Radio tops new poll of American listening habits

Right answer. Wrong question writes Peter Saxon (subscribers only)

Fair dinkum! If I see one more article headed by a “clever” take on who or what, may or may not have killed the bloody Radio Star I’ll go spare.

At least, the latest headline to mangle that incesantly tortured song title means well. Streaming Hasn’t Killed the Radio Star proclaims an article in Quartz.

Well, that’s a comfort, isn’t it.

According to latest research from investment house Morgan Stanley, radio remains the favourite audio product among a sample of 2,016 US adults. 


In response, high profile radio consultant Mark Ramsey’s headline on his blog is more prosaic, Radio is Still Tops, But… If you’ve read a lot of Mr Ramsey, you knew that “But” was coming.

Nonetheless, he rightly points out that the research is, “roughly analogous to what broadcasters would call “reach.” It does not really address frequency of usage or “time spent listening.” 

In other ways too, as to how much music streaming is affecting radio, the research seems to ask more question than it answers.

The question that no one is asking is: How much has streaming affected people’s listening to their own store bought music whether on CD, tape or iPod style devices?

As importantly, how much time did people spend listening to their personal music collections compared to radio before streaming and how much do they spend now?

As I wrote on radioinfo just over a month ago: 

They (unamed pundits) point to the spectacular rise in time spent listening to streaming services like Spotify and Pandora and assume that it has come at the expense of radio. 

In reality the spectacular rise in streaming TSL has mostly resulted in an equally spectacular fall in people listening to iPods.

In other words, streaming hasn’t so much changed the way people listen to radio as the way they listen to their own music.

I’m not suggesting that radio hasn’t been affected by streaming at all. In fact, similar studies (but not exactly the same) conducted by Pew Research and Nieslen since 2001 suggest that radio has gone from 96% of people listening each week to 86% now. That’s not such a comfort.

Until someone does the research that identifies the actual shift in listening habits between radio, streaming and recorded music we’re not seeing the whole picture.

  Peter Saxon