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Reviewing The Annual Radio Physical – Jacobs Media Techsurvey

The device called “the radio” is disappearing. That is not good for the radio industry. It costs listenership.

Andy Bloom

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The annual physical exam of radio results, the Jacobs Media Techsurvey 23 results, were recently presented by Fred Jacobs.

The data shows that radio’s audience continues to get chipped away slowly. The study shows the industry’s best opportunities to hold on to its audience are through utilizing as many distribution methods as possible, taking advantage of localization and star personalities, understanding the new realities of who is listening and where, and clinging to the sacred space on the automobile’s dashboard that radio has held for so long.

The industry will either fight together to preserve that space on the dashboard or watch listening continue to erode at a more rapid pace.

The results are more stable than the past few years, suggesting we have reached or are approaching “a new normal.” Part of what it looks like includes a sizable portion of the population that works all of the time or part of the time from home. That has implications for broadcasters.

Some of the things that broadcasters did during Covid, both good and bad, have stuck. Radio’s efforts to be “local” are noticed. On the other hand, the continual reductions in workforce may have come at a cost.

There are generational differences that radio broadcasters will eventually have to pay for. Gen X is at the edge of the broadcast world. Millennials and Gen Z are light years different than prior generations.

The device called “the radio” is disappearing. That is not good for the radio industry. It costs listenership. The digital options replacing “radios” also have more content options. We’ve seen what has happened to listening levels over the past ten years as people have moved away from radios and to digital devices.

Continuing to cut high-value content creators and over-commercialize every hour of the day will send listeners to options they know they have on their smartphones and speakers.

Radio broadcasters must be better than the non-broadcast competition in every aspect to win when distribution is no longer an advantage. Broadcasters cannot afford more unforced errors.

The subscription model is wearing thin. Techsurvey touched on the subject. In a world where consumers feel over-subscribed, broadcasters who couple strong local community involvement with popular personalities may find that free is radio’s killer app.

Among Techsurvey 2023 respondents, podcasting is over-saturated. I interpret the data as meaning there is more upside in better mobile apps and smart speaker skills delivering the primary content. Success still requires focus and concentration of resources.

If you don’t like numbers, read the bold headlines, and you’ll get the drift of each section.

Here is a review of key points of the data:

Techsurvey is a 30,000-person survey. Over 400 radio stations participated. Respondents are primarily from the stations’ databases. Thus, the results may or may not represent the entire population. They are most likely representative of the stations’ P1 listeners. The survey was conducted from January 4 – February 7, 2023.

Cume Stabilizes

After a four-year slump, cume held flat from 2022 to 2023, with 86% of the sample saying they listen to AM/FM radio for at least an hour each weekday. Between 2018 and 2022, the figure dropped each year, sliding from 92% to 86%.

Listening levels are highest among Boomers and Gen X and lowest among Millennials and Gen Z.

Steady Momentum

The numbers saying they listen to radio more, less, and about the same have stabilized at about pre-Covid levels.

Except for the Covid year (2021), between 56% and 60% of respondents say they listen to about the same amount of radio as a year ago; 12 or 13% say less, and 15 or 16% say more.

The Reasons They Listen

As subscription fees for content pile up, something the study addresses later, the importance of free has never been higher. Comparing how many don’t listen to podcasts, how easy it is to access radio content shouldn’t be discounted.

There are three reasons again this year that reached 60%

  • Easiest to listen to in the car (67%)
  • It’s free (64%)
  • Personalities (60%)

Several secondary reasons strike emotional chords reached into the 50s.

  • Habit (56%)
  • Feel a connection with the radio (52%) – interestingly, the younger end and music stations score highest here. Potentially something N/T and Sports stations may want to investigate in their research.
  • Like to work with the radio (50%)

Others with significant scores that are emotional connections include:

  • Keeps me company.
  • What’s going on locally. Measured separately as an agree/disagree statement, 57% strongly agree that “one of radio’s primary advantages is its local feel.” This trended up from low to mid 40% before Covid to 49% and now 57%.
  • To be informed about the news
  • To be informed in an emergency
  • Talk shows.

Meeting The Audience Where They Are

One of Jacobs’ main points was that stations have to meet the audience where they are, and they aren’t where they used to be. The survey shows that 3% of respondents are unemployed. As Jacobs said, this is consistent with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Among those working, over one-third work from home at least part of the time.

Among News/Talk and Sports format P1s, 48 and 47 percent, respectively, work from home at least part of the time. These findings have profound implications for how these stations program, promote, and market.

Personalities VS. Music. Personalities Win, But The Gap Closes From 7 to 3 Points

In 2019, personalities surpassed music as the leading primary reason for listening to their station. The percentage that says personalities have grown, even if by just a small amount each year. This year it fell, albeit slightly.

Jacobs points to something in the data that may hint at why the value of personalities drops and the gap between music and personalities closes. Among those who say they are listening to less radio, 27% say because “the station they liked changed format or fired a personality.” Another 12% “say there are no DJs or personalities I care about”. In addition to the people who have been fired or laid off, there have been many high-profile retirements over the past year.

Then there are what Jacobs calls the “unforced errors.” Too many commercials is at the top of the list at 31%.

While radio is losing, for whatever reason, many of its biggest stars and adding units at will, it’s facing more competition than ever, and the audience knows it.

38% say they are listening less because they have more audio options in the car (38% this year vs. 33% last year).

Another 34% say they have more streaming options, including Pandora or Spotify (vs. 27% in 2022)

And 32% say they are using mobile phone apps more too.

Radio is losing listenership because of a combination of people working from home, losing its stars, bad programming decisions (or what Jacobs calls unforced errors), and consumers having more choices than ever.

The device known as “a radio” is gradually disappearing.

Fewer than eight in ten now have a “radio” where they live.

In 2018, 83% had a  radio in their homes. It was flat at 81% for the past three years before dropping to 78% this year.

Among millennials, only 67% have a radio where they live.

Listening is rapidly trending away from radio devices and toward digital devices. The glass is half-empty because as listening moves to digital devices, the radio industry will split audio entertainment time with more sources. The glass is half-full if it can compete on a range of platforms because radio has established brands, stars, and content.

Among all listeners, 58% listen on traditional devices, while 38% are on digital devices. Last year it was 61% – 35%. Ten years ago, it was 85% on traditional devices to 14% on digital devices.

Among those who work from home 100% of the time, 51% listen on traditional devices, while 43% listen on digital devices.

We’ve seen what has happened to listening levels over the past ten years as people stopped listening on radios and gravitated to computer streams, smartphones, and other devices. It won’t take another ten years for the lines to cross. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see what will happen when it does. Broadcasters cannot afford to make more unforced errors.

Among Sports Station P1 listeners, 47% listen on traditional devices, with 46% listening on digital devices. In 2022, 51% of listening was on traditional and 46% on digital devices.

News/Talk Station P1 listeners may hang in there the longest, with 62% still on traditional devices vs. 33% on digital ones. In Techsurvey 22, it was 65-31%.

Smart Speakers and Mobile Apps Replacing Radio Devices For Listening Destinations

Smart speakers appeared to stall at 35% ownership in the past two surveys amidst reports of privacy concerns and ho-hum consumer interest. This year the category jumped three points to 38%. One of the top actions respondents report doing with their smart speakers is listening to the radio. Although radio devices didn’t offer other alternatives, smart speakers offer radio stations opportunities, particularly among Millennials and Gen Xers.

Likewise, mobile apps can turn a smartphone into listening opportunities for radio stations. App downloads have stalled at about four out of ten among these respondents, with Gen Xers, Boomers, and especially sports station P1 listeners leading the way. News/Talk listeners are below the average, suggesting it is an area for these stations to improve.

Respondents estimated that the majority of their time in the car is spent listening to radio (54%), with 45% listening to other sources – SiriusXM leading the way at 19%, followed by their personal music at 9%.

The trend has eroded from 62% radio in 2018 to 54% this year. Millennials already consume more non-radio audio in the car (57%) than radio (41%).

In-car listening is at the tipping point among sports station P1 listeners, with 50% of their time in the car spent listening to radio and 48% listening to other audio.

News/Talk station partisans still spend the most time (59%) listening to the radio in the car and 39% to other audio.

The connected car is the next threat to radio listening.

In Techsurvey 23, just under one-third own a car with an in-car media system (32%, up from 30% in 2022 and 27% in the prior two years). Sports radio fans lead the way at 38%.

Among those who already own a connected car, the paradigm has already shifted; they estimate they listen to other audio 52% of the time and radio 46% of the time.

Media Pyramid

Techsurvey 23 Measures 17 Types of Media. Good research should yield the same results in various ways. In Techsurvey 23, indeed, that happens. For example, in the Media Pyramid, AM/FM Radio shows up with the same 86% one hour or more per day weekday listening as in the listenership question. Smart speakers show up with the identical 35 to 38% increase year over year again in this section.

Of the 17 media types, 12 are up, two are down, and three are flat. Smartphones continue to grow, up two points and matching TV/Video at 94%. The biggest gainers are Hearables (+8), Smartwatches (+7), and Smart TVs (+6).

Although most media participation among News/Talk format fans is up compared to the prior year, they remain at or below the average for everything except satellite radio at 34%, up 1% compared to last year and compared to 28% for the overall sample.

Sports format fans are also up versus the prior year in almost all media except, oddly, satellite radio (37% vs. 39% last year). Unlike News/Talk format fans, Sports format fans are over the average in almost every area, except video games, where participation is seven points below the average (35% vs. 42%).

Brand Pyramids

Among Social Media brands, Facebook remains the giant with 68% weekly users. It’s noticeably weaker among News/Talk and Sports P1 listeners, where just under 60% use it weekly. Among Sports format fans, Netflix has slightly more weekly users.

The three brands where News/Talk fans outperformed the average are Nextdoor, Sirius/XM, and the station’s stream. Year-to-year, Twitter has made the largest gains among News/Talk P1 listeners, up six points to 21%. YouTube, Facebook, and the P1 station’s stream have each gained four points year over year.

Sports station P1 listeners use Twitter 20 points more than the average, and less surprisingly, Amazon Prime Video 10 points more than the average, SiriusXM, and Linkedin nine points more than average. Amazon Prime Video has made the greatest gains year over year progress with sports listeners, up seven points from Techsurvey 22.

Subscription Services

Nearly nine out of ten subscribe to at least one streaming video service, and almost eight out of ten say they have two or more. Seven in ten are with the statement, “I am concerned about the growing number of subscription fees I pay for media content.” Over 40% say they agree strongly with the statement.

Podcasting Continues to Grow – Slowly, Enthusiasm Wanes

Podcasting continues its slow march, increasing from 30 to 33% who listen to at least one podcast weekly. However, 37% never listen to a podcast and another 21% say they listen to less than one a month, which is almost never.

There is more interest among Gen Z and Millennials and Spoken Word partisans.

Jacobs’ comment about enthusiasm comes when he shows the trend of listeners who say they are listening to more podcasts this year than last. The percentage was 40 and 41% three and four years ago but has slipped to 31% this year.

It’s among radio station database listeners. There may be a different audience for podcasts, but with limited resources, wouldn’t radio be better off dedicating them to focusing on the core product and shoring up its digital delivery while protecting its space on the dashboard?

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As History Unfolds, It’s Important for News/Talk Radio to Remain Focused on Playing the Hits

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward.

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A photo of Donald Trump and Joe Biden

The age-old radio adage is to “Play the hits”.

It applies more directly to music stations, but the phrase can also relate to sports talk and news/talk. So, suppose you’re like me, and you’ve found yourself behind a microphone on a news/talk station the last couple of weeks. In that case, you might be having an internal conversation about whether you’ve focused too much on the national political discourse since the unforgettable Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden debate on June 27th.

My short answer is: No, you’re not too focused. 

But in an effort to not stop this column at 100 words, I’ll explain further.

I’ve long advocated for focusing your local shows on your local radio markets as much as possible. It will separate your show from the national syndication that can be piped into any station nationwide. Your local flair is what will build your credibility in your community. It’s what will separate you. Local will win. 

And given that it’s been an unusually predictable few months in the election news cycle, there hasn’t been much to lean into on the national political side. Joe Biden was the unimpressive, octogenarian incumbent going up against Donald Trump, who rolled quickly through a primary and was set to be at the top of the Republican ticket for a third-straight election cycle. It was a rematch of 2020, a period in American history most Americans would prefer to forget, given the state of the nation at the time. Unfortunately for many, they are being forced to relive it. 

However, what happened two weeks ago in Atlanta between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has given a massive jolt to an election season that had been relatively boring. Tens of millions of Americans were tuned in that evening, and given Biden’s debate performance, it has kicked off two weeks of speculation of Biden dropping out, party infighting, replacement conversations, various media reports, and drama that we haven’t seen around an incumbent President in an election year since 1968.

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward engagingly and entertainingly while also, when appropriate, bringing on guests who will provide them with insight they can bring to their conversations with friends, at the water cooler, on group texts and on social media.

In a perfect world, you can also localize these national stories by getting reactions from local officials, reading/playing their social media reactions on your show, or if you’re in a swing state, your options beyond that are unlimited.

But now that we are in a national news cycle that has been on fire, don’t force yourself into local talk. Find your top local stories that are compelling and impacting your radio listener’s day-to-day lives, and work to blend it with the historical moment we find ourselves living through on the national political stage. And always be working your hardest to think of and find new angles, while moving the story forward.

In the end, just like your local CHR station has to play Taylor Swift multiple times an hour, you need to give your audience what they want and “Play the hits.” We’re living through history, after all.

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James Golden AKA Bo Snerdley Relishes New Nationally Syndicated Weekend Show

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

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A photo of James Golden
(Photo: James Golden)

Radio host, radio executive, producer, author, and a jack of all media trades. Since he was 14-years-old James Golden (AKA Bo Snerdley) has devoted his entire life to the media industry.

The on-air talent’s weekend show —The James Golden Show — just became syndicated through Red Apple Audio Networks.

“I really appreciate having the platform that WABC has provided. It’s a wonderful thing to have a show that’s now in a bunch of different markets and growing! It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Long before Golden hit the airwaves as ‘Bo Snerdley’ on The Rush Limbaugh Show, he was a teenager visiting his cousin, DJ Gerry Bledsoe, at work. “It was a mind-blowing experience for me. So many things happened that day. In fact, that day was when one of the older guys there, the guy who’s had a reputation as being a real grumpy, curmudgeon type guy, for some reason, took a liking to me.”

He let Golden into the show where Golden learned how to cut tape. “It took me a lot of years before I actually got a job, and ironically, it was at the same station, doing marketing and research, looking at ratings and learning how to analyze ratings and learning how to do marketing. Later on, I moved into the programming side and started doing music research.”

James Golden was one of the first in the country to do music research which led him to WABC. There he worked with the station’s transition from music to their first talk program.

“I think in life you’re given the sort of the things that you need to fulfill whatever destiny you have. I had always been interested in news, politics, and all of it. This dual love I had for music, it allowed me to transition when the station changed format and to become their senior producer of news. And it was at ABC some years later that I met Rush Limbaugh. And of course, that turned into a 30-year relationship.”

The Author of “Rush On The Radio,” recalled the first time the pair met. “So my first day working on his show, I brought him some news stories. I was in the habit of doing that before I even worked on his show. I developed a friendship. When I saw something interesting, that I thought he would be interested in and I would take it to him. So it was a smooth transition for me being rotated on the show.”

It wasn’t before long James Golden became Bo Snerdley. “So I walked in, dropped off some stories, and on the way out he says, ‘Well, everybody on this call screen has got to be a Snerdley, have you come up with your name?’ So The Daily News was on his desk, and it was on the sports page. Bo Jackson was in the news for some of the headlines, but I just wasn’t able watch it. So I just said ‘Bo’ and walked out. Little did I know that for the rest of my life, I’d be Bo. But it’s great and I love it. I’m comfortable with either one.”

Golden recalled the time spent with his friend saying, “No words can ever describe it. He was the best that there ever was to me, or ever will be in the industry. His talent, as he said, was on loan from God. But it was something unique. The incredibly intelligent, incredibly hardworking. 30 years in, he still brought it. Even when he was sick, [Rush] did as much of the work that he could to make sure that his show was extremely well researched and well delivered.”

While working on Rush’s show, James Golden also had his own weekend show. He worked 7 days a week for years. Today, he is back at his radio home. “Back at WABC, doing six days on air with them, and it’s just been a wonderful ride for me.”

Throughout the years, the former executive producer turned host has seen significant change in the industry.

“For some people, it’s not as much fun as it used to be. And I’ll just speak frankly about that. When the bean counters took over because of corporate interest — instead of it being a lot of different families with smaller radio groups, it moved into more of a big business — for a lot of people a lot of the fun was taken out of it, because those decisions that used to be made locally are now being made by regional managers or by national managers, some of whom had more of a background in sales and didn’t understand the programing,” he shared.

“So there’s always that schism. And so for a lot of people in the industry, I have friends who have left the industry because it just was no longer fun for them.”

Another big difference? You no longer have to work your way up through the markets.

“You had to work your way up through lower markets to get to a higher market. You don’t have to do that now. People that are just good at what they do, if they have very good communication skills, you can learn how to become [one of the] best radio hosts. There’s only one best radio host and [Rush] passed away, but it is still about your ability to tell a good story. To understand and to I think it really is how much you are in love with the medium yourself.”

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The Difference Between News/Talk Radio Programmer and Bureaucrat

The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets.

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Let’s talk about the worst aspect of every news/talk radio programmer’s job: commercial stops, those designed traffic jams that occur every ten or twenty minutes bringing your excellent content to a dead halt. And so, you wait, knowing full well that you’re losing a significant percentage of your audience to button pushers looking for a station where talkers are still talking and news is still being broadcast.

The way most news and talk radio stations operate today commercial clutter takes up 20-30 minutes of each programming hour. It would be nice to say that’s because your inventory is sold out thanks to great ratings but we know better. It happens because it’s allowed to happen. Some of that load is likely bonus spots and far too much of it consists of recorded promos that use branding phrases begging the listener to wait through the clutter.

Yes, commercials are necessary but there are some things to consider that might make them less annoying and potentially informative and entertaining.

Warning: old fart flashback straight ahead.

When I was a young program director I had the authority to reject any spots that I didn’t feel met our standards. Yes, I’m quite serious. I didn’t exercise the option often but if a spot was of lousy audio quality, badly produced, boring, or even just plain stupid, I could kick it back to the sales exec and/or ad agency and ask them politely to make it better.

You might think that could result in an impolite opposite reaction. It never did, not once. From time to time I talked with an advertiser or his agent and they always said the same thing: You’re the expert. I want my time and money spent well on your station.

Sales execs could get annoyed but usually went along as good teammates without too much grousing. Besides, schmoozing clients with better ideas is part of their art; the best enjoy it.

Often these conversations would lead to brainstorming sessions with the production director. (Remember that creative and crucial position?) Ideas were tossed around, writing began and a highly effective ad was usually the result.

If you’re a program director or air talent today your mind must be reeling. It has probably never occurred to you that you could have the authority to actually determine all of your news/talk station’s programming, not just the words between the breaks, every blessed minute. Why not? You’re responsible for your station’s content 24/7 though you have no control over half of it.

Most program directors in corporate-owned stations today have been hired as functionaries at the end of a long chain of corporate bureaucrats. Your days are filled with layers of programming and sales hierarchies. Presidents have lieutenants, regional and format V.P.s, who send out the memos and convene Zoom meetings to address general issues with generalized answers.

They dive into recent studies and charts for boilerplate policies, seldom suggesting anything bold or of local significance because they can’t, they don’t know your town. The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets. They’re smart enough to know that what worked in Boston might not fly in Amarillo – except in a vague, general way.

As a local PD today your log is bloated, your programming is filled with syndicated shows, and your hands are tied. 

Unless you have a creative fire in your belly and the guts to assert it.

Dream up great promotions that will excite your audience in your hometown. Enlist the members of your on-air, newsroom, and production staff. Invite them to a pizza place for some brainstorming. Don’t make it mandatory, suggest it will be fun and exciting because it will. Your crew will be happier and bubbling tomorrow. Before long fresh ideas will start trickling in regularly because everyone is enthused, involved, and feeling appreciated. You’ll all make each other’s great ideas even greater. You’re having fun and it’s contagious.

If you can ignite a spark of excitement and faith from your GM and sales department you might find yourself with the programming reigns in both hands.

You weren’t hired to be a clickbait expert, you are a radio expert. You know more about the stuff that comes out of the speakers than anyone else at the station. And you can identify problems and turn them into opportunities. You need to spend your days refining the product, not in endless meetings trying to implement generalized corporate buzzspeak into local program policy.

Attend the Zoom meetings, be a cheerful good soldier but if called upon speak your mind with truth and passion. It’s infectious.

Explain to your boss why you should be allowed to reduce the on-air clutter by as much as half and that you need to spend most of your time every day with your news and talk talent because they’re your stars. It’s why they pay you. The station and the community are all that matters to you.

Tell her/him you’ll read the interoffice memos faithfully and join digital meetings when you can but that the corporate culture will mostly just have to take care of itself.

And, oh, by the way, you need the authority to reject bad radio commercials.

You may not get everything you ask for but I promise you’ll earn some respect.

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