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How to Keep Radio in the Driver’s Seat

New vehicles may be tricked out with advanced infotainment systems, super-sized displays and dozens of entertainment apps, but AM/FM radio is still king of the car. That’s welcome news for radio stations, who rely on in-car usage to attract audiences and advertisers. One of radio’s signature strengths is its ability to drive sales, and in-car listening creates key promotional and marketing opportunities. With more digital audio and voice interactions in cars, radio can reach drivers in new ways. To retain the pole position, radio stations need to keep innovating with digital and voice, all while maintaining high-quality broadcasts.

Radio Dominates In-Car Usage
Here is the roadmap: On an average weekday, radio commands nearly 60% of in-car media usage, followed by satellite radio with 16%, while streaming music like Spotify and Pandora claimed 5% and podcasts accounted for 4%, according to Jacob Media’s 2019 Tech Survey. Other research shows radio is even more dominant in the car, with Edison Research reporting that 67% of drivers identified AM/FM radio as their top audio choice in-car.    

Even better, new car buyers are still prioritizing local radio in their auto search. Jacobs Media reports that 80% of buyers said FM radio was the most important feature in a new car, followed by Bluetooth and smartphone connections. Voice commands were another key feature, with 42% of respondents saying they looked for voice capability in a vehicle. Voice integrations can benefit radio, creating another way for drivers to easily access live broadcasts and on-demand content, including podcasts.  

Younger Drivers Still Listen
Worried that younger Americans prefer digital audio to broadcast radio? That’s not the case in the car. Young drivers are still very willing to listen to AM/FM radio. In fact, according to the 2019 Tech Survey, young adults said they listened to AM/FM radio most often in their vehicles, with 70% of Millennials reporting they do all or most of their listening in car, while 69% of Generation Zers said the same.

Infotainment Creates Digital Opportunities
By combining radio’s success in-car with its growing roster of digital products, local stations can amplify their already strong position. For instance, on broadcasts, stations can promote podcasts and on-demand content, which drivers can access through apps on their display. Also, as more drivers utilize smartphone integrations with Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto, if a consumer has your station app on their phone, it will appear on their car display. That provides seamless access to your live stream and on-demand features.

Auto Boosts Cross-Platform Sales
It is well-established that radio advertising helps raise brand awareness and spur sales. In fact, radio ads can create a 22% increase in in-store traffic, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. To maximize strong auto usage, radio sellers can encourage local businesses to combine on-air with digital solutions. For instance, if a local business advertises in a podcast, they could reach additional listeners who are driving near the point of purchase. Also, as new vehicles sport super-sized display screens, radio can offer local businesses added exposure by attaching display ads that run simultaneously on the display screens and increase brand exposure. About half of new cars have these larger displays, according to a Maru/Visual Critical study and the RAB. Among heavy radio listeners, 68% said they regularly pay attention to in-car displays and one-third say they recall seeing an advertisers name or logo on their display screen.


As radio embraces the new auto landscape, there are opportunities for to reach new listeners and expand ad options. Since change comes slowly in the car market, radio stations have time to innovate and expand their content. New car purchases are a major outlay that most consumers make every few years or more. However, by establishing a roadmap to continue in-car success now and adding new digital and voice opportunities, local radio can retain its lead.

Written by Paul Altman