How Does Radio Reverse The Declining Listener Trend?


If you tuned into the 2022 Jacobs Media Techsurvey Tuesday you heard Fred Jacobs report that the trend line of radio listenership is down, especially with younger consumers. Whether you want to believe what Jacobs reported or not, it’s always a good idea to work toward bringing more people into the radio tent.

Over the next ten days we are going to bring you ideas people within the industry are working on, or suggest we work on, to stop the trend of declining listeners.

Steve Smith, the former Vice President of Programming for Cox Media Group, who recently co-launched the consulting group The Smith Richard Collective, says he’s been floating around a plan to promote radio nationally. He tells Radio Ink he’s been sharing it with executives around the industry and they love the idea. “We need to bring all the radio groups together and market local radio’s true attributes. We have hardly touched on mass cume marketing for so long that familiarity of local radio as a whole is also down along with all the AQH losses.” This is a flyer Steve shared that he says will be launching soon. There’s even audio to go with the campaign. LISTEN HERE

Longtime radio industry consultant Mike McVay provided us with four ways radio can reverse the trend of declining listening. Here they are:

#1) Improve the listening experience; That means play fewer commercials, a lot fewer commercials, better produced sounding commercials, high quality production and imaging, a digital stream that doesn’t have technical glitches and doesn’t play the same commercials or PSA’s over and over again or back-to-back. Technical sound that’s worthy of Auto Carplay. Radio stations need not sound like they’re broadcasting using a tin can and a string. That’s how some stations sound over the air or online.

#2) Connectivity; Be a part of the community that you’re in. Focus on what’s important to the people in your market and mirror their causes, cares, interests and activities. Track what’s trending in your local community and make that a part of the content you curate. If being local is an advantage, then talk about neighborhoods, local sports teams that include scholastic sports, announce community festivals and own the big events in your community. Radio’s advantage over everything else is local connectivity and the frequency with which you touch your community.

#3) Personalities that create loyal listening; We’ve long known that if a personality can create a loyal following, it makes the station more resistant to competitors who want to out rate your station. Entertaining personalities can, and should, be considered for all dayparts. Talent who’ve built a following is the one thing that your competition, including those on other platforms like satellite and DSPs, cannot easily beat. They have to disrupt your programming to attract the attention of your followers.

#4) Be everywhere and be seen everywhere; You have to be known for something. What are you known for as a station. Being top-of-mind is important if you want to score in the ratings, but it’s also important to win in the court of public opinion. The radio station that is most visible, providing you have great content, creates word of mouth. Word of mouth is still the #1 way that consumers learn of anything. It may have started with marketing, but when people see that marketing and tell someone about it, it spreads rapidly. Radio has an image that is tarnished beyond reality. Being everywhere and being seen everywhere helps to overcome the image deficit of the medium.

Long-time KRTY-FM San Jose General Manager Nate Deaton says anytime something is in decline the first thing to do is go back to basics. “But I think many radio stations have gotten so far away from true basics it’s almost impossible to reverse course.” Deaton had several suggestions…

Respect the audience. Voicetracking regardless of how good your prep is can be disingenuous at best. Don’t insult the audience by trying to play off your “local” connection.

Play new music. Radio is a music discovery medium. We have gotten away from that in a time when music discovery is everywhere and we are lagging behind. Everyone has playlists without 20 minutes an hour of commercials. Their playlists are better then ours.

Stop excessive stop sets. No one is listening to them when we bunch 8 minutes and excessive promotion of other products like podcasts. We are asking listeners to go elsewhere.

Develop talent. Where are new jocks coming from. We connect that way with the audience and we are not developing anyone new because it is cheaper to voice track yet another market.

Stay tuned for more ideas.
Feel free to share yours below.


  1. I come at it from a different side of the fence, improving your sales team. Forever! In 90 days I can turn around your sales team and manager’s performance. That may include replacing some along the way. They can grow new and existing clients, bring more proven ideas to help those clients, and generate more revenue while being a great storyteller on radio’s success with an elevator pitch the most demanding owner would appreciate. I build Elite sales performers with KPIs whose ROI can skyrocket your station’s revenue. It’s on my Linkedin profile and I am happy to explain what happens in 90 to success. John Perras

  2. In the small market I spent 45 years in, the 2 corporate owners have destroyed the local stations. They are basically juke boxes voiced by people hundreds of miles away. The attempt at local content is a joke. They don’t care because they are the only game in the market. When I am in my car, I just constantly punch buttons or listen to the local college station. When I leave town, it is Sirius 70’s from my phone through the radio. Even the major market of Houston is horrible now.

  3. 43 years ago we took a station with no listeners and no format…in Geneva, New York and turned it into a successful station with listeners, revenue and great talent who used the station as a building block for their careers. The secret. Local, Local Local.. We got involved in the community with charitable events. We talked to our listener on a local level. We got involved in what they were interested in. We helped develop talented announcers and news people. 40 plus years later I still hear from them. They thank me for helping to launch their careers. I thank them for helping to turn my dream into reality, The Station CQ-102. David Weinfeld…owner GM

  4. Radio advertising account executives tell our clients to advertise and promote their businesses. Yet radio, as an industry, does not promote our own product. Sirius XM and Spotify promote, and market. Yet does iHeart, Audacy or local independent stations promote their own product in other media. Rarely, if ever.

  5. Mike…these are all great ideas. They’ve been suggested over and over again. But in many markets the people who can make these things happen aren’t willing to spend money on it. It’s been said many times that you have to spend money to make money. That’s not the way many corporate radio stations operate. They’re going to make money and ride what they have until it’s dead in the water and move on to something else. The pipe line of new talent has disappeared. It came from the lowest levels and many of those places have cut back their staffs. Real radio people know what needs to be done, but the people making the money decisions deal with investors who look at profit margins and those in front offices who have never cracked a microphone. Asking them to cut back ad breaks and hire more broadcasters to do a better job is at the very bottom of their list…and so radio continues its sad downward spiral.


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