Radio: focus on audience research: Radio alive and well

Recent article in American Demographics notes that while pundits talk about the brave new world of interactive tv and computer bulletin boards, the old-fashioned medium of radio is thriving.Radio, the article asserts, has a tenacious ability to adapt to changes in...

Recent article in American Demographics notes that while pundits talk about the brave new world of interactive tv and computer bulletin boards, the old-fashioned medium of radio is thriving.

Radio, the article asserts, has a tenacious ability to adapt to changes in popular tastes and to mold itself to listeners’ lifestyles.

In Canada, evidence shows radio has rebounded from the recession, with the fundamental relationship between the medium and its audience remaining stable despite a proliferation of formats and alternative media choices in the last 20 years.

Daily listenership

Radio reaches more than 70% of the population on a daily basis, and more than 95% weekly.

The average weekly tuning to radio in Canada ranges between 20 and 24 hours, depending on the market, and overall tuning levels have not changed significantly over time.

The question is, why has radio tuning showed such remarkable stability over such a long time, especially in this age of increased media fragmentation?

Research, both qualitative and quantitative, continues to show that the mobility or portability of radio and its local character are the main factors in tuning.

Greater acceptance and use of radio at the workplace is an important, albeit secondary, factor.

Radio’s tenacity can be traced to its relationship with its audience: radio is simply there.

It serves as background for those doing housework or enroute when in a vehicle, as a dependable and faithful companion when someone is alone, and, for most listeners, as an established daily habit.

From a marketing standpoint, radio remains the original niche reach/frequency medium. Increased diversity of narrower radio formats gives the marketer the chance to pinpoint specific targets.

Flexible medium

Radio is, and will likely continue to be, a flexible medium, and research shows that among all major media, radio remains closest to the point-of-purchase.

A Decima Research study on Canadian media and radio habits showed that of those who bought something at ‘a supermarket, department store, or any other type of store in the last 24 hours,’ nearly one-in-two (46%) reported having listened to radio within an hour before buying.

The comparable proportions for billboards and tv were 24% and 22%, respectively.

In addition to its flexibility and its niche characteristics, radio tends to be more immune to zapping than other media, despite the increased use of scanners and digital push-button car radios.

The rate at which consumers avoid advertising on radio is below rates recorded for other media such as tv, daily newspapers and magazines.

Research shows consumers are twice as likely to identify tv over radio as the medium from which they can easily ‘flip past’ or ‘switch away’ from advertising.

20+ hours per week

Why do people spend an average of 20 or more hours per week listening to radio?

Research studies have traditionally sought to find one or two characteristics of radio that a majority of listeners found indispensable.

Depending on the research study, the market, and the radio format mix, things such as news, traffic/weather information or music emerge as key drivers of tuning.

Consumer research indicates that, in most cases, a radio station’s overall sound or programming approach is more important than the sum of its component parts.

There are significant demographic variations on what listeners expect from their radio stations, with music declining in importance as listeners age.

In studies seeking to segment the population on the basis of music preference, research revealed remarkable relationships between music preferences and life attitudes, values and interests.

Proxy indicators

In this context, music preference can act as proxy indicators of psychographic (and in many cases, demographic) characteristics of a given audience.

Detailed segmentation analyses on the basis of music preference in the adult and teen populations show that music preferences (and, in many cases, radio station choice) can be used to predict attitudinal dimensions such as tolerance, innovation, entrepreneurship, conservatism, propensity to provide marketplace information (opinion-leadership) and fashion-consciousness, among many others.

Tone should be in tune

To effectively reach target audiences through radio advertising, the tone and style of the creative needs to be in tune with the overall sound and attitude of the station(s) in the media schedule.

The loyalty of the average radio listener is notable: research reveals that irrespective of the number of stations in a given market, a substantial majority of listeners tend to listen to not more than two or three stations on a regular basis.

Nine out of 10 radio listeners indicate in market surveys they have at least one favorite station they listen to most.

Station loyalty tends to vary by format: country and rock stations generate the highest levels of loyalty among their listeners.

Finally, consumer research suggests the ‘puberty connection’ phenomenon (listeners’ desire to hear the music of their youth) will continue to influence format and music mix choices for a significant number of radio stations.

’70s music looks good

The prognosis for stations programming 1970s (and, increasingly, ’80s) music looks good, as late boomers begin to exert their influence.

Early boomers, on the other hand, are hitting the age of 50, suggesting that news/talk stations with substantive surveillance and lifestyle information content will continue to attract large, not to mention affluent, audiences.

Kaan Yigit is a senior research consultant with Decima Research in Toronto.