What Business is RADIO In?

This question was last asked at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show in 2019, before a two year shutdown of the world due to a global pandemic. I don’t remember what answer they came up with back then, but no one foresaw the changes that COVID-19 would bring into our lives.

The question was visited again in one of the opening sessions at this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas and the answer can be boiled down to two words, “very different.”

New Media Behaviors

COVID changed the nature of how people do their jobs, and this got me thinking how my own life changed with my retirement.

From my high school days in the 60s until 2010, I worked six to seven days a week in the radio industry. If I wasn’t listening to my own radio stations, I was listening to the competition.

In 2010, I transitioned into my second career as a college broadcast professor, teaching the process and effects of mediated communications, the history of broadcasting, broadcast sales, on-air radio production and the program’s Capstone management course.

My radio listening was mainly in my car, as my college building wasn’t conducive to receiving over-the-air radio signals, so when I was working in my office I streamed smooth jazz from my iPad to the aux input on my radio.

When I retired from my second career, got married and moved to Virginia, my radio habits would change again, as well as my television habits. Now all of my media would be accessed via streaming on the internet.

The Future of Work Impacts the Future of Radio

Without evening thinking about it, as the nature of my work changed, my media habits were greatly impacted by those changes.

Looking at the future of radio, new studies done by CivicScience really opened my eyes. Their studies have found that 44% of people who listen to radio have changed their habits over the past 12 months.

People are now listening to more audio content via internet streaming, they’re listening at different times of the day, their consumption of podcasts have increased, and while 20% say they are listening more often, a whopping 34% say they are listening less often.

Listening More or Listening Less

When CivicScience looked deeper into the reason people are listening less to radio, they found that the location of where people worked played a big role. Of the 51% that said they listened to radio less, they also were part of the group that was working remotely (i.e. from home) or were unemployed.

Since so much of today’s radio consumption occurs in the vehicle, people who work from home are spending less time in their cars and therefore less time listening to radio.

Post-Pandemic Work Choices

When CivicScience asked people what their future work preferences were after COVID, only 24% said they wanted to return to their office full-time. 37% wanted to work from home full-time and 40% said a mix of in office and at home would be their preference going forward.

These findings present radio operators with a real dilemma. The radio industry depends on a working age population all moving to and from work at the same time, hence the reason that both morning and after drive radio time sales have always commanded more dollars than middays, nights, overnights and weekends.

Moreover, people who stream their audio content are the people who prefer to either work entirely from home or have some kind of hybrid office/work-from-home situation. They represent 75% of the workforce in this study.

Global Supply Chain Disruptions

The global pandemic and the war in Ukraine have caused major disruptions to the global supply chain. For example, GM announced they would be having a two week shutdown at its plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana (it produces the popular Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks) due to a shortage of computer chips. While Russia and Ukraine don’t produce any of the computer chips that are in such short supply, Ukraine is the world’s leading supplier of neon, a gas used in the production of computer chips.

Company business models work on the premise that resources of materials and goods move freely across geography. Both COVID and a war have totally disrupted the way the world was operating. Long term, we will adapt, but the immediate future won’t be pretty.

Now, take this one example and apply it to virtually every area of our lives and you can see how complex things have become.

An Ecosystem-Driven World

Radio used to be such an easy business, just beat the other radio station in town and steal as many advertising dollars from the local newspaper as possible.

Every radio station was like its own little fiefdom, but now in 2022 every radio station is part of a very large media ecosystem and the competitive advantage is no longer how efficient you can run your operation but how connected you are to your listeners on all devices and via all platforms; connections that go far beyond your FCC license to operate an AM or FM radio service to your local community.

For me, Apple is not my iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, Mac or Apple TV, it’s the ecosystem that all of my devices operate on. For me, that’s what is most important.

What makes our ecosystem-drive world so hard to navigate is that everything is in a continuous state of flux. This makes our deciding what we should pursue unclear, and whether other media properties are opponents or an ally.

“Competitive Advantage” is no longer the sum of all efficiencies, but the sum of all connections.

  Strategy, therefore, must be focused on deepening and widening

networks of information, talent, partners and consumers.

-Greg Satell


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

6 responses to “What Business is RADIO In?

  1. Rick Starr

    A quibble: the radio industry *today* depends on drive times. It wasn’t always so: in the early days the big money was at night with Jack Benny and variety shows and whatnot. Television stole that time period and radio became disk-jockeys and music, and “drive time” developed. Even then there were outliers: beautiful music racked up middays, talk shows took prominence at night, and so on.

    With choices exploding audiences necessarily become smaller, and I suspect niche programming will find them at odder times yet. Perhaps a few “mass appeal” stations will exist (witness the continued, if diminishing presence of the TV networks) but the rest will fragment even further until they fall to the threshold of economic viability.

    Radio’s problem, not shared by podcasts, is the limit imposed by frequency allocation and hours of the day. You can make a podcast to be enjoyed by only one other person if you choose (“Mom, I love you”) but radio, constrained by linear format and economics can’t. Somewhere there will be a balance, but I suspect – long term – it may not be attached to “vehicles” or “home” or any such external attribute, but to “content” (more or less as it always has been, eh?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you have outlined the logical future for the entity formerly known as “mass media.”

      Media will appeal to a particular “tribe.” How well it does that, will determine how large a following it can build with that particular niche.

      Thank you Rick for sharing your thoughts on this subject.


  2. Hal Widsren

    I think it would be interesting to know what percentage of people who listened in the office prior to Covid continued to listen while working at home. Some published studies show mid-day is now bigger than AM Drive. Not sure I believe that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When people don’t commute, they aren’t in their cars in AM/PM drive. Since cars are the main way people listen to OTA radio, it’s not to imagine that mid-day listening to audio media is largest during those hours.

      The other question being how they’re accessing their favorite media channel when they are working from home.


  3. Victor Escalante

    COVID had the same effect on radio as the 2008 crash had on newsprint. At the time I was working at the Houston Chronicle and I witnessed ad dollars fleeing and never returning. The business journals fared the same. Today, newsprint is mostly digital. The last time I visited the Chronicle it looked like a TV network studio. Your streaming comments are spot on and I concluded the same so I bought into a digital company as creative director to lead programming content. Since there is nothing new in radio it’s all been done before, I’m bringing back many of the elements that made radio great.

    Liked by 1 person

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