In the days before the pandemic, people commuted to work and depended on the radio to entertain them on their journey and during their working hours. Workforce-focused radio thrived. Then COVID-19 changed the world and the way we worked. As we started working from home, radio stations quickly adjusted to the new listening normal to keep their audience's interest.
Listeners were frightened, stressed, isolated, and eager to hear a familiar, friendly voice and music that reminded them of happier times. They welcomed the comfort, entertainment, and information that their favorite radio hosts provided. Radio and podcast listening continued to increase during the pandemic and as restrictions started to ease, even as other media use declined or remained stagnant. In this post, we will explore some of the latest radio trends and how radio stations have adjusted to the new listening normal.
Work hours before COVID-19 were somewhat predictable. Even those who had the flexibility to work from home typically had to interact with others in the office, requiring them to observe traditional hours. Commuting to work was the inspiration for the highly popular segments of the radio broadcast day described as "drive time." Now, 71% of employees work from home.
The way we work has changed. Listening starts later and has fewer boundaries such as start times, lunch hours, coffee breaks, or commute times, meaning any time is potentially working time. That reality has provided an unexpected opportunity for radio hosts in other time segments to shine – and for other platforms, like desktop / mobile streaming or smart speakers, to take hold.
Another challenge for radio stations has been how to balance news with entertainment that gives listeners a feel-good escape. In a time when people were inundated with bad news, there was a healthy desire for something to take their minds off the grim realities they faced. However, there was also a need for current guidelines and recommendations from reputable sources. Radio offered the perfect balance between entertainment and information.
Statistics support that. In a Nielsen survey, 83% of respondents indicated they're listening to as much or more radio as before the pandemic. Radio played an important support role for its audiences; 53% say their favorite radio hosts informed them, and 40% say they felt less stressed from listening to them.
During the pandemic, the desire for connection only increased. Hearing a familiar, empathetic voice on the radio was a critical lifeline during an unprecedented time. In good times and bad, 81% of listeners view their favorite radio hosts as trusted friends.
Another impactful way that radio connects with listeners is by addressing issues they care about. Radio audiences value honesty and authenticity more than ever. When the station is involved in community causes close to their audiences' hearts, it becomes personal. Radio deepens its relationship with the audience by working alongside its listeners to help others.
A key factor in reaching the at-work audience at home is relying more on digital platforms. Radio audiences are listening to their favorite radio hosts, music, and podcasts on various devices, including smart speakers, mobile, and desktops. This trend isn't changing. Weekly online audio listening garners approximately 176 million U.S. listeners - an all-time high for this category.
One-third of Americans now own a smart speaker like the Sonos One or Amazon Echo. This represents a 22% increase from 2020 and gives users the opportunity to stream music or news/talk shows throughout their home; music or news/talk shows throughout their home.
Digital innovations complement audio, giving more options to the listeners and more connection to the stations.
The way we live and work has changed. While some will return to the office, the working from home trend means the days of driving in rush hour, start times, coffee breaks, or lunch hours, and even time off no longer necessarily apply. Though drive times and at-work hours may differ, listeners still crave a balance of entertainment for stress relief and reliable and trustworthy news to keep them updated.
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