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Digital is Key to Radio’s Place in Music Discovery

Digital is Key to Radio’s Place in Music Discovery

Here is a tune that should get some airplay: Even as AM/FM radio faces intense competition from digital streaming, podcasts and even YouTube, audiences still consider local radio a top source for music discovery. But radio is facing intense competition from online sources, particularly among younger consumers.

At a time when consumers have music at their fingertips via their smartphones, voice-activated speakers and connected cars, radio’s position is hardly assured, so stations need to be diligent. A combination of smart on-air promotion, and digital and social media work can help radio maintain its status.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they like to stay up-to-date on the latest music, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital research. Radio maintains the slightest advantage over online sources as the primary source for new music, with 47% of adults 25 to 54 years old saying they learn about new music from radio, while 46% use online sources. 

Among online challengers, radio’s fiercest competition is YouTube. At first glance, YouTube might seem like an unlikely challenger. But the site’s position in the audio industry is growing steadily, as users who are comfortable searching there for video content increasingly turn to YouTube for audio as well. In fact, YouTube edged out radio as the single source most often used to learn about music, with 23% of all Edison/Triton respondents who like to stay up on the latest music saying they go to YouTube to learn about new music, while  22% turn to local radio.

Maintain connections with younger listeners

Here is an important takeaway for radio: Among younger listeners, YouTube is the clear leader for music discovery, with 36% of adults 12 to 24 years old saying YouTube is their no. 1 source for new music, while only 7% said the same about radio. Younger Americans are also more likely to engage digital streaming services to find new music, with one-quarter saying they use Pandora or Spotify to learn about new music.

To maintain a prominent position in the music ecosystem in the future, radio stations need to find ways to connect with these younger listeners and digital is a key component.

Engage listeners where they are

To connect with younger consumers -- and all listeners -- radio stations should continue their time-honored tradition of introducing new artists and songs on-air, but that’s not enough. They need to go where the listeners are: social media and mobile. DJs and hosts should regularly post to social media pages, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and tell users about new artists and fresh music coming up on-air. And don’t forget to use YouTube! On social, your hosts can also preview new artists and their music for followers. This can be particularly helpful to introduce emerging artists or local musicians who might not be ready for broadcast airplay. 

Mobile apps and station websites are other places that radio stations can spotlight new music and artists, both on the homepage and by creating new music sections. With more users streaming radio via mobile apps or websites, this can be a way to connect with digital users. 

Turn up podcasting

Music-based podcasts are one of the hottest trends in podcasting. Consider having one of your personalities host a music-focused podcast that focuses on new music, emerging artists or musicians in your area. This is a way to connect with users in a new format and also grow your podcast business. As an added benefit, you could partner with a local business to sponsor the podcast.

On-air talent is key

One of radio’s biggest advantages over all other audio sources are stations’ personalities and their ties to the local communities. Many listeners regard their favorite hosts as a familiar voice and a trusted friend, so stations need to capitalize on those loyalties and make sure your hosts remain a go-to source for news and information -- including on music. Most radio hosts are confident that their place in the media industry is secure: According to a new Jacobs Media survey, 62% of radio personalities said AM/FM radio will hold its position in the next five years, while 10% think it will grow.


When it comes to music and radio’s reputation as a go-to source for what’s new and interesting, AM/FM stations need to pay as much attention to trends in listening as they do to happenings in their format. If you follow the listeners everywhere they are, your station is in a better position to maintain your status as a top source for emerging artists and music, and, hopefully, grow your following with the next generation of listeners.

Written by Paul Altman