Podcasts: Radio’s Latest Murder Suspect

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(By Rick Fink) Even prior to 1982 when I started in this great medium, radio has been dying. It wasn’t dying on its own accord, it was being stalked. It has always been in the cross-hairs of the next, newer, bigger, shinier, and certainly far better, entertainment and advertising media. Or so they said!

The first murder suspect was TV. Why would anyone ever listen to a radio again when you can watch it all on black and white, and ultimately color, TV. Then it was the 8-track tape player followed by cassette tapes. Back to TV; remember MTV? That for sure was the end of radio! About the same time MTV was introduced, so were CDs. Then it was Walkmans, iPods, satellite radio, streaming, even social media and Spotify and Pandora — all have been identified as suspected and attempted murderers of radio, either in the entertainment or advertising sense. Now, the newest suspect in radio’s assassination attempt is podcasting. Podcasting, the greatest invention since…the 8-track. Or was it Pandora? 

Last week, podcasting was the hot headline. Radio Ink reported: “Soon Podcasting Will Be Bigger Than Network Radio.”

Maybe it’s modesty, or lack of confidence, but radio has never done a great job of promoting itself as a medium. Honestly, I get extremely tired and irritated reading about how every medium is far better than radio and if radio doesn’t change how it operates, it’s dead. That’s BS! Ok, maybe not dead but dying. Again, BS! I am here to proclaim, if Sirius/XM, Facebook, Pandora, or podcasting doesn’t change, they’re dead. That is closer to the truth than saying radio is dead.

This past weekend we were playing dominos with my sister as the scorekeeper. Halfway through the game, she proclaimed I was the “loser.” My reply was, I may be behind, but I am not the loser, the game isn’t over. Radio’s first proclamation of death was shortly after 1927 when TV was invented. At one time, over 80% of all college students owned an iPod. Today how many can be found? Recent surveys conclude 51% of the population has listened to a Podcast (the key word in this sentence is “a”). Only 51% and the trumpets are being tuned, and radio’s next death march has begun. Are you kidding me? Remember, the game is not over.  

Let’s look at some of the facts — or at least statistics — from recent surveys, and my responses:

  • 70% of the U.S. population is familiar with the term “podcasting” – up from 64% in 2018 (Infinite Dial 19). My response: cassettes, CDs, iPods, Sirius, and XM all grew at least this fast in their infancy.
  • 50% of all U.S. homes are podcast fans (Nielsen, Aug 2017). My response: 50% vs 93% for radio? Not sure how 50% of U.S. homes can be fans, yet only 32% listened to “a” podcast in the last month. Evidently it doesn’t take much to be a fan! 
  • 51% (144 million) of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast – up from 44% in 2018 (Infinite Dial 19). My response: listened to “a” podcast – EVER! C’mon, man!
  • 32% (90 million) listened to a podcast in the last month – up from 26% in 2018 (Infinite Dial 19). My response: in the last month – only 32% and it’s going to be bigger than radio?  Again, c’mon, man!
  • 22% (62 million) listen to podcasts weekly – up from 17% in 2018 (Infinite Dial 19). My response:m y two grandbabies grew more the 30% last year. 
  • 16 million people in the U.S. are “avid podcast fans” (Nielsen Q1 2018). My response: Wow – is that really something to cheer about for a medium that has been around since 2004?

Today, they claim there are over 660,000 podcasts in the U.S. alone. As recent as June of 2018, there were 550,000; that’s a growth of 110,000 in eight months, or 13,750 new podcasts per month. Simple math will tell you if you have 90 million people that listen to podcasts each month, and there are 660,000 podcasts, that the average episode has approximately 136 listeners per episode. You can twist these numbers a hundred different ways, but the fact of the matter is there are very few podcasts that are doing well. Most have very few listeners. As with everything, only the cream of the crop will float to the top.   

With all this said, I really don’t have a problem with podcasting. It’s all the hype it receives that frustrates me. Podcasting has its place and will be here for the long haul. More and more people will become “listeners” of podcasts. In fact, I will go so far as to say maybe 75% of the population within five years will have listened to “a” podcast. Let the ticker-tape parade begin! But I am also willing to say that radio will still have approximately 90-93% of the total population listening every week. Not, one time “a” month.

This is not to say that the radio industry doesn’t need to continue to evolve and get better. We absolutely do. Like every industry, large or small, getting better every day is a must. But we cannot lose sight of what radio does best. Trying to be everything to everyone or a “Jack of all trades and master of none” is a sure path to mediocrity, or worse. 

Today, after 92 years and many assassination attempts on our great medium, radio is still doing pretty darn well. If you are one of the people saying podcasting is going to kill radio, remember, the game isn’t over yet. I am betting on radio.

Rick Fink is President of ENS Media USA and business partner with Wayne Ens of Ens Media Inc. Rick can be reached by e-mail at rick@wensmedia.com.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Certainly, Rick. When a station is at a continuous apex of performance, service and advertising influence, ’tis a wonderful, wonderful thing.
    However….. 🙁

  2. Although I accept that Rick was making a seperate point, his statement “But radio is still here and not going anywhere.” also allows for another understanding. That being that radio is, indeed, going nowhere.
    Recent articles have suggest how radio can be a springboard into other entertainment/info sources.
    This hardly does much for those listeners who have become less keen to be accessing radio in the first place.
    But that’s what happens when an enterprise (in our case: radio) still takes stock and finds itself “going nowhere”.

    • Ronald,
      I appreciate your reply and your opinion. Growing from 93% isn’t easy. Growing from 20% Spotify, Pandora 30%, SiriusXM 10% Smart Speakers 24% is much, much easier.
      Radio does have its challenges. My real point for the article is, I am tired of everyone saying Radio is dead or dying. The fact is, with all of the competition on the playing field, it’s doing pretty dam well! Find another advertising medium that can build a Business BRAND like radio? Find another medium that makes people “happy” and introduces them to new music like Radio. Youtube is the only one that is even close!
      Again, I appreciate your opinion but I must politely disagree. The Game isn’t Over Yet!
      Never Stop Learning – Get Better Every Day!

  3. Hi Rick, first I want to say I left radio to work with businesses who are implementing podcasting into their marketing strategy – not at the expense of their radio advertising budget, but as an avenue that radio doesn’t deliver for them. I am in agreement with your comments, for sure. Radio is not dead, and podcasting is growing. Maybe at the expense of radio, but also at the expense of other entertainment mediums as well. I blame click-bait articles for the over-hype. Granted, the growth is phenomenal, and it offers a great creative and marketing opportunity for individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes. Really, the two mediums should be working together, rather than poking each other in the eye. Audio is the underlying theme here, and the more we can make that work (together or apart), the strength of audio wins!

    • Brett,
      Thank you for your reply. I am glad to hear that the budgets for Podcast are not coming from Radio but I am afraid many are. I do agree with your thoughts. I simply felt compelled to stand up for my child (Radio).
      Like all entertainment mediums, content is king, with 660,000 podcast and growing and knowing bad apples can ruin the whole batch, I think Podcasting has there work cut out for them. The Cream will rise to the top!
      Radio is trying to be everything to everyone, that typically doesn’t work. Again, it’s really radio’s own fault for not promoting itself the way they should.
      I wish you the best of Luck.
      Never Stop Learning – Get Better Every day!

  4. Thank you for this! Next time I have a client or prospect ask me if I am concerned about the effect of “podcasts” on radio…I just may print this out and hand it over. While, yes, podcasts have their place…no I am NOT concerned. In my personal opinion, a podcast is nothing more than glorified “talk radio”. My listeners listen to my station for the music. Period. They enjoy the local news, weather and sports we mix in, but prefer the music. I also agree that, from what I have seen, the most successful podcasts seem to be the ones generated from and promoted by…radio. They need us more than we need them, and we will survive with or without them.

    • Kristin,
      I am glad you enjoyed it and hope it helps. Don’t wait for them to ask you, be upfront with them and ask them what they think about Podcast and other digital and social platforms. We have a piece called ENS Media Knowledge quiz that is very enlightening when presented to business owners that believe or have read that radio is dead or dying. If you would like me to share it with you, send me an email and I will send it to you.
      Never Stop Learning – Get Better Every Day!

  5. The most successful podcasts are extensions of an already larger radio or TV personality who uses their program to promote their Pod cast.
    Radio has so much going for it and it will always be a daily companion for millions.

    • Dean, the most popular really aren’t from larger radio or TV personalities. As flawed as the iTunes, Chartable, or any other “popular listing” options are to reference, most are not from radio or TV, overall. It’s all about the storytelling, the content, the information, and finding the audience that is rabid for that content.

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