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The relationship between iPods and Radio: A study

Here is a study that looks into the relationship between radio listening and iPod/mp3 player ownership, conducted by Bridge Ratings.

They used two groups – one which said they had been listening less to Radio and another which said their listening was stable or up. The strange thing about this methodology is that nowhere else in their write-up do they make any conclusions that relate to this segmentation. That is, you never know what different answers these two groups made as the conclusions are viewed in total. Strange.

The summary findings are these:

– On average 60% of participants made some change in the files on their digital music players each week (adding, deleting or both). – 14% changed files more frequently than once a week. – 5% changed files daily – 17% made some changes every two weeks – 4% made no change to their files – 88% of the participants included more than one music “category” on their digital music players, i.e. almost all participants in the study have a variety of musical tastes.

That last point is particularly important since the study authors use it to make some what I believe are sweeping and unwarranted conclusions. Namely, this:

Today’s radio listeners prefer diversity in their music entertainment. This higher desire for more variety of music radio station choice each week is the motivator for listeners to seek additional music diversity by managing their personal music choices through MP3 players. The study found that a significant portion of traditional radio’s listener base is driven to alternative digital entertainment choices by lack of musical diversity on traditional radio.

This conclusion is not supported by the evidence.

First off, “today’s radio listeners” are not likely to prefer any more diversity than listeners of days gone by. What’s changed is their access to variety-based technological alternatives, not their tastes. Check the sales figures at Apple’s music store and you’ll see clearly that the most downloaded songs are the biggest radio hits.

The fact that technology has empowered choice and listeners gravitate to it should surprise none of us. And it certainly doesn’t suggest, as the authors state:

Radio programmers, regardless of format, armed with this research will be able to determine new ways to expose their core library as well as what type of complementary music types to include in the mix. For example, among Country listeners, our research shows a permissible tolerance for Oldies and AC music. The selection of the proper titles from these music types is the secret sauce here. Not all Oldies or AC titles will work in the Country music environment, but our studies show that there is an acceptance and interest for more of this type of music in the Country radio music mix. The same is true for other music formats we have studied.

This type of dangerous conclusion reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about what it is to create a brand and what it means to own a position in the listener’s mind.

Basic to all positioning is the concept that you can’t have everything. That what you do and what you don’t do are both clear and compelling. That less is very often more, and that the more defined you are in terms of image (if not music) the higher your ratings will be.

This doesn’t mean you can’t play a broad mix, but I’m here to tell you that any Country station which veers occasionally into Oldies and AC titles had better get ready to get their butt kicked by a competitor.

Yes, listener tastes are broad and cross-category. That’s why folks listen to multiple stations in multiple formats. But just as the average iPod has numerous and unique “playlists” programmed by the listener, so does the listener choose from the numerous and unique stations people in our industry program.

Don’t confuse the tastes of the individual with the tastes of the mass. And don’t confuse broad music preference with the need to properly market a station and stand for something clear and unique.

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