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What the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey Means For News/Talk Radio

Jacobs Media TechSurvey is the radio industry’s annual physical exam. TechSurvey 2024 is the 20th annual survey of radio listeners. Jacobs Media President Fred Jacobs recently presented the findings.

The results are based on surveys of over 31,000 listeners from 500 commercial radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. Online responses were gathered between January 9 and February 11, 2024. It is important to note that respondents are recruited primarily from station databases. That means they are likely more active station fans than the total population. This is not a random sample and may show stations and radio in a better light.

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Jacobs started the presentation by noting, “We’re at an inflection point. A moment where listening is changing, perhaps in a big way. We’re seeing a lot of radio stations losing their P1s.” His overall assessment of how radio looks is: “Pretty. Pretty good.”

That’s fair, as several indicators show radio least stabilized, and some are even up a few ticks. However, I’ll add that the data also suggests that radio’s challenges are far from over, and sans bold actions, the industry’s darkest days are in front of it, not behind it.

For those who aren’t enthralled with a lot of numbers, here is a summary, followed by a more detailed review with numbers, and recommendations at the end.

TECHSURVEY 2024 SUMMARY

The average age of participants in TechSurvey has aged over the years, which reflects the aging of radio’s audience.

Millennials and Gen Z listen to radio mainly in cars, and that presents challenges for the future. The number of people who listen to stations on a device called a radio at home has dropped to an all-time low after experiencing the single largest one-year drop.

News/Talk P1s listen to slightly more AM/FM radio in the car than the average. This perhaps isn’t surprising given in-car AM listening.

Perhaps the greatest existential threat to radio listening is in-car infotainment systems. About one-third of respondents currently have these systems. As these systems populate, more listeners will have additional choices. Radio must A) fight to maintain its place on the dashboard, B) compete better against all the options, and C) know that losses are coming as more listeners have in-car infotainment systems and choices.

Radio faces three primary challenges:

  1. Lifestyle changes that impact listening time and occasions.
  2. More choices provided by technology. Newer cars with infotainment systems replacing older models – the existential threat.
  3. Self-inflicted wounds.

Radio’s opportunities are:

  1. It’s free in a world where subscription fees are increasingly troubling.
  2. Radio provides localness and connectivity that choices technology provides do not offer.
  3. Personalities are radio’s best weapon.
  4. Mobile apps and smart speakers can help radio hold onto listeners.

TechSurvey shows that subscription fees are of rising concern to the audience. Radio gets credit for being free. Radio stations should start cleverly reminding the audience that they won’t get a bill or pay a fee for using the radio or station.

However, self-inflicted wounds, including making the audience pay with excessive commercial loads or unnecessarily losing established personalities, can undo the goodwill.

Listeners are adopting new technologies, including station apps and smart speakers, to listen to radio stations. Radio must grow the adaptation of these technologies through promotion, faster than it sheds listening on devices called “radios.”

News/Talk format partisans listen to AM/FM vs. digital sources at a slightly higher level than the overall sample. N/T P1s also listen to AM/FM radio in the car at a higher level than average. As other formats see deterioration from in-car listening, N/T stations may hold up somewhat better for longer, but the decline will continue.

Spoken word formats have an advantage over music formats. Personalities continue to outrank music as the main reason people listen. Giving listeners more opportunities to interact with local personalities can be a secret weapon.

Using personalities is one of the best ways to build connectivity. The data suggests that on-air personalities, having lunch or dinner one-on-one with listeners, may be quite effective.

The AI era is just beginning. Few use it regularly, although most are concerned about how AI may impact the 2024 election.

There’s skepticism about using AI to replace DJs and personalities. Jacobs’s advice to “tap the brakes” is sound advice.

Jacobs Media provided special breakouts of the nearly 5,000 News/Talk partisans in TechSurvey 2024. Those numbers and slides will appear throughout the detailed portion of this review.

Here are the key findings from the Jacobs webinar:

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
<em>The key findings from the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey<em>

That’s the 30,000-foot view of TechSurvey 2024. Here’s a more detailed look at the results.

THE NITTY GRITTY

Sample

The average age of TechSurvey participants has aged over the years, reflecting the troubling aging of radio’s audience. The average age of participants in 2021 was 54.8. It has increased annually; this year, it is 56.7, officially outside of the coveted 25—to 54–year–old demo.

An interesting demographic finding is the sample’s political partisanship. Thirty percent (30%) are Republicans, 23% are Democrats, 17% are independents, 14% claim no Party preference, and 14% chose not to answer. In 2020, Republicans were 32%, and Democrats were 21%. Whether that’s predictive of anything in November is uncertain.

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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Main Reason for Listening to AM/FM Radio

Among all TechSurvey respondents, there are three reasons that over 60% of participants say are a main reason for listening. Three more are over 50%. Two more are over 40%, with four over 35%.

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Free may well prove to be one of radio’s strongest selling points. “It’s free” is up two points, and “feel a connection” is up three points from last year. Radio must take advantage of these opportunities.

The main reasons for listening are different among News/Talk partisans.

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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Predictably, N/T P1s are information junkies, but they are also above average for localness and connectivity. Along with utilizing station personalities, these represent opportunities for stations in News/Talk formats. Among N/T P1s “It’s free” is below the average but still a significant factor.

To probe the connection issue, participants were asked whether they agreed or disagreed that they “Feel a sense of connection to the station that sent me this survey.” Overall, 42% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. While that’s the same as last year, the number has grown from 29% in 2020.

TechSurvey also probed the importance of localness, asking whether participants agreed or disagreed with the statement, “One of radio’s primary advantages is its local feel.” Overall, 57% agreed or strongly agreed, unchanged from last year. However, it has consistently ticked up from 43% in 2018.

Since 2019 personalities have outscored music as a key reason for listening. Personalities have ranged from 59% in 2019 and 2020 to 62% in 2022. This year 61% say personalities (DJs/Hosts/Shows) are one of the main reasons they listen. During the same period, music (Hear favorite songs/artists) has been either 55% (2020-2022) or 57% (2019, 2023, and this year). This suggests formats like N/T and Sports may be better positioned than music formats.

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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For the first time, TechSurvey measured listeners’ interest in connecting with on-air personalities beyond listening on the radio. Overall, 60% are very or somewhat interested in “connecting with a favorite radio personality.” However, it’s worth noting that it’s higher among music station P1s (62%) than spoken word partisans (50%). Nonetheless, it’s an opportunity among a significant portion of the audience.

When probing the kind of ways listeners would like to connect, events got the biggest response. Among those who are interested in connecting with an on-air personality, 54% are very interested in traveling out of town, with expenses paid by the station. Even 44% are very interested in attending a local event, and 30% are very interested in having lunch or dinner one-on-one with a favorite radio personality.

Listening More or Less

Although the number of people listening to radio more is down from its 2021 COVID peak (23%), it’s held steady year over year at 15%. One of the positives Jacobs pointed out is those listening less have ticked down slightly from 13% in 2021 to 12% in 2022 and 2023 to 11% this year.

Among all listeners, there are five reasons that over 30% say is the main reason they are listening less. Two of the three are beyond radio’s control: Lifestyle change and less time in a car. The number one reason, listening more to non-radio music sources is at least somewhat controllable. The next two reasons offer clues: “Too many commercials” and “music is too predictable.”

The reasons N/T P1s are listening less differ. Lifestyle change is first (42%) Listening to more non-radio music sources (41%). This begs the question; What can N/T programmers do to keep people listening to the format more? Third is less time in the car (39%). The next two are self-inflicted wounds: Personality/show no longer on local radio (29%) and Too many commercials (26%). N/T P1s seemingly tolerate commercials better than the overall sample. Then again, if they are tuning away to music stations, do they?

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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Net Promoters

The Net Promoter score is ascertained by asking respondents how likely they are to recommend the station on a zero (worst) to ten (best) scale. Nines and tens are promoters. Detractors are zeros through sixes. Sevens and eights are tossed out. Subtract the detractors from the promoters, and that’s the Net Promoter score.

Jacobs Media has measured this since the first TechSurvey in 2005 when it was 42. The lowest was 37 in 2006. The pre-COVID high was 49 (2013). IT shot up to 50 during COVID (2021), then fell to 49 (2022) and 47 last year. It drops another point to 46 this year.

Jacobs points out that this year’s 46 is above the 20-year average of 46. On the other hand, I see falling scores for three consecutive years. Further, the average is inflated by Christian radio (82) and Public Radio (66, which Jacobs points out is down). We don’t know how many Christian and Public Radio listeners are in the sample, but it’s confusing, as the sample was explained as 500 commercial radio stations.

Country is the highest commercial radio format at 58. News/Talk and Sports are the lowest at 34 and 28 respectively. Jacobs says this is because they are male-dominated, and men are less likely to recommend anything.

Perception vs Reality

Radio has a perception problem. While other audio sources are perceived as more popular than they are, radio is thought to be used less than it actually is.

Participants think 37% of people listen to Sirius/XM, while 13% actually do, Likewise, they think 42% listen to Spotify, while 27% actually do. Podcasts: Perception 41%. Reality 35%. People think each of these is more popular than they actually are. Radio is the exception. According to Nielsen 82% of Americans listen to radio each week. Respondents think it’s 59% (down from 63% four years ago), and these are people in radio station databases.

Jacob states, “Bad publicity that we have heard consistently year after year sticks in peoples’ minds.”

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

This is the first year TechSurvey has measured AI. Measurement starts with 12% who say they are very familiar, 45% who are somewhat familiar, 15% who are not familiar but interested, and 28% who are not familiar and not interested in AI.

News/Talk P1s are slightly more aware of AI. A higher percentage are somewhat familiar. Also, fewer N/T P1s say they are not familiar or interested than the average.

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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At this point only 9% use AI daily or weekly. 67% have never used it, 16% say occasionally, and 6% say they’ve tried it once.

A majority, 51%, are very concerned about AI’s potential to influence the 2024 election, with another 32% who are somewhat concerned. News/Talk fans are particularly worried, with 89% saying they are very concerned or somewhat concerned.

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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Listeners are concerned with AI replacing live DJs and hosts. Overall, 75% say they have a major concern about AI technology replacing live DJs, personalities, hosts, or announcers, compared to 4% who say they have no problem with it. N/T partisans are slightly more concerned with AI replacing on-air talent.

A photo of the 2024 Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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Even using AI to read commercials is dubious as 39% have a major concern versus 21% who have no problem with it. Jacobs advises to “tap the brakes” when it comes to AI.

Radios Vs. Digital

The move from listening on a device called a radio to digital devices continues and is especially pronounced among Gen Z and Millennials.

In both 2018 and 2019, 83% used a radio where they lived. For the next three years, the number held at 81%. Last year, it slipped to 78%. In 2024, we see the single largest one-year drop, four points down to 74%. The average is buoyed by Boomers and the Greatest Generation, both of which are still over 80%.

Total listening on actual radios was 85% in 2018, with 14% on digital platforms, including computers, mobile devices, smart speakers, and podcasts. In 2016, radio usage fell to under 80, to 77% for the first time, and digital use reached 20% for the first time; in 2019, listening on radios fell under 70, to 65%, and digital eclipsed 30% for the first time (31%). Last year, listening on radio fell to 58%, with 38% on digital platforms. This year, listening on radio ticks up one percentage point to 59%, with digital platforms steady at 38%.

Jacobs states, “Those lines are in no danger of crossing.”

Now, 40% have downloaded their favorite station’s app (up one point from last year), and 39% own a smart speaker (also up one point from last year.

More and more listening is moving to smart speakers and mobile apps. In 2020, 68% said they listened to their P1 station via the station’s website. That is now down to 63% this year. In 2020, 42% were listening on the station’s mobile app. The percentage rose from 47% to 51% this year. Smart speaker listening started at 22% in 2020 and has now reached 28%.

Four out of ten have downloaded their P1 station’s app. This is a measurement where using the station’s database could bolster the result, but the trend is clear. It started at 26% in 2018 and has increased every year up to 40% now.

Sports P1s are the most likely to download the station’s app (59%). N/T listeners lag behind at 36%. Increasing the number of N/T fans who download and use the station app should be a priority, especially for AM stations with signal deficiencies.

The trend is clear and highlights the importance of having and promoting strong mobile and smart speaker apps.

In-car Infotainment Systems

Perhaps the greatest existential threat to radio listening is in-car infotainment systems. Currently, 32% have one of these systems. The number rises to 37% of Sports Radio P1s and 34% of N/T partisans.

Among all respondents, AM/FM makes up the majority of in-car audio listening (54% vs. 44% to other audio). That’s the good news because this is the first year since 2018 that the percentage of listening to AM/FM has remained the same (it was 62% in 2018 and 56% in 2022).

However, among those who drive a vehicle with an infotainment system, AM/FM listening drops to 46%. The majority, 53%, listen to other audio. Every option, including Sirius/XM, streaming audio, their own music, podcasts, and audiobooks, increases.

As in-car infotainment systems reach critical mass, radio will face a new set of challenges.

Media Pyramid

TechSurvey measures the use of various media platforms and devices. Overall, the biggest gainers year over year are smart watches, up four points (29%—33%), followed by Smart TVs, plus three (70%- 73%). Video games, hearables, and streaming video are each up two points.

Among N/T P1s, HD Radio and connected cars went from behind average last year to above average this year. The connected car is now well above average, as are smart speakers, podcasts, and satellite radio. Behind are smartwatches, video games, social media, and hearables. The biggest growth among N/T P1s are smart TVs and smart speakers (each plus four). Video games are up three points. Streaming audio, hearables, connected cars, and HD radio are each up two points.

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A photo of the 2024 Media Pyramid for News/Talk in the Jacobs Media TechSurvey
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Subscription Fees Are a Growing Concern

The concern about paying for content is real. Overall, 46% strongly agreed with the statement, “I am concerned about the growing number of subscription fees I am paying for media content.” Another 28% agreed. Among spoken word stations it’s 79%.

The total number who agreed or strongly agreed that they are concerned about the amount they are paying for content is now 74%. Last year, 71% were concerned with subscriptions. In 2022, it was 68%. It was 62% in 2020.

We’ve already seen 66% say one of the main reasons they listen to radio is because it’s free, up from 64% last year, and 59% in 2022.

Recommendations

  • Radio should take advantage of no subscription fees and no bills; radio is free.
  • In-car infotainment systems are an existential threat to radio listening.  This requires:
    • Keeping radio easy to listen to in the car an industry priority.
    • Competing with non-radio audio sources better. Whether that’s with localness, connectivity, personalities, better music, or reducing tune-outs, radio stations must be more competitive with the expanded choices.
    • Preparing for inevitable losses.
  • The usage of devices called “radios” will continue to decline. Survival requires having strong mobile and smart speaker apps and actively promoting downloading and using them.
  • One of the bold actions the radio industry must take if it is to remain relevant is reversing the trend from central control and voice tracking and focusing on local personalities, activities, events, and information. Radio can use its localness to build on connectivity.
  • Radio needs to stop making self-inflicted wounds by releasing established personalities and unwieldy commercial loads.
  • Because personalities outperform music now, Spoken Word formats may be better prepared to compete than Music formats.
  • Utilize personalities and connect them more with listeners. Promotions that involve them having lunch or dinner with listeners are no-brainers.
  • Go slow using AI. While most listeners have limited experience with AI, they are leery of its use on their favorite radio station and concerned with how it will impact the upcoming election.

Fred Jacobs said the state of radio this year is “Pretty, pretty good.” There is no question that TechSurvey 2024 showed signs of stabilization, but it also suggests that radio’s challenges aren’t over.

Andy Bloom
Andy Bloomhttps://barrettmedia.com
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.

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