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TUNING IN

A blog dedicated to the world of broadcast and public relations

Monday, November 10, 2008

Where For Art Thou Radio? Podcasting’s Effect on Radio Listenership

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We often get asked about radio’s resiliency and how it continues to be such a successful part of a campaign.  It is curious how the tried and true medium of radio continues to survive in the face of rapid technological advancement.  Television, cable technology, the Internet, and MP3 players have all been new technologies that were seen as challenges to radio.  But, radio has proven itself to be adaptable, embracing new technologies to increase its own listenership.

HD radio and Internet radio are just two of the better-known examples of the medium’s adaptability.  Radio’s advantage has always been that it is accessible in so many places, and by adopting new technology, radio’s reach continues to grow.  For example, it would be a challenge to find a terrestrial radio station that does not have a presence online, where listeners can learn more about issues, participate in promotions, check playlists, and download audio content.

Which brings us to podcasting.  First, what is a podcast?  A podcast is a digital media file which is transferable over the Internet, and can be automatically downloaded through a subscription or RSS feed.  Podcasts are often downloaded to portable media players, or MP3 players.  Anyone can create a podcast, place it on a website, either his own or an established podcasting site, and work to create a listenership.  The technology does for radio what the Internet has done for so many other industries and mediums: it has opened it up to the public, placing content control in the hands of anyone who wants it.  In some industries, such as publishing and print media, the Internet may have a negative impact on readership and revenue.

But what has the effect of the Internet and podcasting been on traditional radio?  Again radio has shown adaptability, using these technologies as a means to increase its reach.  Rather than replacing traditional radio, radio station websites regularly offer podcasts of their popular shows so that listeners who cannot listen during regular airtime do not miss out on programming.  Before podcasting, a listener who missed a radio program was essentially out of luck.  Now with podcasting, shows, or segments of shows are made available for downloading and radio audiences have more opportunities to hear the content that they are interested in, where and when they choose to listen.

In 2004 and 2005, when podcasting was first introduced, it too was said to be a harbinger of terrestrial radio’s demise.  After all, podcasting represented radio by the people for the people, and why, the experts wondered, would anyone ever want to go back to music and programming imposed on them by stations?

In fact, in a 2005 article titled “Podcasting Killed the Radio Star” Wired Magazine described the transition of Infinity Broadcasting’s KYCY-AM in San Francisco to an all podcasting format.  Other stations have followed suit with limited success.  The growth of podcasting certainly signaled some dissatisfaction with radio content on the part of radio listeners, mainly music-oriented stations.  But, instead of ignoring new challenges, the radio industry began to adapt by providing more commercial free formatting, more diverse viewpoints, and generally began to respond to listeners’ concerns.  Podcasting is now a big part of many stations’ offerings and instead of diminishing terrestrial radio’s reach and influence as some predicted, it has actually enhanced it.  There is room for both mediums to co-exist and in the case of radio, plenty of area in which the two can converge and support each other.

In fact, a recent study completed in the UK and published on the website PodcatingNews.com found an increase in the number of people who said they listen to more live radio since they started downloading podcasts, and 39% said they now listen to radio programs that they never listened to before.  This is almost certainly an unexpected consequence of podcasting, but one that radio undoubtedly welcomes.

Further, radio enjoys high and steady listenership numbers across the demographic spectrum.  And podcasting simply makes radio more accessible and user-friendly.  Podcasting has found a comfortable niche in the radio listening world, as a supplement to, not a replacement for, the existing technology.

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