How Public Media Shaped the Podcast Industry

How Public Media Shaped the Podcast Industry

Public radio is a beloved and venerable institution. For more than 50 years, it has been at the forefront, influencing how Americans get their news and entertainment. It has helped pioneer new technology and mediums, such as early digital options with online radio and podcasts, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two.  

Public radio's early adoption amidst podcasts' meteoric rise in popularity with younger audiences shows how podcasts expanded radio's reach, helping to engage even more listeners.  

Podcasts Help Radio Draw More Listeners  

Podcasts are on an on-demand, downloadable platform that gives listeners the ultimate freedom to listen to the programming of their choice when and where they please. They don't have to worry about getting interrupted and missing the killer's reveal, the unfiltered conversation with their favorite celebrity, or the story behind a new album that just dropped. Podcasts don't require checking times and rearranging schedules to listen to the program because they provide subscribers the flexibility to: 

• Save their shows for when it is convenient to listen 
• Back up to see what they missed  
• Pause them if they get interrupted 

In an audience sampling of 25-54-year-olds, 73% listened to only radio, 10% listened only to podcasts, and only 17% listened to both regularly. Podcasting expands radio listenership to new audiences, offering an opportunity for sponsors to expand their reach by investing in radio and podcast messaging.  

How Radio and Podcasts Work Together  

Podcasts and radio have critical differences between them, which offer unique programming and content opportunities. Live radio is highly topical to respond to current events, whereas podcast content may cover historical, recent, evolving, or timeless topics. Radio shows air during specific time slots, while podcasts are prerecorded to be available at the listener's convenience.  

Their similarities make them a complementary partnership, however. Audio and podcasting are ideal for getting sponsors' messages in front of a loyal and engaged audience. Because many radio shows convert to podcasts with little effort, many public radio stations have entered the podcast space with their programming. They are uniquely positioned to create locally-produced podcasts about topics that matter to the region, such as Lake Effect by WUWM and Are We There Yet from WMFE. 

Who Listens to Podcasts 

Podcasts are everywhere, and more are coming onto the scene every day. If there is a topic or interest, chances are there is more than one podcast dedicated to spotlighting, recapping, or discussing it. There is a vast audience of listeners who subscribe to them. Perhaps a more concise answer would come from asking who doesn't listen to podcasts. 

When the public radio station WBEZ and This American Life launched the podcast “Serial” in 2014, it gave podcasting the impetus to join America’s mainstream attention, garnering 1 million listeners in its first month. It helped introduce podcasting to a broader audience, which overlapped heavily with NPR’s audience. This group is highly educated, 88% of whom earn a household income greater than $100,000, and 75% of them have taken action to respond to sponsorship messaging. 

Podcast listeners share public radio listeners’ care and curiosity, though the podcast audience is predominantly younger. 67% of podcasts attract listeners between 18 and 44. Podcasts now have such a broad reach that 62% of Americans 12 and over have listened to at least one in the past year. The majority of NPR listeners are over 35, with half of listeners being between 25 and 54, reaching an audience of working professionals and those in leadership. NPR programming content resonates with a multigenerational audience of curious and devoted listeners. Utilizing both mediums allows NPR to expand its listener base and cater to interests across its audience. 

Locally produced podcasts help expand sponsor messaging by making it available to a highly interested audience. Content on these podcasts is tailor-made for the surrounding area and attracts a loyal subscription base. Sponsors gain enhanced reach as listeners encounter them while listening to their favorite shows. Because these audiences view sponsors as benefactors enabling their favorite programming, the sponsor's marketing influence increases.  

Investing in Audio and Podcasting Marketing Can Expand Your Reach and Influence 

When public radio embraced the emerging podcasting medium, it helped propel the public's exposure to and acceptance of podcasts. It has become apparent over time that this pairing is also how podcasts expanded radio's reach. While always a strong presence with a loyal following, public radio has traditionally attracted an older demographic. By embracing new technology and the listening audience's changing habits, it showed a younger audience what public radio offers.  

As a sponsoring business, you don't have to choose between sponsoring radio shows or podcasts. Because there is still limited crossover, you can expand your reach and influence by investing in both mediums. Radio remains a powerful platform for getting your message to a loyal audience. Sponsoring local podcasts helps amplify radio's impact by reinforcing your message for those who listen to both mediums and engaging new audiences that traditionally listen only to podcasts.  

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