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Three Lessons Radio is Learning About Smart Speakers

Three Smart Speaker Lessons for Radio  

With smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home becoming mainstream household technology, radio stations need to make sure their voice integrations are fresh and accessible.  Most savvy stations have skills, and many promote them on-air, but the work doesn’t end there. Consumers are making smart speakers part of their daily media diet and establishing habits. To be part of that, radio stations need to make sure their skills deliver for users.  

One-third of Americans now own smart speakers, and many households have three or more devices, according to Edison Research. They’re using speakers at home and at the office to access information, audio entertainment and even experimenting with voice commerce.  

Here’s some good news for radio: Music and listening AM/FM stations are among the top uses. Users ask their smart speakers to play their favorite local stations, with radio listening cited as the second most popular usage for speakers (no. 1 is asking for the weather), according to a new Westwood One 2019 Audioscape report. Smart speaker owners are also heavy radio users, with three-quarters saying they listen to AM/FM radio regularly. 

To stay ahead, local radio stations should make sure they’re following a few smart speaker developments:  

Educating your audience is essential 

Just locking up your invocation name and launching a skill doesn’t mean the audience can find you. In fact, a recent NuVoodoo study reported that 46% of users have had trouble getting their speakers to play the station they asked for. Your station needs to educate your audience about voice skills and remind them regularly how to find you on Alexa and Google Home. Also, tell listeners what these skills can do. Federated Media’s radio stations, for instance, promote their skills on-air, online and on social media. Speaking at the recent Podcast Movement 2019 conference, Federated Media’s Chief Strategy Officer James Derby emphasized that repetition is key to educating consumers about smart speaker skills. 

When it comes to skills, less may be more

Like any fast-moving new technology, consumers are constantly changing how they use their smart speakers, so radio stations need to stay nimble. When local radio started launching voice content, some skills were elaborate, featuring several layers of content, including live streams, podcasts and on-demand audio. That might have been too much for some consumers. Early Federated skills, for instance, offered music choices and on-demand audio. At Podcast Movement, Derby noted that the company’s “K-105” WQHK Ft. Wayne, IN launched an early skill with eight options, but eventually streamlined it to fewer offerings.  

Experienced smart speaker users also tend to pare down their own usage over time. A recent NPR and Edison Research report noted that 69 percent of smart speaker owners use their device daily and newer owners access more skills, averaging 12 per week, compared to consumers who have had devices for two years or more, who average 7 skills weekly. Your station wants to be one of those essential skills!

For now, podcasting takes patience

One thing smart speaker owners struggle with is accessing podcasts and this should grab broadcasters’ attention. Voice-tech should be an easy way to request podcasts, however, without screens, it is difficult to search and explore podcasts (unless you know exactly what to ask for). Some users do play podcasts over smart speakers via their smartphones, using podcast apps to select their podcast and use the speaker to deliver a better audio experience. However, these users are missing out on their speakers’ interactive possibilities. 

This problem is evolving as smart speakers get more sophisticated. New smart speakers with screens like the Alexa Echo Spot, which features are two-and-a-half inch color screen, are hitting the market, and that will make it easier to explore audio, including podcasts. In fact, Edison/NPR reported that 66% of consumers that own a smart speaker with a screen said it was easier to find content on the device. For now, stations should promote their podcasts on-air and encourage listeners to stream them through their smart speakers. 


As the smart speaker industry evolves and new products hit the market (Apple is reportedly prepping a less expensive, smaller version of its HomePod), radio stations need to stay one step ahead. Keep experimenting with devices at home and in the office, and fine-tuning skills your skills. If you build it, promote it and refine it, users will come.

Written by Paul Altman