Unveiling Women’s Enduring Love for Radio in the Digital Age

NRB | June 20, 2024 | Industry News

In a world dominated by streaming giants, autoplay reels, and endless scrolling, traditional radio continues to find a home in the hearts of many across the country. Women, in particular, may be preferring their favorite radio stations more than the latest Netflix binge.

Audio consulting firm Alan Burns & Associates continues its deep dive into American women’s media preferences in the latest installment of their “What Women Want” series started in 2010.

For this year’s edition, researchers surveyed 1,001 women in the US, aged 15–64, between September 28 and October 6, 2023. The survey involved a collaboration with Cumulus Media/Westwood One Audio Active Group and insights from various other industry sources.

The study revealed that many women often place their favorite AM/FM stations on par with essential devices like smartphones, and even value them more than popular platforms like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Spotify, and TikTok.

The findings further indicated that female listeners are loyal to specific stations of choice, not necessarily to AM/FM radio overall.

NRB members who are women leaders in broadcasting shared their insights about the survey findings and how to overcome challenges in finding and reaching your target audience.

Yvonne Carlson, CTO at Global Media Outreach, explained why radio holds a special appeal for female listeners.

“Traditional radio offers a unique blend of local content, community connection, and live interaction that digital streaming services often lack,” said Carlson, who serves as NRB Digital Media Committee chair and is an NRB Board member. “The sense of immediacy and the ability to connect with local events, news, and personalities creates a sense of community and belonging.”

Jacobs Media found that almost half of women—24 percent more than among men—say that they feel a sense of connection with their favorite station. Findings from Katz Radio Group showed that women have been listening to their most preferred station an average of 18 years.

“For women in media leadership like me, the survey results are natural deductions,” said Dr. Jennifer Hayden Stokes, executive director at Kinship Radio Network. “Radio is about relationship.”

Serving in the radio industry for over 37 years, Stokes is also a member of the NRB board of directors and Radio Committee. In her experience, live, local, and real are the attributes that set radio apart.

Sharon Geiger, assistant general manager and outreach director of 90.9 KCBI FM, explained that easy access, nostalgia, and habit set traditional radio apart from digital streaming services. KCBI, a hybrid radio station, broadcasts music and educational programming to an audience of millions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Radio is local—it serves its listener right where she is,” said Geiger, also a member of the NRB board of directors, member of the NRB Radio Committee, and secretary of the NRB Executive Committee. “Personalities can reference where she drives, where she attends church, what schools her kids attend, where she shops, what team she’s cheering for. If there is a crisis in the community, the radio is frequently the first place she’ll turn.”

Carlson suggested some strategies for engaging and retaining female listeners, including understanding women listeners’ preferences and interests, conducting regular surveys or focus groups to engage with listeners, and offering diverse and relevant content.

“At Kinship Radio, we employ both internal and external strategies that focus on relationships,” said Stokes, who shared how her radio network engages their audience with live questions on the program. “Personal touches on the air and in person are so important. It comes down to creating and maintaining individual relationships with women.”

While radio has its appeal and benefits, the survey authors state that AM/FM radio station features often do not resemble the major priorities of women, which are ranked in order: family, health, relationships, and friendships. The authors of the study, as well as NRB media leaders, suggest station owners evaluate their features to reflect priorities that align with those of women.

Carlson notes that a strong connection-builder is featuring female voices and perspectives in programming.

“Interactive elements, such as call-ins and social media interactions, enhance community engagement by making listeners feel seen, heard, and valued,” Carlson said.

While women may prefer listening to a favorite radio station more than digital streaming platforms, Carlson acknowledges one of the main competitors to radio comes from these streaming services and podcasts.

“By leveraging the unique strengths of radio—such as live content, local focus, and community engagement—stations can differentiate themselves,” Carlson suggested. “Additionally, embracing digital platforms to extend reach and interact with listeners can enhance appeal.”

According to the findings, women especially prefer radio for the morning drive. Despite numerous competing options for news, information, and entertainment before the workday begins, 44 percent of women rank AM/FM as their top choice for the 5:00 a.m.–8:00 a.m. daypart, surpassing TV, social media, online music streaming services, and online video.

“As new technology becomes more widely accessible, we need to be where she is—whether that is on radio, a digital platform, on an HD channel, or in the dashboard display,” Geiger said.

Among the reasons women listen to AM/FM radio, “free” tops the list, yet 64 percent of female radio listeners shared that radio hosts are the reason they listen. Connective personalities who can speak to the listener right where she is are key to engaging female listeners, Geiger concurred.

Stokes acknowledges the temptation to eliminate local, on-air talent for less expensive alternatives, especially with staffing being one of the larger expenses. Yet because personalities are a proven draw to audiences, Stokes chooses to take budget cuts elsewhere.

Nielsen’ Audio Today Study, cited in the “What Women Want” report, found that AM/FM reaches nearly 90 percent of women every month. Nevertheless, with more women working from home, streaming has become more dominant, leaving less time spent in the car for AM/FM radio listening.

To overcome challenges from competing media, Carlson encourages station owners to understand and address female listeners’ specific needs and preferences. She suggests radio programs that empower and encourage women in all walks of life by highlighting successful women in leadership, addressing health and wellness issues relevant to women, and lifting spirits through stories that resonate.

“As a media leader, it’s important to know your audience,” Stokes said. Her radio network conducted an audience survey which revealed their two-thirds female listenership. They also look for data available in the communities their stations serve.

“The future of radio lies in its ability to evolve while maintaining its core strengths,” Carlson notes. “I envision radio becoming more integrated with digital platforms, offering a seamless experience that combines live broadcasting with on-demand content and interactive features. There will also be a greater emphasis on community-building and local content, where radio excels. By embracing new technologies and staying attuned to the needs of female listeners, radio can continue to play a vital role in their lives, offering entertainment, spiritual growth, and a sense of connection.”

Geiger said traditional radio must adapt to new opportunities and technologies by considering itself a media platform rather than a radio station.

“Traditional radio should continue to play to its strengths—easy access, serving the local audience, and hiring connective personalities,” Geiger said. “Solid content presented by a compelling personality is a winning combination.”

While upcoming technology threatens a fatal takeover, Stokes nevertheless believes automated and digital tools such as AI will never replace the value of real voices.

“Where there is radio with a Christian mission, there will always be a need for people,” Stokes said. “While God can use anything in His grander mission, He tells us that He delights in using the Church: women and men guided by the Holy Spirit, souls reaching other souls for Jesus!”

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