Why is radio relevant? According to Pew Research Center: “Hundreds of local and regional radio and television stations comprise the U.S. public media system. On the radio side, organizations such as NPR, American Public Media (APM) and Public Radio International (PRI), which merged with PRX in 2018, produce and distribute programming, reaching audiences through local stations as well as digital channels.”
Pew’s Public Broadcasting Fact Sheet shows public broadcasting with radio has remained steady in terms of revenue and hasn’t seen any decrease in listenership. In fact, the top 20 NPR-affiliated public radio stations saw an average of 11 million weekly listeners in 2018, the same as 2017. While public television viewership has decreased, as seen by 6% less viewers for PBS’s NewsHour program, radio has stayed strong.
While radio listenership has stayed steady, Pew found that people aren’t always listening on their radios. Terrestrial broadcast listenership (radio broadcast towers transmit a signal rather than satellites or the internet) has actually declined, but total listenership has stayed secure. How? The introduction of apps and usage on other devices that allow listeners to tune in without tuning their radio, such as the iHeartRadio app or NPR One app.
These digital platforms are turning out to be key components of programming. The NPR One app, which streams individual shows from the radio as well as podcasts, has had a slightly higher average of completed sessions in 2018, depending upon the device. NPR also has a news app that livestreams from individual stations. Listening to radio on digital devices is so easy, you can even ask Alexa to play a station.
Revenue of public broadcasting services has also increased since 2017. Pew reports that NPR increased its total operating revenue in 2018 to $252.1 million, up 8% from 2017 levels at the national level. Similarly, Public Radio International (PRI) also saw an increase of 4% to about $18.8 million in total revenue for 2018. American Public Media (APM) on the other hand, fell 20% year over year, amounting to $134.7 million in 2018. However, it states that a change in accounting practices caused this reduction and said that they will fully recover this revenue in 2019. At the local level, Pew found that 123 of the largest news-oriented licensees in 2017 had a total revenue of $904.7 million.
The state of radio is great, and advancements in technology are only helping the transmission of radio broadcasts to listeners. If we continue to invest time and money in public broadcasting, we will be able to reap the benefits for years.