Radio Still “Works” — According to, umm…. Radio People

Billboard Magazine runs an interesting article in this week's digital edition that attempt to challenge numerous myths about consumers' use of various digital media — and the consequent continued reign of various "old" media like broadcast radio.

Study2 The report, from some outfit that calls itself "The Council for Research Excellence" tracks "752 days of audio media usage in five markets… in the spring and fall of 2008" and concludes that "many myths about how people today listen to music" are false.

For example, the report challenges the myth that "People don't listen to the radio any more," by stating taht "Broadcast radio has of 79.1% "reach" and gets an average of 122 minutes per day from listeners." 

Similarly, the myth that "Nobody listens to CDs any more" with the news that "CDs…are second in reach (to broadcast radio) and get an average of 72 minutes per day from users.

Other "myths" that get challenged are "Young people are over CDs," "The iPod has killed of the radio and CDs" and my own personal favorite (given the thrust of this whole blog), "The computer is the new stereo."

Now, admittedly, I'm no expert in statistics, but… what's the old saying?  "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."  In other words, given the right questions, and the right sample, you can get statistics to say damn near anything you want them to.

For example, take that first "myth" this report supposedly shatters, the one that says "People don't listen to the radio any more."  I would be the first to admit that, despite my inclination toward listening to digital media on my computer or iPhone, I still listen to plenty of radio.  But I almost NEVER listen to music on the radio. When my radio is on, I'm listening to something called "NPR." 

I don't know if I'm typical, atypical, or leading the way the way between the two, but you can bet that when I'm listening to music, it's either my computer, my iPhone, or satellite radio (which according to this study accounts for only 7% of listening, -v- 51 percent for "broadcast radio." I listen to CDs only occasionally, and typically only when it's something that somebody has given me that is not available in any other format. 

There are two things that intrigue me about this study, which I willingly share without any "statistical" evidence whatsoever to back them up.

The first is that the report is a snapshot — and given that the stats are over a year old, a rather faded snapshot at that.  But what's really missing is any sense of the trends involved. 

For example, to dispel the "myth" that "The computer is the new stereo" the report tells us that a mere "10.4% of sample use their computers to listen to a digital file while only 9.3% streamed audio…"

From my perspective, I think that's an encouraging number — particularly the notation that almost as many people are listening to streaming audio as are listening to downloaded files. 

But what I want to know is: how many people listened to streaming audio 2, 3, or 4 years ago?  I don't want to know that static statistic, I want to know the trend.  That the number is rising or falling tells me more than what it is right this minute.

But what for me is most intriguing about this report is where it comes from. According to their website, the so-called Council for Research Excellence "consists
of 35+ senior research professionals who are all Nielsen media clients.
As such, we represent advertisers, agencies, networks, cable companies
etc.

In other words, the CRE is a research front for the mainstream, mostly analog, mostly broadcast media industry.  Broadcasters and cable networks and their patrons and brethren.  I don't see any digital companies in the mix.  So why am I not surprised that the results would suggest that broadcasting reigns supreme and nobody is listening to anything digital (except CDs) ?

Hey, I've got an idea.  I think I'll conduct my own scientific survey of the people in the coffee shop where I'm writing this post to see what they are all listening to through the buds in their ears. 

Frothy The results are conclusive: Of the two people here who are  sporting earbuds, both of them inform me that they are listening to… iTunes. That's 100% of our scientific sample listening to digital music — and using their computer as their stereo.  And exactly 0% listening to broadcast or radio of any kind.

While I'm at it, I asked the barista what's playing on the sound system in the coffee shop.  He had to think it over a minute.  "I'm not sure, he said, "it's either iTunes or Pandora."  And then his co-worker chimed in "iTunes is the ONLY thing I EVER listen to…"

So much for scientific sampling.



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Paul S