile and she had “control” of the radio. The speed that she changed stations at (2 CHRs and a Hot AC) was so crazy. Even before songs finished, she was “scanning” the other stations. For her now it’s Spotify or Pandora…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert, changing stations in the car has been around since the invention of the push-button radio, but today, the speed at which people change stations gives one whiplash.

      And I too have witnessed how that has translated over to the streaming music entities.

      Thanks for adding your observations to this topic.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

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