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Traditional Broadcast

Audio
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism
Traditional Broadcast and Broadcast Online

Despite newer technologies, conventional broadcast radio continues to be the dominant mode by which most Americans listen to audio content. And the overall amount of listening held steady in 2009, even as listenership to newer audio modes increased.  This is a trend that has been under way for several years. As of the fall of 2009, about 236 million people listened to the radio for 15 minutes during an average week, according to estimates from Arbitron, a figure unchanged from the same period in 2008.1

That amounts to 92.5% percent of the population over the age of 12 and includes passive exposure, such as hearing radio in a store.2

Separate data released by Nielsen in October of 2009 suggest broadcast listening levels may be lower. Nielsen’s analysis, which tracks a panel of individuals each year, reports that 90% were “reached” by some form of audio – and 77% of those reached by some form of audio were reached by broadcast radio.3 These numbers cannot be directly compared to Arbitron’s as one is survey-based and the other a form of diary tracking. Still, both represent an extremely large portion of the U.S. population.

What’s more, people seemed to listening for roughly the same amount of time as in 2008 and saw it as having a relatively big influence on their lives.

  • Despite the advent of Internet radio, iPods, and other audio innovations, 80% of radio listeners 12 and older, according to an Arbitron survey released in March of 2009, said they would listen to the same amount of AM/FM radio as the year before. Just 20% reported listening less.4
  • Roughly a quarter, 21%, said that AM/FM radio had a “big impact” on their lives. Compared with other devices, this was roughly the same percentage who said that of an iPod or iPhone, but half the percentage who said that of cellphones (47%).5 These numbers help explain why radio industry leaders are pushing for a federal requirement that cellphone manufacturers include AM/FM capabilities in their devices.6

One potential trouble area for the industry is where people listen.

  • Most radio listening continued to be in a car or other place away from the home: 62.2%, while 37.8% was at home.7
  • And of all the listening done in the home, traditional radio now accounts for less than half (46.4%), according to the Nielsen panel. Alternatives forms like streaming audio, recorded books or recorded music account for the remainder.8

If, as many predict, streaming Internet access becomes available in most cars, AM/FM radio could lose audience. The prospect of a car radio more akin to mobile Internet device, with all the options that might imply, will surely have a major effect on terrestrial stations. Not only would wider choice impact what people listen to, but it also could greatly affect advertising. Radio advertising is local. Internet radio listening often is not.

News/Talk Listening

News-and-talk radio remains the most popular category in broadcast radio, and it grew in both audience and number of stations, according to the most recent data.

The category – news/talk/information – is broad. It includes stations that are all-news, those that broadcast sports and those that offer primarily talk shows. That number totaled 1,583 in 2008, up 50 stations from the year before.9

In 2009, an estimated 53 million people tuned in to these stations each week. That was up from 48 million in 2007.10 Some of this growth may have been tied to the presidential election, which attracted widespread interest among audiences and talk show hosts.

News/Talk Radio Growth
1990-2009
Design Your Own Chart
Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2009 Edition, September 23, 2009.

Listeners to news/talk/information programming are, relative to the general population, older, in higher income brackets and more likely to be men. According to Arbitron:

  • Men accounted for 57.1% of listeners of the format. And 35% were 65 and older. Only classical music stations had a higher percentage of listeners older than 65.11 One contributing factor is that most news/talk is aired on the AM band, which skews older than the FM band.12
  • Of listeners to news/talk/information programming, 45.1% had a college degree and 40.7% reported making more than $75,000 per year.13 This puts news/talk as the fourth-highest format in terms of number of listeners with a college degree.
Listenership of News/Talk/Information, by Age
Design Your Own Chart
Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2009 Edition, September 23, 2009.

Radio News Headline Providers

How much real news is carried on these stations is a question mark. According to past content analyses by PEJ and interviews with industry experts, most of the national news, other than on NPR, comes through brief top-of-the-hour segments purchased from outside companies. On many stations these are the only national newscasts at all during the day.

The largest providers of these two-to-three-minute headline accounts are ABC and CBS. CBS RADIO reported that its headlines ran on 550 stations at the end of 2009. The network estimated that it had a weekly cume of 23 million, meaning that an average of 23 million people heard all or part of their broadcasts in a typical week.14

Westwood One markets the CBS news content through an agreement that expires in 2017.

ABC News Radio, owned by the Disney Company, is the other major provider. The network did not disclose its audience or station figures.

Terrestrial Radio Online

One area of strong growth for AM/FM radio is in the number of people tuning in to the stations’ website audio streams.

According to Arbitron, 69 million people reported in 2008 listening to online radio in the previous month, up 28% from 54 million the year before. These figures do not include people who listen to “pure-play” stations (meaning those with no talk of any kind), such as Pandora, that broadcast only on the Internet. These are discussed below.15 In addition:

  • Nearly half, or 49%, of Americans reported having ever listened to radio online, up from 46% the previous year.16
  • In a measurement of frequency of use, 27% reported listening to online radio in the previous month, up from 21% last year.17
  • Those who reported listening in the previous week grew to 17% from 13% the previous year.18
Weekly Online Radio Listeners
Percent of Respondents
Design Your Own Chart
“The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009.

And it could easily grow. Nearly a third of respondents said they would listen to online radio in their cars if it were available.

Such an innovation could be a boon for consumers, but a potential disaster for terrestrial radio because of the added competition from online-only services as well as non-local broadcast stations. Other than smartphones, however, the technology that would bring streaming radio into cars has not been adopted by carmakers and its appeal to consumers is untested.

  • Online radio listening is spread more evenly across age groups than regular terrestrial station listening. While the largest listeners fall in the ages of 25 –to 54 (20%), the youngest age groups listen online at nearly the same rate (18% for 12-to-17-year-olds).19

Online radio attracts an audience that is more likely to be employed and have a higher income than the average population.

  • More than half, or 54%, of online radio listeners are employed full time, compared to 43% of the general population over the age of 18.20
  • In terms of income, 16% report household earnings of $100,000 or higher, compared with 10% of the general public.21
  • More than a third, or 37%, have a college degree, compared to 29% of the general public.22

Economics

AM/FM

Despite holding on to most of its audience, traditional radio suffered a steep fall in revenue in the first half of 2009, setting up what is likely to be the third consecutive year of declines.

Total radio revenue was down 18% in 2009 compared to 2008, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau.23

Local and national radio advertising – the biggest sources of revenue for radio – were both down and projected to continue falling at least through 2011. There was growth in online advertising, but not enough to make up for the loss of on-air advertising.

Broadcast Radio Revenue Changes by Quarter
Design Your Own Chart
Radio Advertising Bureau, “09 Year-End Results Confirm Positive Signs for Radio Digital Sector Continues To Gain Importance,” February 19, 2010.
  • National and Local advertising fell by 20% and 19% respectively in 2009 compared to 2008. Local advertising has always been radio’s lifeblood.
  • Online advertising revenue saw a 13% increase in 2009, but represented only 3% of industry advertising revenue and was not enough to offset the losses in other categories.24
  • Off-air revenues, such as billboards and concert sponsorships, fell 9% in 2009 compared 2008, to 1.3 billion.  While these revenues currently make up only a small part of radio revenue, continued decline of national and local advertising may add to their importance.
Sources of Broadcast Radio Ad Revenue, 2009
In Millions of Dollars
Radio Advertising Bureau, “09 Year-End Results Confirm Positive Signs for Radio Digital Sector Continues To Gain Importance,” February 19, 2010.

In an August report, analysts at Veronis Suhler Stevenson projected a drop of 11.9% in total revenues for the industry in 2009. The firm projected a nearly identical drop in national and local advertising: 12% for local and 11.6% for national.25

If the projections prove accurate, broadcast revenue will end the year at the lowest level since at least 2001.What’s more, they follow an overall decline of 9.9% in 2008.

The firm forecast annual declines to continue through 2011, when it foresees a return to gradual growth. Even with that growth, however, the firm projects broadcast revenues in 2013 will still be less than in 2009.26

AM/FM Streaming Online

There has been strong growth in ad revenue from radio station websites and mobile devices, and further gains are projected. But these are still not expected to make up for the declines in traditional broadcast revenue any time soon.

  • Veronis Suhler Stevenson reported a 13.2% growth in Internet (computer-based) and mobile revenue combined in 2008. It is projected it to grow 9.4% more to $301 million in 2009. But this is tiny compared to the total of $18.4 billion of revenues projected for 2009 from all forms of radio.
  • Online streaming revenues are expected to have increased 6.6% in 2009 and account for the bulk of Internet-based revenues, $274 million. Mobile is expected to grow at a much higher rate, 49.4% in 2009, but will still bring in only $27 million in revenue.

Another way of breaking down these revenues is advertising dollars versus direct user payment or subscriptions. On mobile radio, unlike online listening, user fees bring in more revenue than advertisements. This speaks to larger trends found in online behavior: Individuals are more used to paying for content they get on their phones than on their computers. (see the online chapter for more info on mobile news trends)

  • On mobile platforms, paid content brought in $15 million in revenue in 2008, compared to $3 million brought in from advertising.  And for 2009, Veronis Suhler Stevenson projects revenue from paid content growing 51.3% to $23 million, while advertising will grow 40% to $4 million.27
Audio Revenue Change Predictions
2009-2013
Design Your Own Chart
Veronis Suhler Stevenson, “Community Industry Forecast 2008-2012”
Internet and Mobile Projected Audio Revenue Growth
2001-2008
Design Your Own Chart
Veronis Suhler Stevenson, “Community Industry Forecast 2008-2012”

News/Talk Revenue

The main source of data on radio newsroom profitability comes from a survey by Bob Papper, a professor of media studies at Hofstra University, produced in conjunction with the Radio and Television News Directors Association.

The survey of news directors, taken in the fourth quarter of 2008, is the best indicator of the health of radio news, although as with all surveys, the findings depend on who chooses to respond. For this reason, they should be thought of primarily as trend-indicators rather precise numbers. With this in mind:

  • Most news directors, 62%, said they did not know if their news operation was making a profit. That is up from 55% who said they did not know in 2007. The rise could reflect a new sense of uncertainty, news directors’ unwillingness to report losses or simply that they were truly unaware of the answer.
  • Just 12% reported that their newsrooms were showing a profit in 2008, almost half that of 2007 (21%).28
  • The number reporting their newsroom had posted a loss was also down, though only slightly, to 9.8%, from 10.5% in 2007.

Another source of information on the financial health of radio news comes through examining individual companies.29 The largest companies, according to BIA Financial Network, were able to keep their revenue from news/talk station stable through hard economic time. But news/talk stations were profitable only in the largest markets.

CBS RADIO-owned stations led the pack in terms of revenue per news/talk station:

  • CBS RADIO made $20 million per news/talk station in 2008. Compared with $21.4 million in 2007.30
  • Clear Channel made $3.1 million per station, the same as in 2007.31
  • Citadel Broadcasting made $1.4 million per station, the same as in 2007.32

One of the main reasons for CBS RADIO’s higher revenue per news/talk station is that while Citadel, Clear Channel, and CBS RADIO all own stations in various-sized markets, CBS RADIO’s news stations are mainly all-news formats and stations that serve large metropolitan areas where all news stations are lucrative, as opposed to news/talk stations.

NPR

One of the largest news operations in radio, National Public Radio, undertook several efforts to expand its digital reach in 2009.

NPR News Audience Spring 2005-Spring 2009
2005-2009

Source: National Public Radio. The figures are according to Arbitron nationwide Spring 2005-Spring 2009.

In summer, NPR re-launched its website, NPR.org, with a new look and emphasis on making content of specific shows more accessible to users. The idea, according to the organization, was to make it easier to combine listening and reading, follow breaking news, comment upon and share stories, and find programming from NPR member stations. Pictures and videos are featured more prominently and top stories updated more frequently. A blog, “The Two-Way,” fosters and ongoing discussion of stories among users. Users can customize the homepage to suit their interests.

It also launched in August its first iPhone app, which became one of the most popular apps on the iPhone and received over 1 million downloads in the first week, according to NPR. The average user spends about 15 minutes per session on the NPR app, a relatively long time.

All NPR’s digital platforms experienced growth in the year. NPR.org said it had 11.5 million unique visitors on its web and mobile platforms in 2009, up from 8 million in 2008.

In terms of the mobile content, there were 20.9 million page views in January 2010 of NPR mobile content, up 42% from December 2009, the organization said. Roughly three-quarters of the traffic came from the iPhone app, and the rest going to member station audio streaming pages.

Possibly as a result of the popularity of the iPhone app, downloads of NPR podcasts declined. In December 2009 there were 14.7 million podcast downloads, a drop of about 8% from December 2008. The iPhone app offers streaming audio rather than requiring a download of a podcast.

NPR has coupled these technological upgrades with a large effort to engage its audience through social media.33 According to NPR, its Twitter feed has more than 1.3 million followers and more than 500,000 Facebook fans.  In an effort to try to institutionalize this effort, NPR issues ethnics guidelines encouraging journalists to embrace social media as part of their regular work.

The audience for its audio programming was flat, according to data from the organization. In spring of 2009, 26.4 million listeners heard its news in an average week, either on a member station or through a feed provided to another station. That was up 0.1% from 2008. Its content was available on 901 stations – up from 866 the year before. That total includes stations that buy the feed as well as member stations.  NPR had 268 member stations in 2009, down two from 2008.

NPR Audience Demographics

Who Listens to NPR?

The audience for NPR tends to be older and more affluent than the U.S. population.

  • The median age of an NPR listener is 50, compared to 45 for the  U.S. population.
  • Men are more likely to listen than women. The NPR audience is  54% male and 46% female.  In the general population 48% are male and 52% are female.

NPR listeners are substantially wealthier than the population at large and more likely to have a college degree and to vote.

  • The median household income of an NPR listener is $86,114, compared to $55,462 for the U.S.
  • 40% of NPR listeners have a household income of more than $100,000, compared with 22% of the population.
  • In terms of education, 69% of NPR listeners have a college degree or higher, compared to only 26% of the general population.
  • Fully 70% voted in a federal, state, or local election in 2008, compared to 44% of the  U.S.

Surveys show that the NPR audience is politically moderate overall – though a smaller number are more likely to be liberal than the nation as a whole.

  • The largest group of NPR listeners identify themselves as “Middle of the Road” (26%), this is roughly the same as the general population (28%).
  • However, the listeners are twice as likely to describe themselves as liberal as the population as a whole. Nearly a quarter, or 22%, describe themselves as “somewhat liberal” and 12% say they are “very liberal.” This compares to 11% and 5% of Americans as a whole.
  • Another 18% describe themselves as “somewhat conservative,” compared to 20% of the population. Self-described “very conservatives” represent 9% of the audience, compared to 12% of the population. 34

News Investment

The main source of data on radio newsroom profitability comes from a survey by Bob Papper, professor and chair of the department of journalism, media studies and public relations at Hofstra University, produced in conjunction with the Radio Television Digital News Association (formerly the Radio Television News Directors Association).

These figures (given the response rate) should be taken as general trends, not hard figures.

The average size of a radio newsroom staff rose slightly in 2008 to just shy of three people (2.8), according to the survey. The largest newsrooms gained slightly and most newsrooms saw no change at all.

Radio news directors often are responsible for more than one station.

  • 43.3% of news directors oversaw two or three stations in 2008, up from 18.5% in 2007.
  • 18.3% oversaw four stations in 2008, up from 8.6% in 2007.
  • The busiest news directors in 2008 oversaw 29 stations, up from 14 stations in 2007.35

Responsibilities News Directors Have Other Than the News

Other Job Percentage of News Directors
Talk Show Host 15.4%
Announcing (sports and weather) 15.4
Program Director 15.4
Production 10.8
Operations 9.2
Sales 7.7
General Manager 4.6
Public Affairs 3.1
Other 18.5

Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News Staffing and Profitability,” RTNDA Communicator, September/October 2009

Radio News Salaries

Salaries for radio journalists rose slightly in some categories in 2009, but remained well below the pay of their TV counterparts. And except for sports anchors, the highest paid category, none over the past five years have kept up with inflation.

Other positions inside radio newsrooms rose slightly or remained unchanged.

Salaries in Radio Newsrooms

Position 2007 2008
News Anchors $30,000 $30,000
Reporters $23,400 $25,000
Producers $25,400 $26,000
Sports Anchors $32,000 $35,000

Footnotes

1. Arbitron Radar, December 7, 2009

2. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

3.Council for Research Excellence, “How U.S. Adults Use Radio and Other Forms of Audio.” October 29, 2009. Study commissioned by Nielsen.

4. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April, 2009

5. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April, 2009

6. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April, 2009

7. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April, 2009

8. Council for Research Excellence, “How U.S. Adults Use Radio and Other Forms of Audio.” October 29, 2009. Study commissioned by Nielsen.

9. Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2009 Edition, September 23, 2009

10. Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2009 Edition, September 23, 2009

11. Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2009 Edition, September 23, 2009.

12. PEJ Interview with Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming at WTOP radio in Washington, D.C., 2008.

13. Arbitron, “Radio Today: How Americans Listen to Radio,” 2009 Edition, September 23, 2009.

14. PEJ interview with CBS RADIO.

15. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

16. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

17. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

18. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

19. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

20. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

21. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

22. “The Infinite Dial 2009,” Arbitron, April 2009

23. Radio Advertising Bureau, “09 Year-End Results Confirm Positive Signs for Radio Digital Sector Continues To Gain Importance,” February 19, 2010.

24. Radio Advertising Bureau, “09 Year-End Results Confirm Positive Signs for Radio Digital Sector Continues To Gain Importance,” February 19, 2010.

25. Veronis Suhler Stevenson, “Community Industry Forecast 2009-2013”

26. Veronis Suhler Stevenson, “Community Industry Forecast 2009-2013”

27. Veronis Suhler Stevenson, “Community Industry Forecast 2009-2013”

28. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News Staffing and Profitability,” RTNDA Communicator, September/October 200

29. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News Staffing and Profitability,” RTNDA Communicator, September/October 2009

30. BIA Financial Network and PEJ Research

31. BIA Financial Network and PEJ Research

32. BIA Financial Network and PEJ Research

33. NPR Press release, July 2009 http://www.npr.org/about/press/2009/072709.WebsiteRedesign.html

34. Demographic data provided by NPR

35. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News Staffing and Profitability,” RTNDA Communicator, September/October 2009