Can Radio Survive Without Passion?


MusicWatch is a company that provides marketing research and industry analysis to the music and entertainment industry. Russ Crupnick is Managing Partner at the company. Russ shared details from a recent MusicWatch online study that included 2,500 music listeners, 13 and older, who listened to radio, satellite radio, and streaming services. Here’s what Russ had to say about his findings…

By Russ Crupnick
There’s a furious debate taking place about the future of broadcast radio. Some pundits believe that music streaming services, podcasts, and changing technology will render “radio” obsolete. Others opine that radio offers unique advantages that can be successfully evolved in a digital age. Entertainment is more than ever about passion. The passion we have for binge-watching Breaking Bad, or discovering new podcasts, or beating your friends at Candy Crush. Nowhere is that passion more vigorously expressed in the musical artists that we follow and listen to.

Baby Boomers had a deep, abiding passion for radio. I remember Scott Muni playing full album sides on WNEW-FM. I remember exactly where I was the first time that I heard WLIR play “Roxanne” from The Police. It was a partly cloudy April day driving south on the Meadowbrook Parkway with the top down. That was 40 years ago and it feels like it was yesterday. That’s passion. That’s connection. That’s what radio is missing.

Where Is The Passion?
In a recent MusicWatch survey* we asked music listeners their affinity for various streaming services, and also for SiriusXM and AM/FM radio. Did they love it, or dislike it a lot? One in three expressed love for music on AM/FM radio; 34 percent to be exact. By comparison, Spotify Premium is truly beloved, with 78 percent of AM/FM station websites or apps scoring only slightly higher. Although AM/FM has a much larger audience, what it wins in reach it loses in affinity. More concerning, only 18 percent of 13 to 24-year-olds feel the love for AM/FM.

We live in a recommendation society. It is likely that the shows you are binging, the places you are eating, or the books you are reading came from a recommendation. There’s a marketing term, “Net Promoter Score” (NPS), that indicates how well you’re doing on the recommendation scale. Think of it as Yelp on steroids; a score of 100 is perfect. Not quite half of radio listeners are “promoters”; that means they would recommend radio to a friend. But a startling 27 percent are unlikely to recommend radio. Radio has an NPS score of only 18, remarkably less than Apple Music or Spotify Premium. In fairness, you wouldn’t pay for Apple Music or Spotify Premium if you weren’t at least somewhat passionate. But, compared to another ad-supported radio option, Pandora, AM/FM garners a much lower NPS score.

If affinity is a leading indicator, a predictor of future success, AM/FM has a problem — especially among younger listeners. Music streaming, podcasts, and changing auto tech present strategic yet clinical challenges to “Big Radio.” Whatever future strategies portend, they need to think about how to reignite the passion. Put simply, radio needs a hug.

Radio trumpets itself as a driver of music discovery, promotes DJs and personalities, and relies on connections to local audiences and call-in. Does any of this really matter to its listeners?

*Sourcing: MusicWatch Music Monitor July 2018
Reach out Russ directly at [email protected]


  1. Let’s presume that Russ is referring to Talent – sales, on-air and copy.
    Unless all of these staff members are provided with pertinent information, and encouraged to test and exploit their newly-acquired knowledge, there will be No Passion.
    Mandatory attendance at a station-sponsored “Passion Rally” won’t quite cut it.
    Pom-poms and cheer squads are optional.
    (We used to call them “Sparkle Meetings”.)

  2. It’s often evident when you watch a football game … the players of one team are on the field, butthey failed to show up mentally committed to competing and winning!

    Should I have enjoyed all of the success I had over 60 years in the radio industry. From outward appearance, likely not. Yet I found success and brought much joy to millions of listeners across the nation. That’s why I titled my memoir, RADIO … My Love, My Passion. If I didn’t love what I did and the daily challenge of bringing joy to those on the receiving end, and didn’t have the passion for delivering the best I could, I likely would have spent my life driving a school bus or pumping gas!

  3. This article is comparing two very different things. Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music are music delivery services. If people just want to hear their favorite songs, that’s what they use. AM/FM radio is not a music delivery service. There are no talk stations on Pandora. There is no live sports on Spotify. There are no personalities of any kind, whether we’re talking about live, local, syndicated, national, or anything on any of the streaming services. Plus typically you have to pay a subscription if you want Spotify Premium. So yes, as the article states, if you pay for something, you’re probably more passionate about it. What this study is doing is comparing the passion people have for the music they choose vs the passion they have for the music that is chosen for them. As I said, two very different things. We like what we like, and that’s just how it is. If we just want music without interruption, we use a music service. If we want something else, we use AM/FM radio.

    • Let me add that if you want to see passion about AM/FM radio, just change the format or replace one of the personalities. Change will create passion, mostly negative. You won’t see that at any of the streaming music services.

  4. I wrote a post on LinkedIn last week detailing how talent alone is not enough to defeat Desire, Passion, and Effort. Talent and potential will get you in the door (It’s the basis of every draft pick in professional football – to reference Curt’s example), but without desire, passion, and effort many first rounders are considered busts! Same holds true in Radio: There are tons of talented individuals in Sales, Programming, and Promotions/Events; however, without the Desire, Passion, and Effort to do things better, personally (aka live & local), and without connecting to the hearts and minds of our listeners, Radio may not surpass Spotify, Apple, and others as Russ’s research indicates above.

  5. In professional football there is always one division that has a first place team with just a .500 record. That’s right. They lose as many games as they win but they are in first place. So, are they in first place because they are a good team? Or are they only in first place because the rest of their division stinks? The same applies to radio. Are Pandora, Spotify and Sirius really that good? Or has conventional radio just gotten that bad? I believe that there is still hope for conventional radio. But the first thing it must do is shed this mechanical, lifeless image that it has. It needs the human touch. By that I mean more live and local air personalities. And radio must also be open to new format ideas and new takes on old format ideas. It’s people that make a radio station. Without them it’s just another ghost town. And ghost town’s have no “passion.”

  6. As I think Russ would agree: “Passion” is a label that would be used to describe a combination of increased commitment, stronger emotions, exciting and appealing information and demonstrations of the idea through high quality communications on the part of the presenters.
    Are any of the players dedicated to introducing any of those elements? No.
    Are any of the players dedicated to educating and training presenters in the ways and means of accomplishing any of those?
    So, we can, pretty much, forget about that “passion” thingy.
    Even though Russ has identified a major component, it’s still like screaming “SHARK!” – in a hotel swimming pool. Or, like hollering “MOVIE!” in a firehall.


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