Radio Still King Of The Car


Despite wildly complicated looking infotainment screens in new vehicles, easily adaptable smartphone connections and WiFi, AM/FM radio is still king when it comes to what consumers listen to in their vehicles.

According to the latest Infinite Dial data, released Thursday by Edison Research and Triton Digital, 75% of the 1,057 people interviewed in the 2021 survey say they listened to radio in their vehicles over the last month. That’s down from 81% in 2020 but it’s still number one by far with owned digital music a distant 2nd at 48%.

It’s also important to keep in mind that, according to the Infinite Dial survey, the percentage of Americans who’ve driven or ridden in a car in the last month decreased due to the pandemic from 88% in 2020 to 83% this year.

Radio listening in the automobile has always been, and continues to be, one of radio’s biggest strengths, despite years of increased competition.

Today radio is fighting off battles with new car infotainment systems that include everything from digital channels to Satellite Radio to maps and extensive backup cameras.

Add to that the ability of the consumer to easily connect their smartphone to the vehicle and new technology that enable smart speaker devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa, to connect in any vehicle by plugging into a power outlet.

The dashboard space is busier than it’s ever been and radio is still winning the fight.


  1. Neilson reports have never reported anything accurate. Same results for the last 30 years “Radio is King and reaches 93% of the pop.” No it doesn’t. I don’t see radio buying podcast talent for $100 million like Spotify did because “it works” and they believe in the return. Radio is holding on to anything it can uses Neilson reports as if Neilson’s reports a legitimate. They’re not and radio will continue to tell their employees it works so they keep headcount until they lay them off

    • FYI, this article doesn’t quote Nielsen. It also doesn’t use the 93% figure. That figure measures “reach” which is not the same thing as “listens.” The 75% figure in this poll measures “listens.” Also just because lots of people listen doesn’t mean those companies can turn that usage into revenue. Unless they create a paywall and charge the users a fee every time they listen.

  2. I don’t argue any of the “stats” one way or another. I can only offer anecdotal evidence of my own behavior. Retired after a (mostly) fun and rewarding 32 year career in terrestial radio. Other than punching up a talk radio show now and then, my listening habits are limited to satellite in car (and at home ap) and my own playlists via streaming services on smart phone to high end JBL blue tooth speakers. From time to time I monitor my former station just to keep up professionally, but traditional radio for whatever reason is not my go to anymore, and I’m 63 years old. Surely I can’t be an exception?

    • There is no more “traditional radio”…The corporate monoliths like iHeart and Entercom have sadly dumbed down radio. They’ve littered it with totally intolerably long commercial breaks like others have mentioned here, plus they’ve fired the talented air personalities and replaced them with cheap, low-paid amateurs…or voice tracking. And forget about promotional money…
      Corporate radio in effect, has euthanized itself.

      • “…euthanized itself.”

        Perfectly said, as far as the corporate monoliths go. Regrettably, they make it an enormous challenge for the local ‘mom and pop’ radio owners who work so hard to do things the right way.

    • Sorry Mitch…no money to be made with music formats that aim at men in their 60s. That’s why you pay for satellite. If you paid for on-air radio, you’d have lots of choices. EMF gets people to pay for on-air radio, and they have loads of money. That’s the model to follow.

  3. Really? Then why has revenue been down or flat for the last decade for terrestrial advertising? Mantra’s like “King of the car” are not smart, actually they seem desperate. Sounds like a horrible, small market bit.

    Every survey about radio always winds up saying it’s the best, then you hear 20 minutes of spots per hour and just laugh…

  4. I do not question the data and research in this report. However, if these numbers bear reality then how can Neilson and radio CEO’s and the thousands of radio sellers make the statement that radio reaches 93% of the population?
    Certainly more people listen to radio in the car than they do in their own homes or at work.
    Can anyone explain how radio has a 93% reach overall win only a 75% reach in the car?

    • “Can anyone explain how radio has a 93% reach overall win only a 75% reach in the car?”

      “Reach” is not the same as “listen.” The 75% is the amount who say they listen. The 75% comes from a poll. The 93% figure comes from Nielsen PPM data.

      • Yes, I get that. So which is correct?
        Neilson only gives meters to people who agree to wear the meter and the process of wearing them and downloading the data every night.
        The 93% reach figure comes from that group.
        My point is folks who never listen to radio are not going to agree to carry a meter for months and months.
        Which is why no other research or polls indicate anywhere close to radios 93% reach.

        • “Which is why no other research or polls indicate anywhere close to radios 93% reach.”

          Because when people are asked a question, they’re not always truthful. So it’s possible that 75% figure is low because people aren’t aware that they’re listening to the radio. Edison asks a question, and Nielsen uses meters. The meters respond whether the person wearing it is listening or not. Nielsen pays people to wear the meter, so they agree in order to get paid. People don’t get paid to answer a poll.

  5. They really need to break down this study by age group. Maybe 18-24; 25-35; 36-50; 51+. I’m a college professor and for years the number of students I’ve informally surveyed who listen to the radio at all has been dropping much farther than this study states. And the pandemic probably accelerated the listening habits of many away from radio. You guys should all have subscription models. Otherwise, radio is destined to be a complimentary entertainment source and nowhere near a primary one. Don’t listen to these flawed studies and don’t drink the Kool Aid. Radio is hurting. How can your station make the necessary changes needed?

    • You are right about this. And younger kids are even less likely to embrace radio. A couple of years ago, I gave my (then) elementary school-aged daughter a radio. She enjoyed it. She has since grown tired of it and moved on. Like most 13 year olds, she gets her music from videos and on-line sources, from Alexa, etc. When asked about the radio, you know what her number 1 complaint is? Way too many ads. And she hates ads. Hard to argue with her when some owners are offering up 6 minute spot breaks.

      So yes, radio has huge problems. The connected car offers up all of these competitors to radio – and the new EVs are likely death to AM radio.

      • Six minute spot breaks? Try 15 or 18 commercials in a row, on most major market stations. Mel Karmizin when he was at Infinity began this trend of intolerably long commercial breaks with Howard Stern. And other companies and stations copied that trend. Now, the major corporate owners cannot and will not, even consider returning to reasonable commercial loads, because they need every dollar they can make to service debt payment.
        The elephant in the room is what you mentioned. These absurdly long commercial breaks just drive away listeners en masse, and many of these advertisers buried in these huge long commercial breaks are actually heard by only a fraction of the audience. Draw your own conclusion as to whether or not that is smart business practice.

        • Or, as I have posted on here, you have a company like Entercom, which drove me away from its alt rock station here in DFW…with its ‘2 minute’ commercial breaks. Wonderful, right? 2-minute stopsets, then back to the music!

          Well, the problem is, the station only plays two or three songs, max, and then it’s time for two more minutes of commercials…’wash, rinse, repeat’. So, Entercom is still overloading each hour with spots, just more spread out. That was still too disruptive, so I finally gave up on the station and have never turned back.

          Way to go, Entercom, doing your masochistic part to wreck broadcast radio.

      • Calling ONLY a 75% reach reveals your bias. That is a monstrous majority when modern cars have so many options staring the user in the race. As to the difference between the 93% total listening percentage vs. ONLY 75% in cars, do you have any idea how many people are listening to radio in their home, work place (office, store, restaurant, factory, etc.?)

        Simply stated and proven: Radio listenership is 75% in cars, 13 year old children and college student audiences are irrelevant, and the average Radio Ink listener is obviously capable of addressing an issue with unverified opinions without reading the material.

    • “Don’t listen to these flawed studies and don’t drink the Kool Aid.”

      You’re a college professor and you tell us not to listen to studies? Really? We should instead pay attention to your admittedly informal survey? As any real professor knows, it’s all about methodology. You do a REAL study, as the folks at Edison do, with all of the data and metrics presented, and maybe we’ll pay attention. Otherwise it’s just more personal opinion. Just because you don’t agree with the findings doesn’t mean the studies are flawed.

  6. Despite the fact that the graph makes no sense whatsoever when they usually add up to 100%, you forgot to add “for now.” at the end of your last sentence. Keep drinking the kool-aide.

    • Those figures aren’t mutually exclusive, Reynolds. So that’s why they will not be additive. Few consumers only have one of those choices exclusively. So that’s why the totals would be far greater than 100%.


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