Gadgets Take Public Radio Listening Online

February 27, 2009

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Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Boomers & Older | Magazines | Media & Entertainment | Newspapers | Radio | Telecom | Television

Public radio continues to have an extremely loyal following that is willing to financially support its programming and avidly recommend its stations, but technologies such as online streaming, cell phones and iPods are changing the way listeners consume entertainment and information, according to a study conducted by Jacobs Media.

The Public Radio Technology Survey 2008 was undertaken in the US in conjunction with NPR, the IMA and PRPD,? to document the level of new media usage and technology adoption among public radio listeners nationwide, as well as by market and format.

Key demographics of the public radio audience surveyed:


  • The average age of listeners is 54.1.
  • The gender composition is 53% female and 47% male.
  • 90% of the listening audience is White.
  • 84% of listeners have a college degree or post-graduate education.

Regarding technology use, the survey found that 93% use cell phones, 89% use the internet daily and 88% listen to radio more than one hour each day.


Other media use includes reading a print or online newspaper daily (75%), watching TV daily (74%), streaming video (66%), and shopping online monthly (58%).


Additional survey findings:

  • Among public radio listeners, watching TV daily (74%) takes a backseat to radio (88%) as a daily medium for entertainment and information.
  • Internet use is consistent with other generation-based research, but high-speed access is nearly ubiquitous among public radio listeners.
  • Satellite radio plays a role in the overall media usage spectrum, but is far from a mass appeal outlet. Only one in ten (12%) listeners currently subscribes to Sirius XM. Among satellite radio subscribers, 66% are satisfied to at least some degree.
  • HD Radio is in the embryonic stage among public radio listeners. Though 47% of respondents are aware of it, only 3% use it.
  • More than half (52%) of public radio listeners own an MP3 player such as an iPod, and 54% have downloaded and listening to a podcast. Some 6% of total listeners own an iPhone.
  • More than half (55%) of public radio listeners stream audio, and 41% say they listen to public radio more because the station they want to listen to streams. Among the same group, 62% say they listen to National Public Radio (NPR).


  • Streaming video has rapidly become a major source of entertainment and information for survey respondents. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) say they stream video, and 70% of those use YouTube.
  • Social networking are used by 34% of public radio listeners, but has higher usage rates with younger demographics, particularly among 25-34 year-olds.
  • NPR news and programs emerge as the most dominant sources of information for the 2008 presidential election. The NPR brand – especially as it relates to news coverage – performs well, though the NPR website and local station web efforts are not top-of-mind for public radio listeners.
  • Public Radio listeners do not profile as “early adopters.”
  • The current economic situation is creating widespread worry and concern among listeners, with 83% saying they are either somewhat or very worried about the economy.

Opportunities, Threats & Recommendations

In addition to shedding light on technology usage among public radio listeners, the survey also revealed several threats and opportunities that public radio must stay abreast of. These include the increasing and diverse use of MP3 players and cell phones.

The iPod – and the podcasts that it hosts – are both an opportunity and a threat, the research found. A large number of public radio listeners own a personal MP3 player, and many are drifting away from radio (for music) as a result. Yet, the study authors note that podcasting usage is impressive, and there is generally an openness to the concept of sponsor messaging. This provides public radio stations with potential to allow listeners to “time shift” their programming, while generating sponsorship revenue in the process.

Similarly, the survey found that cell phone ownership and its many uses and applications also provide both potential and fragmentation for public radio. As consumers avail themselves of many different functions on these devices, study authors contend it will be imperative that public radio stations work to increase streaming efforts, as well as related digital products that will be available on the gadgets that are rapidly become handheld computers.

About the research: The survey was conducted online among listeners of 70 public radio stations who were members of station email databases and were sent a link or heard an on-air advertisement asking them to participate. The sample size was 30,082 respondents. No one station contributed more than 2.5% to the sample. The survey was fielded October 13-November 3, 2008.

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