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New Survey warns: Radio must be Irreplaceable

Okay radio listeners, if your stations vanished tomorrow, would you miss them?  Would you care?

This is a critical question in that it reflects the degree to which radio is consumed because of what it does as opposed to being consumed simply because it’s convenient, ubiquitous, and habitual.

“What’s the difference?” you might say.  “Radio is convenient, ubiquitous, and habitual whether you want to pretend otherwise or not.”

That’s true.  However change happens at the edges and change begins with new options and new behaviors tuned to those options that develop over time.  Options which solve problems in superior or unique ways – ways that are beyond the scope of radio today.

So what I really measure by this question is the power of radio’s defenses against radio alternatives and substitutes.  Are listeners devoted to radio, or are they simply settling for it?  Is it the low-hanging fruit or the higher-up fruit worth reaching for?

In conjunction with the folks at VIP Research, I asked a national sample of more than 1,000 radio listeners (ages 10-54) this question:

If your local radio stations went off the air tomorrow and you had to get your news, information, and music from other sources, how would you feel about this?

A)   I would be very unhappy and miss my radio stations a lot

B)   It would be too bad, but I would find other ways to inform and entertain myself

C)   It wouldn’t matter much to me; I can get what radio provides elsewhere

Overall, the number one response was B – by a nose over A [see a summary of results here].

The good news is that the response to A – at 37% – is reasonably strong.  The bad news is that the percentage of respondents who feel they could adapt fairly easily to a world without radio is also quite large – 39%.  Even those who would shed no tears for radio – at 24% – is fairly high.

That is, respondents are as likely to say “I can get over radio” as “I miss my stations.” For an industry that has prospered for the better part of a century near the center of all of our lives, this should sound some alarms.  And that doesn’t even count the 24% of respondents who give the whole scenario a big fat shrug.

Men are more likely to dismiss radio than women, and results vary by format preference.

Interestingly one group of format fans is far more likely to be unhappy without radio and to miss their stations.  Can you guess what format that is?

It’s News/Talk.

So the lesson for us all is that while attracting usage may be relatively easy, evoking passion is a lot more difficult.  And the key in this process is investing in unique and quality content that listeners care about.

In the long run, the best way to avoid obsolescence is to be worth missing.

The best way to avoid substitution is to be irreplaceable.

I think radio will matter to one degree or another for a good long time, even if we do nothing.  But it sure won’t matter as much as it used to – unless we do something.

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