Radio Post-Pandemic

Author: Tammy Greenberg, SVP/Business Development, RAB

The challenges that the marketing, advertising and media community faced throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021 have been like nothing any business has ever seen or experienced before. These challenges brought opportunity and have demonstrated a collective resilience in nearly every sector of business.

The next frontier for radio has been shaped by many of the lessons learned as consumers, businesses and brands have leaned in to audio across all platforms as the soundtrack to their daily journey.

What is new is old. What is old is new. Radio trends born from past truths.

With a goal of allowing a consumer to feel part of what is being presented to them, immersive experiences are not new to radio. Audio, in its purest sense, is an immersive form of media with nothing between the listener’s heart, mind and their headphones or speakers. They ingest content and contribute their own thoughts, making it a much more relatable and resonant experience. As Dr. Tiffany Eurich stated in a contribution to Medium, “Audio creates an opportunity for mental space for creativity to flourish.”

In early to mid-2020, there was an incredible surge in television binge-watching, which ultimately plateaued and began to decline due to screen fatigue. As consumers began to come out of their COVID-19 cocoons, radio harnessed what makes it such a special medium for its listeners, with a renewed focus on creating immersive experiences that are built on trust.

In March 2021, Audacy released a study to define and measure engaged impressions across media channels with immersion as the key metric, because immersion is predictive of action. This study showed that audio (comprising over the air, streaming over the air and podcasts) is more immersive than other media, including linear TV and social media, Google Search results, print media, and AI-driven pureplay platforms. Trust is at the basis of the most memorable content. Audacy found that their listeners trust audio brand recommendations more than non-Audacy listeners do, and that trust is earned by their consistent delivery of relevant local content. Listeners have confidence in what an audio host has to say, especially when immersed in an environment that is full of shared references and a sense of communal connection to their everyday lives.

Radio welcomes you to the club

One of the most prevalent media trends of the past year has been the rise of social audio platforms, such as invitation-only Clubhouse, Facebook’s impending launch of a suite of social audio tools, Twitter Spaces and dozens more. It has been noted that the 2020 quarantine accelerated social audio platform launches to capitalize on video and Zoom fatigue. These new audio-first social platforms are in the early stages of consumer adoption, some will survive and some will not, but the trend is here to stay.

The success of social audio stems from what radio knows and delivers. Radio is the original social medium, connecting communities of like-minded listeners, with a radio personality initiating the dialogue. The conversations, the storytelling, the connection to local and national news and information, the entertainment, pranks, celebrations and the live play-by-play sporting events that put you in the middle of the game – all of this provides the social connections consumers crave.

Radio’s social connections extend well beyond the broadcast, seamlessly moving to digital platforms and back again. Broadcasters have embraced social audio technology by bringing its trusted and brand-safe equities to these platforms. By hosting conversations on Clubhouse, driving increased engagement on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms and advancing technology on their own digital apps and online platforms, radio will continue to innovate on pace with technological advancements providing additional opportunities for brands to connect with listeners.

Access for all

Each year, millions upon millions of people attend radio-hosted and brand-sponsored small and large events in local markets across the country. But the pandemic upended live events and experiential marketing, and radio broadcasters were quick to reinvent the wheel. Throughout 2020, radio broadcasters produced events and experiences that ultimately drew wider appeal and increased engagement, delivered exceptional content and united communities when they needed it most.

One such example is how Connoisseur Media’s Chaz and AJ morning show delivered throughout 2020 and 2021. The morning show that airs on 99.1 WPLR and 95.9 The Fox in Connecticut has historically raised funds and toys to donate to countless families across the state through a series of events that lead to a December toy drive. In 2020, the Chaz & AJ Toy Drive event kicked off in September with a first-ever Food Truck Festival – a two-hour culinary extravaganza where attendees sampled their way through some of the best food trucks known in Connecticut, safely from their own vehicle and served by the station’s on-air personalities. The event sold out in an instant, helped to showcase many of the local restaurants who were struggling during the pandemic, brought people together for a couple of hours of pure joy and listeners have been more giving and more generous than ever before.

Making us better people for better communities

The extraordinary events of 2020 put the spotlight on the growing importance of inclusiveness, diversity and community – equity for all individuals and equity for all businesses and brands. Radio has always and will continue to be inclusive, meeting with, entertaining, informing, inspiring, connecting and supporting diverse audiences in the communities where they live. Consider the examples Annette Malave, SVP Insights for the Radio Advertising Bureau, shares in a Radio Matters blog post: “How often has someone called into a sports station to share their opinions on last night’s game or the more recent controversies that take place on the field? Consider the on-air personalities that ask their listeners to share their experiences with racism and discrimination. What about employees and family members of small-business owners who called a local radio station for help on notifying the community that the location was open for business?” These are all examples of the ways that radio has included the thoughts, concerns and emotions of those within their listening community. But it certainly does not end there, and there is more work to be done. Throughout 2020, radio stations across the country rallied more support for local communities and small businesses than any other medium. Look no further than the “Celebration of Service to America Awards” presented by The NAB Leadership Foundation, highlighting a selection of the significant impact radio stations have on the lives of those in the communities they serve.

Moving forward, radio’s unwavering commitment to supporting the communities it serves will continue to inspire and create positive change that improves the lives and livelihood of all people and all businesses.

America is on the move again

A Katz Radio Group analysis of Apple Mobility data shows that driving levels among Americans in April 2021 are up 37% from a pre-pandemic baseline, and they have increased 76% from April of 2020. Increased consumer mobility sets the stage for more radio listening in local markets as 75% of consumers state radio is the audio source used most often in the car, far exceeding any other audio option. According to Edison Research Share of Ear study, AM/FM radio enjoys an 88% share of ad-supported audio time spent in the car. So what will happen to time spent in a vehicle with AM/FM radio now that the country is on the move?

  • According to a study based on United States Postal Service data, over 15.9 million people moved their primary residence during the pandemic. This, coupled with increased sales in 2021 for used and new automobiles leads to the prediction that there will be more shuttling of children, more errands outside of walking distances and more driving in general.
  • 2021 road trips are expected to surge. In a recent survey by Erie Insurance, 56% of consumers said they plan on traveling more than 100 miles from home, with the vast majority (80%) saying they will travel by car, SUV or truck. 51.2% of respondents said they plan on taking at least one road trip in their own vehicle this year, while another 30% would like to take a road trip in their own vehicle, depending upon the state of the pandemic. Of those who will travel, 55% plan to drive more than 500 miles from home.
  • Personal vehicles will dominate the work commute. A survey referenced by NBC News revealed that among those who will go back to their offices, over 60% plan to swap public transportation for their cars. And almost a quarter have purchased a car during the past six month, with more than half of those saying they did so specifically because of the pandemic.
  • The flexibility that will be offered to employees to continue working from home part-time or full-time is likely to lead people to increase the time spent in a vehicle versus those that decrease it. According to Slate, teleworkers tend to travel quite a bit, and the places they reach are typically further than if they were at the office.

It is clear that the time spent in a personal vehicle is a trend that will not soon pass as consumers remain more comfortable in their own personal spaces. Radio is along for the ride as the primary audio companion to both drivers and passengers. The dayparts that listeners spend in their vehicles listening to radio will continue to evolve. Whereas all radio dayparts have always been important to an effective and efficient media plan, in a post-pandemic world, all dayparts are increasingly more important as commute times will vary, weekend road trips will surge and daily shopping, dining and other leisure activities will increase.

The hottest new audio platform is broadcast radio

Audio was experiencing tremendous growth prior to 2020 as platforms continued to expand, podcast consumption exploded, online and mobile listening grew and listening through voice assistants continued to climb. This growth continues in 2021 at an accelerated pace because audio provides consumers with a haven due to its immersive and intimate nature.

With its unrivaled reach and its pervasiveness across over-the-air broadcast, streaming, mobile, podcast and voice-enabled digital platforms, radio is not only the leader in the audio space, but it is leading the media industry, reaching more than 235 million people ages 12+ every week.

Broadcast radio is the definition of social audio. Broadcast radio provides access for all. Broadcast radio is the backbone of support for the individuals, small businesses and communities it serves. Broadcast radio is on the move with consumers across America.

In many ways, the year that was 2020 is analogous to a masterclass on flexibility, adaptation, survival, respect, understanding and purpose. The post-pandemic future for radio is bright and marketers poised to leverage its strengths have the opportunity to connect in a more immersive and inclusive way with consumers.


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