Why Are Listeners Tuning Into Pandora And Spotify, Not Radio?


That’s the question we put to the best program directors in the country. There’s no denying that Pandora and Spotify have listeners. Is that at the expense of radio — or is it in addition to radio? Is this something you should be worried about, or is it something to ignore. Over the next several days you’ll get a taste of what radio’s top programmers believe about these digital competitors. Here’s our first sample.

Mark Adams

KIOI & KYLD San Francisco PD (iHeartMedia) Mark Adams says the short answer is that a tremendous number of people are still listening to the radio. “Ninety-three percent of the U.S. adult population are spending time with radio each week and those numbers are still growing. With the rapid adoption of smart-speaker technology, which are often being utilized as radios, those numbers are likely to even grow. Consumers rely upon radio for great personalities that provide companionship and locality, for music discovery from smartly curated music programming, and for a number of other brand attributes (including lifestyle and music events that tie listeners and artists closer together) that are unmatched by any competitive streaming service.”

NOTE: Our Best Program Directors in America list will be released on Monday, May 7. This list will only be available to subscribers of Radio Ink Magazine. It will not be posted online. To subscribe to our print issue in time to receive this issue CLICK HERE. To purchase one year of Radio Ink’s digital edition (for $49.00, only $3.26 per issue) GO HERE.

Jim Ryan

WCBS-FM/WNEW-FM New York PD Jim Ryan (Entercom) tells Radio Ink the entire world of entertainment has changed. “Fifteen years ago you could convene a focus group and almost everyone in the room had the same favorite TV show. Today you can do the same thing and everyone could not only have a different favorite show, but not even have heard of the favorite shows of the others in the room. From Amazon Prime to Hulu to Netflix…must-see TV is not necessarily on NBC anymore. Same for audio.

Jason Goodman

“Someone could be a P1 of the local CHR station because they love new music. But that CHR station is only going to play the songs that have high hit potential. That may drive that listener to a new music Friday playlist on Spotify. Still, today word of mouth advertising is the most compelling in getting people to sample new products.   Our cumes are as high as ever, but we are now sharing that cume with specialized offerings from all directions. If we keep making our products as good as they possibly can be, we can get more occasions and stay an important part of their media mix.”

Dick Broadcasting Company Vice President of Programming for Greensboro, NC, Jason Goodman wants to know who’s saying people are not listening to radio. “The latest research I stumbled across says radio has a reach of over 93% of the population weekly. That is a huge number! I would also argue that we are not getting the proper credit for our online listening as well. Our Rock station in Greensboro averages over 95,000 unique listeners a month with hundreds of thousand listening hours. We can see these numbers through our back end on our media players. However, many rating services will show a smaller number because of detection. So on top of reaching more than 93% of people a week, it’s probably even more than that, and for a lot more time spent listening than is being reported. So with this enormous reach of radio, our industry still overall tends to give spots away for cheap, or streaming spots away for free, and tons a free added-value for our awesome product. We need to change that thinking and realize we are the best medium to advertise on that drives goods and services for our clients. We should be creating an atmosphere that advertisers are begging to get on our medium as it has the most powerful reach.”

Thea Mitchem

iHeartMedia’s EVP of Programming (East) and WWPR New York City PD Thea Mitchem says listeners are listening to radio. It’s not an either/or.

If you have an opinion on this topic, feel free to leave it below in our comments section. 


  1. The biggest part of the answer is two-fold.
    1) Consolidated corporate greed…which led to:
    2) There’s almost nobody in the building anymore.

    a long time pal used to program one of the most successful
    music stations in the nation in LA. he had over 50 employees and the
    station turned huge profits. a while back, he went to the
    station to do a voice-over for a national spot. up the elevator in
    the gleaming new office building. the station has the entire floor.
    there were two people there. the receptionist and a production guy.

    • How is that different from Pandora & Spotify? Name all the air talent on Pandora & Spotify. Other than engineers and salespeople, who works there?

  2. THIS for sure:
    adding to the list…

    Answers not given to the headline question:

    1) Near-infinite music variety
    2) Listener choice and feedback
    3) Coverage: get it everywhere there’s a Net connection
    4) Tolerable commercial load, and a subscription model for no ads
    5) Just stop already with the “93% reach” number. Seriously, just stop. It’s your own script and no media buyer takes it seriously, because no advertiser buys 93% of stations in a market.
    6)Nielsen Data supports the massive decline of 12-17 year old cume over last 10 years.
    7) 18-34 year olds have super low attention spans, they cannot stand :60 second commercial stop setsets b/c they’ve never lived in the :60 commercial world…because they don’t have to….because they never did, because of #6 above
    7) Which local stations play broadway? Which play comedy? Which play Dave Matthews exclusively? Which play big band? Which play Reggae? Which play only new Reggae from today? Which play live music recordings only? Which play only Lumineers? Do you get my point yet??
    8) Traffic? Waze. Google Maps. It’s an Ap. You know how to use an App don’t you? And by the way.. it’s MY traffic just like it’s MY music.
    9)Your car’s dashboard talks to the internet. In 3-5 years Satellite radio will be gone, which is why Sirius/XM invested in Pandora. Read the news. Evolve.

    Radio’s advantage is that it comes free with cars.

    • THIS! I could not agree more on the “93%” item. Revenue and TSL continues to dive, but everyone in the industry continues to beat the ‘Reach’ drum. As you said, unless you are buying every radio station in town (and with a commercial every 15 minutes) you are not reaching 93% of anything. Radio’s other advantage? Live/Local talent… which as we all know is in short supply and that ship’s not turning around anytime soon.

  3. To The Big A… Enjoy your comments. But right now you are saying “that’s not what people want” with regards to different formats. But if people don’t want different formats… then why are radio stations even offering different formats, if as you say, people don’t want different formats? I think the logic on that is specious.

    • My point is to address the comment that people are choosing Spotify or Pandora because FM has a smaller playlist. The fact is if the playlist of one station is limited, you can solve that problem by changing stations to another format and hear an entirely different group of songs. But in reality people aren’t seeking different songs. They’re seeking their favorites. We can see which songs they’re streaming at Pandora and Spotify through the streaming charts, and they are basically the same songs in typical FM playlists. So the size of the playlist isn’t the main reason why the majority of people choose Pandora or Spotify.

      Radio stations offer different formats because people want one station that fits their specific taste. Those who have broader tastes can sample lots of formats on FM if they don’t like hearing the same songs all the time. That’s actually what I do. But as I said, that’s not what a majority of people want. A lot of the comments here are coming from what “Realist” might call the 7 percenters…the small minority of music lovers who want deep playlists. Ironically, while they want deep playlists, they tend not to be adventurous with other formats. They can find their deep playlists on streaming services, and that’s fine for them. As others said, they stopped listening to FM a long time ago, so they’re not in the FM universe any more.

  4. I love that the only people who deny that radio has more listeners today than any time in history are the bitter ex-radio hacks.

    Pandora, Spotify and other services are primarily taking the 7% of listeners that never listened to radio but used CD’s, cassettes, albums back in the day.

    Taylor Swift and Adele know this. That is why they appeared on every radio station to release their new albums but denied use to the streaming services. They both had the biggest releases of the past 15 years.
    The remarkable story is that WITH so much competition for the ear radio does as well as it does.

    Of course the bitter ex-radio hacks don’t understand that most people like but aren’t really into music. They want the familiar and comfortable and radio serves it up nice and hot. Oh – and it is free.

    I can’t wait till we wash all the rest of the hacks that have no idea what we do for a living out of the industry.

    • Well, Taylor Swift returned to Spotify and Pandora in 2017 (left Apple Music)… and Adele’s music was available as of 2016. Not sure what you’re arguing since they both are obviously on audio streaming platforms, but they made it difficult at first – I’m sure, due to the artist monetary payout and less on who is listening.

  5. Total agreement with Bob; no one could answer the question; just keep hammering home the company line. And the real problem is that the so called “leaders” of radio who continue to read these industry newsletters, only want to “preach to the choir” and pretend that they have the answer for everything when the hear the collective “Amen”.

  6. It is absolutely pathetic, and speaks volumes about the lack of leadership and lack of creativity in radio now, that not one of the 5 programmers interviewed here had the intellect or had the courage, to ANSWER THE QUESTION about Pandora or Spotify. They all gave a Bill Belichik non-answer. Total lack of candor. Yeah, let’s bury our head in the sand, suck up to corporate non-stop, and just say what we think corporate wants to hear. And these 5 people are supposed to be programmers??!!!

  7. Why would people turn away from radio? First of all, they want to dodge 10+ minute stop sets. Sometimes, their online versions are even worse…commercials rolling over show content. Music? It seems that one set of songs is adopted and rotated for years. Personally, I get tired of hearing the same songs each day…sometimes the exact same time when the shuffler fails. There are no more “oh wow” songs to bring back memories. Lack of personable…connected…show talent hurts radio. Consultants and automation ruined radio and it never recovered. When today’s owners are only watching the profit margin, the product deteriorates even more.

  8. The six commenters above answer the question … whereas the three being asked cannot. If they answer honestly and not parrot the “company line,” where is there job? Until a number of someones in this industry stop defending the current (read: old and boring) way and instead takes an innovative, fresh approach … what does the future hold?

    How about looking to Jerry Lee … he’s been boldly Pro-Active and setting the pace at WBEB/MoreFM in Philly ever since we launched 101.1 together 55 years ago!

  9. While not addressing the question directly I believe Jim Ryan had the best answer. What he failed to mention is many stations have given ground and given up. They have taken away the music host, the person who sells the radio station and the music. Outside of morning drive most music stations are devoid of any kind of personality. We know why, those carbon units are too difficult to work with while the automation never complains. It’s not going to change, the compelling and fun radio we grew up with is in the past. It was fun while it lasted.

    • Name all the compelling personalities on Pandora and Spotify. There’s a reason neither offer personalities, and it’s not because they can’t afford it.

  10. Answers not given to the headline question:

    1) Near-infinite music variety
    2) Listener choice and feedback
    3) Coverage: get it everywhere there’s a Net connection
    4) Tolerable commercial load, and a subscription model for no ads

    Radio’s advantage is that it comes free with cars.

    • I have to agree with Doc. I’m old and love radio. I feel a certain kinship and loyalty to it, but honestly, I end up flipping channels constantly because it always the same songs, same genres…..no variety. On Spotify, I get to hear Broadway tunes, oldies (like Frank Sinatra oldies), new alternative, Jimmy Buffett and reggae all within the same hour.
      Now my teenagers all listen to Spotify because it’s what they know. Just like you and I grew up with and KNOW radio, they KNOW digital and get it off their phones typically. When I was a kid, I flipped on my boombox while doing my homework. My kids either have earbuds in listening on their phones, or open the Spotify app on their television sets. I think they like to feel they have some control over their choices, even though they are often ‘given’ their selections/choices from YouTube personalities that make suggestions. YouTube personalities are replacing the old “disk jockeys”.

  11. 1.) Why use that headline when not a single respondent actually addresses that question?
    2.) I remember reading this article somewhere else, years ago, when it was entitled “Why Are Readers Turning Away From Newspapers?” The head-in-the-sand, “let’s pretend it’s not a thing so we don’t have to deal with it” attitude was pretty much the same.

  12. So sure of themselves.

    You only have that 93% because of radio in the automobile… the definition of a captive (captured?) audience. As cellular and WiFi data becomes more widespread, faster, and cheaper more will jump to using their phone for content. Why listen to the same 300 songs over and over when I can custom craft a playlist for myself on a service that will craft addition lists based upon my own personal tastes? Why should I listen to my “local” (Westwood one) sat fed station with a jock who talks a whopping 3 to minutes an hour when I can listen to anything from literally anywhere in the world?

    Local news, you say? Sorry, there’s an app or skill for that. Local weather, you say? Sorry, there’s an app or skill for that. Local events? Sorry, there’s an app or skill for that. None of which I have to wait for and try to catch at th3 top of the hour.

    Don’t kid yourself…. radio listeners listen because they have few other options in the car. Just look at TV…. always a captive audience…. then streaming came along.

    Lose the dashboard: lose the industry.

    • Few other option? Are you kidding? My car came with Sirius, HD Radio, and a USB port. Plus AM & FM. What more do you want? It’s not that people have few options. It’s that they don’t choose to take the options and do what’s easy. Every option you talk about, every app you mention, requires the user to take action. That’s too much work.

      • Don’t worry. As the apps start hitting the dashboard and voice control takes over, you’ll have plenty of time to lament with the rest of the unemployed radio sales-sales-goons-turned-management.

        • Sounds like wishful thinking to me. The only way car manufacturers will install an app on a dashboard is if they get paid to do it. Ask the folks at Sirius how much it costs.

          • But Sirius requires the user purchase a paid subscription and they still don’t control the content. I recently got a new car. The moment my teens are in the car, they connect to Spotify; whereas I still tend to go from radio to CDs.
            When this generation gets older, I do worry that radio will begin to wane some.

          • FYI – all Toyota models will have Sirius standard from 2020 on. Contract says it ends 2027. Sirius also acquired Pandora. Just saying.

  13. Spotify and Pandora get listeners with “commercial free” music sweeps – with reminder between every other song that they’re not playing commercials.

    Sarcasm anyone?

    Radio’s frequent 5 to 12 minute commercial stopsets are the huge enabler of online streaming. Three cheers for Jason Goodman – yes, place a higher value on radio inventory, then run a lot less of it.

    • There are thousands of non-commercial radio stations on the FM band. If you don’t like commercials, change to a non-commercial FM station. Easy.

    • That’s only one station. There are on average 40 stations in every market. Tired of the songs on one station? Change it to another one and you’ll hear an entirely different group of songs. But that’s not what people do.

      • Don’t know what type of drugs you are on BigA, but send them this way! While you’re at it, please define “compelling content.” Also, point to those stations in the same formats that are playing a different group of songs.

        • Who said anything about “same format?” If people really want to hear different stuff, they should sample other formats. But that’s not what people want.

      • I’m sorry, but in my region, it’s the same genres over and over. Country, pop, rock….even oldies stations are few and far between. I get it…you have to play what people that are still listening to radio want to hear but that is exactly the reason I listen to radio less and less. Why does one market need THREE country stations?


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