Flying high on the airwaves

Radio audiences continue to grow as technology brings new opportunities to listen, whether online or through mobile phones with high-quality digital sound.

Big changes are taking place in the world of radio, and it’s not just about which station Chris Evans will turn up at next. A study by Claritas UK reveals that technological advances are fuelling the growth in radio audiences. An increasing number of young people are listening to the radio over the Internet; WAP radio stations provide another way of listening while on the move; and in-car digital radio means that once listeners have tuned in to their favourite station, they won’t lose reception even driving through tunnels.

The Claritas study of 184,000 adults’ radio listening habits in the UK highlights the potential for local digital radio stations – 29.1 per cent of respondents listen to a local commercial music station and 67.7 per cent of these listeners tune in to these stations every day.

For the major players in the radio market, the potential for attracting larger audiences through higher sound quality is very compelling. Greater audiences bring greater revenue, which means more resources to invest in more and better programmes, which in turn attract even bigger audiences.

The survey shows that Radio 2, which is behind Radio 1 in terms of total number of listeners (25.2 per cent of respondents against 28.2 per cent for Radio 1), has a greater proportion of listeners tuning in every day (59.5 per cent against 45.5 per cent for Radio 1). Radio 4 did even better in this respect, with 64.6 per cent of its audience listening to the station on a daily basis.

Other radio stations such as Radio 3, Radio 5, TalkSport, Virgin, Atlantic 252 and Melody FM, while still attracting loyal followings, have large numbers of listeners who tune in less often, for instance two or three times a week. In the case of the sport-oriented stations, this is driven by the fact that people may only tune in to hear coverage of specific sporting events at certain times during the week.

Although the future of radio is likely to be driven by the fact that audiences will be able to listen to it anywhere, anytime, listening to the radio at home is still dominant, according to Claritas. More than 65 per cent of respondents listen to the radio while at home, 45.6 per cent listen in the car and 10.2 per cent listen at work. However, for some music stations, such as Virgin and Atlantic 252, the majority of its listeners tune in while in their cars – with 59 per cent and 57 per cent respectively preferring to listen to these two stations while on the move.

Not surprisingly, those radio stations appealing to older audiences have a greater proportion of home listeners. Radio 3 and 4 listeners are 46 per cent and 48 per cent respectively more likely than average to be retired and the upmarket appeal of these stations is highlighted by the high household incomes of their listeners. Classic FM, Radio 2 and BBC local stations also attract people aged over 55, but they tend to have lower incomes.

Though Radio 1 and a number of music-oriented commercial radio stations appeal to a younger audience (aged 18 to 44), Virgin has succeeded in attracting a relatively upmarket youthful audience, many of whom earn over &£30,000 a year. Virgin Radio is also the top choice for listening in the workplace, with 15.3 per cent of Virgin listeners tuning in while at work. This suggests that Virgin is well-placed to take advantage of digital radio, since it appeals to people who have the money and the inclination to listen to the radio wherever they are.

Radio has always been a respected news source, and despite the huge increase in news availability through other media this remains the case. When asked about which sources they most frequently used to find out about the news, respondents put radio third (at 14.2 per cent) behind national newspapers (41 per cent) and terrestrial TV (18 per cent). When asked to predict which news source they thought they would be using the most in two years’ time, national newspapers dropped to 31.9 per cent, while terrestrial TV and radio, which report on news as it breaks, grew to 20.8 per cent and 15.7 per cent respectively.

Modern consumers want convenience, immediacy, availability and entertainment. Radio can offer all of these things already and, with digital technology, the radio industry is becoming increasingly exciting for marketers and con-sumers alike.

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