Radio Internet Listening -- Hit Or Myth?
August 9, 2016
In a piece in The Guardian over the weekend, former radio presenter-turned-podcaster Scroobius Pip says of a meeting with U.S. podcaster Joe Regan:
"At the time, I had a radio show on Xfm, which went on to win two Sony awards. Joe asked: 'Why do you work for someone else?' I said, 'Well, they're on FM.' He pointed out that most of my listeners were listening online ... so I left.
It's a throwaway comment in an article that is there to promote a new podcast, Distraction Pieces, but like many throwaway comments, it's one that's deserving of a little more attention.
Because it's wrong ... 100% wrong.
The narrative surrounding radio is full of these kinds of frustrating smokescreen phrases.
"Young people don't listen to the radio any more" -- in fact, they're listening in roughly the same numbers as they were 10 years ago. They're listening for a smaller amount of time, but still listening.
"Video killed the radio star" -- catchy song, but lazy Buggles headlines won't disguise that actually radio is as popular, and sometimes more so, than TV.
And this one, for AM/FM stations that stream: "Most of our listeners are listening online." That, too, is false.
When I'm speaking -- whether to radio stations behind closed doors, to conferences or to students -- I usually ask for a show of hands for the popularity of online radio. Every single audience I've spoken at massively overestimates how popular Internet streaming is. To all of them, it comes as a surprise how small the Internet really is as a part of radio listening.
In most countries, Internet accounts for less than 15% of total TSL for any AM/FM simulcast. That's all.
Scroobius's station, Xfm, had around 920,000 listeners in 2014, when he was on the air. I've gently pointed out in this column before that it's quite hard to get total audience figures for podcasts, but in terms of total downloads, this article from 2013 is useful: This American Life, one of the biggest podcasts in the world, got around 800,000 downloads per episode; while on the radio it does 2.2m listeners. Xfm's total audience is rather different to the audience for his particular show, but you get the point.
I might listen to lots of radio (and audio) over the Internet, but then, as I am at pains to point out, I am not normal. And nor are most people who you work with in radio, either.
So, podcasting is a great thing. You can reach lots of people doing it. But if you're on traditional radio -- particularly a station as large as Xfm -- it's worthwhile remembering that there are many, many more people listening to you over the air than through the Internet. Before you quit your job on-air, do some proper digging.
PS: Perhaps now's the time to point out the audio version of my recent columns -- you'll find it on YouTube.