Radio’s Leaking Listeners

The results of Techsurvey 2022* was presented in a webinar this week and two things about the latest data and the trend lines of the last five years struck me.

“We have met the enemy and it is us.”


Walt Kelly coined that phrase in a poster he made for an anti-pollution poster for the first Earth Day in 1970. He would later repeat it in a comic strip he created for the second Earth Day in 1971.

Sadly, the similarities between what needs to be done to preserve our planet and the radio industry are striking. We all know what the answer is, but aren’t applying the solution.


Jacobs pointed out that “over the past four surveys, broadcast radio personalities have stayed ahead of the music as a key attribute of the medium.”

Yet, the big radio owners have done more to eliminate the very advantage broadcast radio has over its many audio competitors. Worse, our industry has no plan to create a farm team of new broadcasters that will replace personalities that are retiring or have retired.

Instead radio has tried to compete in areas where, at best, it’s a distant second; like music discovery.

Besides Personalities Radio’s Positives are Under Attack

Radio, we are told is easiest to listen to in the car. Unfortunately, when a person buys a new car, they learn SiriusXM is just as easy to access. Plus now everything on their smartphone easily connects to their dashboard. In fact, Fred Jacobs points out that in Techsurvey 2022 the feature most wanted in a new car is Bluetooth (76%) followed by an FM radio (70%) and having a smartphone connector or auxiliary input (57%).

My first blog article of 2022 told how even with older cars, like our 2009 Honda and 2006 Subaru how easy it was to make them connected cars. You can read that article here.

It doesn’t take a Mensa to realize that this is another hole in the radio listening bucket.

Radio is “free,” with the tradeoff being forced to listened to very long commercial breaks, which radio listeners say is the thing they most dislike about listening to broadcast radio.

Radio’s covenant with its listeners was, you give us your attention to our advertisers, and we will entertain and inform you. Sadly, radio owners kept adding more commercials to each hour while eliminating the very programming elements that attracted listeners.

There’s nothing wrong with advertising, that is when it is in balance with programming content sought by the user. Podcasts understand this and enjoy increasing listening with advertisers seeing a positive benefit from sponsoring them.


No one called Paul Revere’s warning that the British were coming as being negative, and neither should anyone who cares about the radio broadcasting industry call those who are trying to promote positive change, “negative.”

Techsurvey 2022 should be a wake-up call to radio people with trends that show eight in ten people that can now connect a smartphone in their cars. Those who own a car with a “connected system” now spend the majority of the in-car time with digital audio or SiriusXM.

The car is the last beachhead that broadcast radio has left, and it is under Sirius attack.


Techsurvey 2022, like all the surveys that have been done before, use as their database, fans of radio broadcasting. They are the core of our industry and so when we see these folks leaving us for other forms of media, it’s like seeing the canary in the coal mine lying on the floor of its cage.

One of the reasons given by people who still listen to broadcast radio, as to why they continue to listen is, it’s become a habit. When a person buys a new connected car and gets SiriusXM to listen to for free, what is happening is that a new habit is being formed. Not only do they now have access to a myriad of content options, but often their favorite radio personality might be rediscovered hosting one of the music channels.

During the pandemic, SiriusXM removed the paywall for their App as well as listening on a smart speaker, both of which had been available for an extra charge. What Fred Jacobs showed on his webinar was how this positively impacted listening at home, at work and other places for the satellite provider. The habit of listening to SiriusXM was now something that could be done everywhere, and that should keep any radio broadcaster awake at night.

The tipping point is that magic moment

when an idea, trend, or social behavior

crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.

-Malcolm Gladwell

I fear we are at the tipping point.

*Watch the full presentation of Fred Jacobs webinar on Techsurvey 2022 here:  


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

28 responses to “Radio’s Leaking Listeners

  1. Dave Mason

    Has anyone explained how Sirius/XM shows up on most newer vehicles, along with its 3 month (or longer) free trial? Has radio considered this tactic? Probably not. The laws of marketing still pretty much work today, right? Find out what people want and put it out there, then tell ’em it’s there. Radio’s big benefit is in the car-and yet we sit there and let some satellite service (paid, even) butt into our territory. When we bought our new truck a few years ago it had a Sirius receiver, but not activated. Last time we took it in for service we got a 3-month free trial. Did it cost Sirius to market it to us? Not really. I got word in an email. Yeah they had to work with Toyota to get it done, but this kind of marketing-if your station has something that listeners actually want-could work wonders!


  2. Steve Biro

    As much as I hate to say it, we are likely now entering the end days for the medium of traditional, broadcast radio. And the industry’s reaction will likely be to pull back even further on the few things it has left to attract listeners – thus hastening its demise. The sad part is, none of this was necessary and at each bad decision along the way, many of us were issuing warning signals. Of course, the business “experts” weren’t listening – just as they aren’t listening now.


  3. Radioguy

    Huh — it’s the programming that matters?

    I thought economies of scale, reducing costs through voice tracking and programming multiple stations with one track and removing local control to keep costs in check were the important parts? Radio is a business, right?

    Listen to the listeners? Don’t immediately discount what hobbyists and fans say because they are the core of your business?!

    Sheesh. Thank you captain obvious but — isn’t the horse out of the barn already because of what you and other ‘experts’ have been pushing since the 1980s? SMH.


    • Well “Radioguy,” I don’t think you’ve been a long-term reader of my blog of 8-years. I’ve never been one who believed radio could grow its business by making cuts.

      Businesses grow by listening to their customers and doing the things that make their product better and better.


  4. Steve Ross

    Unfortunately, times have changed rather dramatically. And sadly, radio, as many other “thought to be eternal life staples,” i.e., daily newspaper, horse racing, libraries, pay phones, etc., have been left in the wake of those changes. They’re simply victims of a massive technological wave – one that has rendered those “staples” irrelevant and no longer viable – as they have simply fallen out of favor with the general public.

    As for radio specifically, the medium is guilty of committing a cardinal business sin – when things got tough – they went on the cheap, at a time when they should’ve been putting the pedal to the metal. Depleting the “Live” part of “Live and Local,” was, essentially, the venerable, time-honored, “Theater of the Mind,” suffering in agony from self-inflicted wounds.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ray Whitworth

    I am one of those who have given up on listening to radio. The announcers (VT or not) overall do not have that compelling voice or it’s overly processed. The commercial load should be “a 7 min continuous commercial sweep”.SiriusXM has wreaked since their merger a little over a decade ago. They were far better when it was just XM. I use their streaming services ,it’s mostly better than their over air content with shortened playlist( isn’t this why we left terrestrial radio? I either listen to my own playlists of 432 soft rock or 378 classic rock songs, plus celtic, album formats on my phone or an internet station with no spots and no short rotation. I enjoyed over 4 decades in radio but it simply is Not that anymore.


  6. Maynard Meyer

    Another reason listeners believe commercials are
    bad is that programmers keep telling listeners that
    commercials are bad. I refuse to let the words “commercial
    free” be uttered in my station. For the few decades programmers
    have ingrained into the mind of listeners that radio is
    nothing but a free jukebox, the only place to get your
    favorite songs. That’s no longer true and now we’re screwed.
    Embrace your personalities but embrace your news, commercials
    and everything else that isn’t musical. Music is not where it’s at anymore
    no matter how badly you want it to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bill Sepmeier

    Given the profound lack of broadcast radio engineers who can maintain technologies ranging from Marconi to the internet, from RF (especially RF!) to IP routing and switching, skills acquired on the job over 40 years, because of the exceptionally poor wages offered by broadcasters for such broad skill sets that must assume 24 hour on-call duties and the fact that such broad training is simply not available anywhere, over the air broadcasting will not be able to provide reliable service much longer.

    Limited to streaming with a million equally available competitors, existing broadcasters and their mediocre, ad filled content don’t stand a chance.

    LTE, 5G and now, fully mobile 200Mbps low latency Starlink global internet (rapidly being adopted by RVers, private plane operators and truckers already) are the default RF links of choice by mobile listeners.

    The long, painful suicide of radio that began when the industry decided to become a “background” media in the 80’s is almost complete. The exceptions remaining – NPR, Christian and right wing political crazytalk (with its hard core base moving to HF shortwave!) still require competent RF engineering, and that cohort is 90% retired.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No one person in a radio station was most important — they all were. It took a dedicated team to create great radio.

      The RIFs in engineering are also a contributing factor to the way today’s OTA radio sounds.

      Thank You Bill for not letting us forget the dedicated men and women broadcast engineers and all they do.


  8. Tim Mellin

    Yes….radio, outside of FM / NPR, etc….seems to be dying on the vine. Too easy to access anything you seek on the other apps online / tablet / not so smart phones, etc. Not a bad thing, outside of old radio folks like us feeling nostalgia. L.A. Kings have had their online hockey network for 6 years….much easier….they control the webcast of the games and aren’t beholden to any stations issues like competing formats, hitting exact time cuts, satisfying station owners and P.D.s, etc. Plus easy to access games at better fidelity than a.m., which compresses the crowd noise to 100 per cent…..just irritating background noise, accordingly. I do local HS and JC sports online and its the same issue…so easy to get an online network / permissions/ to webcast games, and we control the content / programming. Wave of the future is here…get used to it…not that bad….same science and art of programming, just adapting new delivery platforms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim you make excellent points.

      I know something that stopped me dead in my tracks was seeing that it’s the same number of years from 2022 to 1970 (52 years) as it is from 1970 to 1918.

      Having graduated from high school in 1970, our class would have thought anyone graduating in 1918 to be ancient. And now, here we are. It makes one think about how today’s youth feel about people our age.

      One of the things Techsurvey 2022 shows is that its people our age that often are the biggest adopters of both SiriusXM and streaming audio. It’s not hard to understand, as both are places we can find the audio product we wish to listen to.


  9. Steve Bennett

    Here’s my take on why radio is losing listeners and this list is many. First and foremost is big radio companies and technology. Big radio companies come into every state buys up the mom and pop stations then decide to trim as much of the local staff for a quick return on their investment. Second is technology gone are the days when the local DJ cued up a record, cart or a CD nowadays its on a computer at the station or a satellite from corporate headquarters (I-Heart owns three stations one in Birmingham, Mobile and Panama City and on any given day you can hear the same song at the same time on those stations with a few seconds between them). It also doesn’t help radio with no local content like free giveaways simple things like t-shirts, movie passes, dinner tickets nothing expensive to thank the listeners for listening, also doing away with the request line doesn’t help. With the advancement of Bluetooth audio in the car, the home, and portable radios and smartphones Bluetooth is becoming very popular for streaming for podcast, Pandora, Spotify or stations content (I like Oldies music and the closes stations in my area (Jacksonville, Fl) is St. Augustine and Moultrie, Ga they play 60’s, 70’s and 80’s music Jacksonville does not have an oldies station here so I have to stream to listen to my kind of music it also doesn’t hurt when I’m traveling that I can listen to a stations stream long after I’m out of the broadcast area. I maybe wrong on this one so please correct me if I am and its about advertisers while they are the lifeblood of every station I feel like sometimes that they dictate what music to play to attract listeners in age groups to buy their products. I know that radio is a business but I have been listening to radio from the 60’s on until I started working I didn’t treat it as a business until I read a quote someone wrote about it being a business so my perceptive on radio changed after that. I love the medium since I was a child in the 60’s and got to work in it from 1994 to 2007 working behind the scenes as a board opp remote setup and minor production at four stations during that time I’m no longer in the business but still have a keen interest to this day. I keep seeing and reading that radio is dying do I believe that? the answer would be a NO radio still has a vital role to play in every community with news, weather and traffic reports with that being said will every station survive? that answer is a NO as well because there is a glut of stations (mostly on FM) and the lack of good music (depending on your taste) being made a lot of stations could go dark in the near future. This is my take so feel free to give me your thoughts and comments both good or bad and thanks for reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Radio is Show Business, Steve.

      Back when many of us were attracted to enter the field, it had some balance between the “show” and “business” parts. Over time, as Wall Street saw the operating profit margins of the radio industry (back when it was a business often described as a license to print money), they jumped in and disrupted that balance. Today, many would argue the “show” part is weak and the “business” part is out-of-control, contributing to the PUMM numbers eroding. (PUMM is People Using Measured Media)

      The music radio plays was always designed to attract a certain audience that broadcasters felt would be commercially viable. Advertisers in none of my radio career ever dictated the songs my radio stations played.

      Radio operators for too long always considered their competition to be the other local radio stations for listeners and the local newspaper for advertisers. That world is a memory.

      Today, every media source is a competitor for both listeners and advertisers.

      Welcome to the future.


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  11. I think radio needs to give listeners what they want rather than filling up the AM band with syndicated sports networks. One local example is an 1,000 watt AM with 250 watt translator purchased back from a state wide co0ngromate. The purchaser put a classic country format on consisting most of 70s country oldies. It makes enough money for his family to live on, it’s now rated by Nielsen as the number one station in that rural county, though quite a few stonger signals (including country..but not classic) come in from metropolitan areas. I heard one of the listeners that showed up at the new building they moved the station into stated.. they cancelled their Sirius/XM subscription. Give the locals what they want.

    Liked by 1 person

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