Seriously? 93 Percent of Americans Still Listen to Broadcast Radio

That’s according to the latest stats shared by Arbitron, whose half-year report shows a substantial gain in listeners year-over-year.

The tally shows that roughly 93 percent of Americans over the age of 12 – ie, 242.1 million users – tune into traditional, broadcast radio at least once a week.  The broader US population is now pushing past 313 million, with a substantial chunk (ie, approximately 15 percent or so) under the age of 12.

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This is exactly what it sounds like: old-school, broadcast radio, not satellite, internet, or mobile-based streams.  Actually, we thought there was something wrong with that stats, but Arbitron confirmed that this indeed refers to traditional broadcasting.  “This data is for only over-the-air broadcasts,” an Arbitron executive told to Digital Music News.

And they also told us that nearly 600,000 new listeners have joined since last year.  The 18-34 set was a strong contributor, though the overlapping 25-54 demographic displayed declines.

All of which seems to raise the question: why the near saturation, especially given all the complaints people have about this format?  This isn’t the first report to show this extreme level of usage, despite lots of repetition, lots of breaks, and stunningly little format variety.  And, despite huge competition from satellite radio, Pandora, and non-radio formats like Spotify, all of whom are encroaching upon the dashboard.

Perhaps out of all the possible explanations, convenience and ease-of-use is the strongest.  Radio is something you just turn on, it sits on your dashboard, and it doesn’t require subscriptions, contracts, or apps.  On top of that, there’s a common listening experience that remains completely unmatched by Pandora, Sirius, Songza, or even  Because no matter how schlocky and repetitive, there are probably millions dialed into the same call letters at any given moment.

There’s comfort in that.

15 Responses

  1. CBQ

    “tune in once a week” – this stat standing on its own is meaningless without adding to it the number of times other media are used per week

    So it’s a case of “So what?” til, the numbers are expanded.

    I never listen to radio due to the prattling shite of DJs, interruptions for news, weather and ads – I’ve spent money on music I want to hear, why would I listen to someone else’s choice?

  2. lsapadin

    My guess is that most of that is the clock radio while getting dressed every morning. Take that out of the equation, and you’re probably left with more like 10%.

    • Nikki

      “Take that out of the equation, and you’re probably left with more like 10%.”

      I disagree. My guess is MANY people have switched from old school clock radios to letting their cell phone wake them up (that’s what I’ve done).

      The obvious answer is “CARS”. People still drive cars, and all those kids between 12-16 still ride in cars with their parents. That probably provides the lion share of radio listening. I still listen to my radio in the car everyday, though I have an iPod, Spotify, blah blah blah.

      Of course, I’m listening to NPR everyday, not music radio. Music radio gets turned on 0-1 times a week, because of the limitations mentioned in the article.

      • croels

        I agree with Nikki, not everyone listens to Spotify, Pandora etc, but almost everyone will listen to the radio in the car. If only to catch up on the news. And all the people who do listen to Spotify, Pandora, etc. do too.

        • J Red

          This also leaves out sports radio. I haven’t tuned in to music radio since the brutal departure of KUSF, however I will still try to listen to Giants games if I happen to be driving while they are on. The number sounds significant, but the message here is a little skewed by the aformentioned reasons to listen to broadcast radio.

          – J Red

  3. R.P.

    I don’t care what anyone says, unless they go out there and ask every single person in the U.S. if they listen to radio, they are full of shit. 93% of all statistics are made up… How’s that one?

    I asked 35 people in my office if they listen to the radio:

    6 said only in the car when they drive to and from work, or are out on the weekends, and even then they are constantly shuffling between CD’s, satellite, ipods/iphones/mp3 players, and back to terrestrial radio stations. A.D.H.D. much?

    3 others said they do at work through their laptops/computers but also shift between formats.

    93%??? Fuck off…

  4. @arrakiv

    Okay, I’m not surprised a lot of people do, but *93%* of the US tunes into broadcast radio at least once a week?

  5. Topher

    Without the radio how would I know what jams are gonna be hot at da club?

    But seriously, the radio plays crappy tunes but since *most* people can’t tell the difference, and since it is easily accessible, it still rules.

  6. wordbabey

    I love my Spotify, Pandora, mp3 player/smartphone, etc. etc., but I still drive everyday, and still listen to music everyday on radiostations that are not repetitive and are still exciting. of course, being in the tri-state area, and spending a lot of time in Los Angeles as well, there are a crap-load of publically supported and college radio stations, and good regional stations, that continue to broadcast cutting edge stuff every day. especially in the late night to early mornings.

    sure i have to listen to a pledge drive every now and then, but i still find new music everyday on broadcast radio, and then find even more online. I’m just not sure why everyone hates broadcast radio so much. Even pop stations, like broken clocks, get it right once a day ;) For me, I just listen to music wherever I can get it. Why give up on broadcast as just another tool? It’s the music that’s important, not the delivery device. I’ll be using as many as I can until the signals go dark.


  7. Chopped AND Screwed

    You know what’s wrong with you people? You love music.

    Now listen to my rant about the movie theatre and you’ll see what I mean.

    1. They always play the same movies

    2. They’re are only 6 movies at a time

    3. It’s always the biggest movies with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Salma Hayak and Lindsay Lohan.

    4. They never play my IFC favorites

    5. It’s always the same popcorn – where’s the gourmet organic peppery variety ?

    6. They play the same previews all the time for one of the other six movies

    7. I can’t time-shift the movies to watch in my iPad 3 while I’m hang-gliding on my way to WWDC

    8. They don’t have any of my obscure favorite foreign films from Argentina

    9. Everything is lowest common denominator

    10. It’s $12 for a ticket.

    Shall I go on?

  8. DogDeer

    Keep in mind that many Arbitron markets now use the Portable People Meter to measure radio listening. This means that any station that broadcasts a signal that’s within earshot of the PPM device shows up in the ratings. It also means that the survey participant doesn’t necessarily have to be listening to the station in order for him or her to be claimed as a listener. Also, the overall percentage of radio listeners hasn’t really moved up or down over the years. Much of the 600,000 new listeners that tuned in last year were “churn,” meaning they are people who moved up into the measureable demographic (people 12+). As older people move out of measurement (typically by dying), more people enter it, typically because the birth rate is greater than the death rate. Therefore 600,000 new listeners can be added each year, without the percentage of listenership growing. Statistics can be molded in wonderful ways.

    • Radio Guy

      anyone care what a radio guy with over 30 years of experience has to say?

      Radio is still #1. I’ve had people tell me to my face they never listen to radio – but then I get in their car and find out that’s all they have to listen to … except a tape or cd player.

      When people say they don’t LISTEN they tend to mean in an active manner – KNOWING they’re listening – with purpose, like “listening to an album.”

      People tend to use radio passively – unless for the purpose of getting traffic, news, wx, and/or sports …

      PPM measures what frequency a station is tuned to – regardless of any other factors.

  9. @vinyljunkies666

    93 Percent of Americans Still Listen to Broadcast Radio

    Despite 91% thinking that it sucks ass..