The Changing Radio Audience

In the end, survival in radio requires revenue, not “ratings”. For commercial radio, that means advertising revenue. For non-commercial radio, that means donations or government handouts. Some radio owners try to supplement revenue with concerts, carnivals, and community events.

Countess has indulged me in spending a lot of time recently updating the directory, and the new FCC public information file database makes it easier to locate radio stations with a “difficult to find” website. The process is not complete, but some of the patterns are becoming very obvious.

Station counts by format

I would stipulate that my format category scheme is unconventional – partly because I am not in the radio business. I have no need to protect the status quo.

Going through each section…

So-called Progressive talk radio is dead as a doornail. I only count 11 surviving liberal stations, although NPR and native American radio take up some of the slack.

The stunning change is in music radio that generally carries the description of CHR, top 40, hottest hits… The way I group things, I include classic hits, oldies, and nostalgia in the category – the thinking is this was music that was hit music back when it was new. If you remove the old hit music and ignore simulcasts, there are only about 700 contemporary hits radio stations, out of a total of over 12,000 licensed AM and FM stations. Despite the industry hype that young people are still listening to radio, they aren’t listening to it to hear Justin Bieber. Even if they are listening, advertisers are not willing to pay to reach them.

Compare that to the 1,737 country music stations! Even if you exclude the classic country stations, there are still twice as many country music stations as contemporary hit music.

Almost half of all rock music stations are playing classic rock – baby boom era nostalgia for those too young to care about Frank Sinatra. Perhaps the heavy drug influence on rock and roll has killed off its young audience – literally.

Adult contemporary (AC), generally targeted at women, and “safe for work” music is doing better than music targeted at young people. Most people do not want to hear heavy metal or rap music while they are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room.

In most cases, when you have a radio station that you don’t know what to do with and don’t want to spend money – you switch it to national sports talk (Fox sports, ESPN, CBS…). These are the stations most likely to be sold to a spanish-language broadcaster, sold to K-love for cash or donated to a religious charity.

Religious stations are rapidly becoming the most common radio format, especially if you count simulcasts like K-love and CSN – that is over 2,800 licenses (not counting FM translators)

There are more Spanish language broadcasting stations now then there are contemporary hit stations. Most are targeting Mexicans, but also stations in Puerto Rico and others targeting Caribbean listeners.

Around 10% of licensed radio stations have no discernible internet presence or even a presence in their community. I still maintain that many of them just tore down their towers and never told the FCC. That piece of paper became valuable when Ajit Pai decided to “save AM radio”, although the alleged AM station the new FM translator is paired with does not actually exist or is turned off or running with unauthorized lower power.

Radio stations with a website almost universally now offer streaming. Digital assistants like Alexa are really becoming important to radio stations. That sort of suggests that Alexa is putting this website out of business, but then again it never was a business!

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12 Responses to The Changing Radio Audience

  1. Fred Stiening says:

    SiriusXM is offering an $8/month streaming only “Essentials” account. Unlike their prior offering this is for Roku, FireTV, Xbox, AppleTV, etc. Howard Stern and sports not included.

    This offers many advantages to SiriusXM – the biggest is a large percentage of the car radio fee goes to the car company to install the radio. That doesn’t apply to streaming listeners. Also, by having IP sessions, they will get real time feedback on how many people are listening and to whom. With 5G almost here, in-car IP could make satellite delivery obsolete.

  2. Fred Stiening says:

    Kim Komando gives advice on how to use digital assistants (Alexa, Siri, Google Home) to listen to radio

  3. Fred Stiening says:

    Tupelo MS based American Family Radio seems to have dropped their religious music programming, replacing it with a “hybrid” lineup of mostly prerecorded teaching. AFR was founded by legendary Donald Wildmon, and briefly hosted a show by failed presidential candidate Herman Cain.

    In case you lost track, Herman Cain was dropped from syndication and retired from Cox Radio’s WSB-AM in Atlanta. President Trump just nominated Herman Cain to the 7 member Board of governors of the Federal Reserve. He previously served as the chairman of the Kansas City branch, so is well qualified. His term could last up to 14 years.

  4. Fred Stiening says:

    Partly because of spending more time here and partly with help from the FCC and indirectly from ootunes, there are about 400 more streaming stations in the directory in the last week, bringing the total up to 76% (excluding LPFM).

    In a perfect world, a wife would not have to “indulge” their husband’s time maintaining their life’s work of the last 15 years. Marriage may not be for everyone.

  5. Fred Stiening says:

    Howard Stern is retiring when his contract ends. Baba Booey!

    • Fred Stiening says:

      I had a woman write me once (probably 10 years ago) who was frantically trying to find out what happened to her ad spend. I gently told her the station was reported to the FCC as being shut down and had a pending sale.

      Right now, pretty much every google result is returning a pretty convincing page of some guy offering to place ads on radio stations for which he has no relationship, including stations that do not accept ads at all. Are people naive enough to pay for ads up front from ad “agency” with just a web site?

  6. JayMar says:

    Actually old foggies like me will never use Alexa. I think your format is wonderful. I, a political junkie, enjoy coming here for the blog and comments. A few years ago I bought an internet radio and if it hasn’t been for your website I would not have been able to find the stations I prefer. Thank you, Fred.

    • CC1s121LrBGT says:

      Here, here! (as they say in the UK Parliament). I agree with that 100%, JayMar.

      Fred had long been publishing statistics that imply how useful or not useful the site is, and I was never in any of them because I never click through on the SRG links – I am “off the grid” for link referrals.

      Having said that, this site has been invaluable in finding the talk stations and sites that I listen to regularly.

      More importantly and even more off the radar, I have used it to find music stations of particular eclectic music tastes that I have. I look at Fred’s station format list about once per year and never click on anything there, but once I find a short list of interesting prospects, I try them out and listen to my favorites for many months at a time on my internet radio without Fred being the wiser.

      I say all this because SRG is appreciated much more than any analytic report from the site can show. I know I am not the only person, there are many more like me out there…. “the silent majority” as past and present Republican Presidents like to say. 🙂

      Thanks, Fred and Countess!

      • Parrott says:

        Ditto , CC, I like to search by call letters also. Its a little harder here now, but still can be done. I do click through the links from time to time.
        Maybe we’re saving AM radio ? I got out my old Philco ( Ford) AM car radio, that was in my first car. I saved it. ( The radio) .
        It works very good. I can hear WBT during the day here in Virginia. Hooray.

        • CC1s121LrBGT says:

          I know antennas very well. If you have no interference on that frequency and no powerful very local AM stations, you may wish to run a very long wire from where you normally have the radio toward the direction of WBT. I had a wire about 100 feet long from my parent’s house to a tree at the edge of the property line. It worked really well both day and night.

          If you want to get stations in different directions, then a tunable AM loop antenna is the way to go. There are many inexpensive ones available on eBay.

          I have retired my AM radio decades ago once I discovered streaming audio.

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