The Future Of Radio

By Julia Bianco on May 30, 2014

Newspapers are dying. Across the United States, scores of newspapers, especially local papers, are being forced to shut down due to declining circulation and loss of ad revenue. People are moving away from the more traditional method of news consumption towards new technologies, like cable news and the Internet.

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In some ways, it is easy to see the radio going in the same direction. Long gone are the days where everyone had a handheld radio sitting on their desk, playing their favorite tunes as they did their work. Nowadays, people are much more particular about their music, listening to their own playlists that they have created on Internet streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. Regular radio has been mostly relegated to the car, and even then, it is often forgotten in favor of a CD or an iPod.

However, radio may have more hope for the future than the newspaper. Although many young people are moving towards more Internet-based music streaming methods, a recent report by Nielsen showed that traditional broadcast radio still claims 63 percent of listeners in the United States. These listeners, who are mostly older, claim that broadcast radio is their main method of finding new music. Because radio is so much cheaper to maintain than the newspaper industry, being able to hold 2/3 of the audience should be enough to keep traditional broadcast radio going, at least for a while.

“The accessibility of music has seen tremendous expansion and diversification,” said Bakula, SVP Client Development at Nielsen.

“While younger listeners opt for technologically advanced methods, traditional methods of [music] discovery like radio and word-of-mouth continue to be strong drivers. With so many ways to purchase, consume, and discover great new music, it’s no wonder that the consumer continues to access and enjoy music in greater numbers.”

There have also been a number of other studies conducted that indicate that radio is going to be sticking around for a while. A recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that 92 percent of Americans who are 12 or older listen to broadcast radio at least once a week. This figure, compared to 94 percent in 2002, shows that there has not been much change in how often we listen to broadcast radio, even with the advent of the Internet.

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Of course, although traditional radio still remains popular, there are many other services that are vying to take its place. In addition to the aforementioned Spotify and Pandora, there are also other streaming and listening services, such as iTunes, YouTube,, SoundCloud, Sirius XM and many more services that could eventually take radio’s place as a music go-to.

For each of these services, the main draw is selectivity. Although the radio is helpful in finding new music, the temptation of being able to create your own playlists and pick which songs you want to play (and skip the ones you don’t) is extremely appealing for some people.

Other popular features in new methods of listening to the radio are services that help you find new music based on the music that you already listen to. These services are much more personally specific than just listening to traditional radio. Although listening to your favorite broadcast radio station could help you find some new songs, it is more likely that you will find new music to love if it is specifically tailored to your preferences.

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Another one of radio’s surprising competitors is the literature market: books on tape and podcasts. In our society, many people have stopped reading often (another contributing factor to the decline of newspapers), and, for some, books on tape and podcasts have filled that hole. Listening to audiobooks and podcasts is popular for those who prefer something other than music, and it is another way that new technologies are taking away from the audience of traditional radio.

Of course, there are some problems with the new method of listening. According to a report by Generator Research, streaming companies like Pandora and Spotify have an unsustainable business model, and the high cost of operation, mainly due to royalty costs, will prevent them from ever making enough money to succeed.

However, the report also offers some solutions to these companies’ problems, which include selling customers’ behavioral data, a method that has worked well for social networking sites like Facebook, upping subscription costs and bundling together streaming and downloading.

As can easily be seen, there are many possibilities for the direction that radio will take in the future. However, right now, traditional broadcast radios still come installed in just about every car sold and manufactured, and many people also install them in their kitchens, their showers and their offices.

Although somewhere far down the road, broadcast radio may disappear for good, at least for the near future, it seems like it is going to be sticking around.

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