In radio the big question is “Who is listening?” accompanied often by a second question of “How many are listening?”. For most people involved in radio the answer to the second question will be how they judge the success of a radio station. I think we can all agree that the higher the number of listeners is indeed a good gauge of a station’s health. And most often a high number of listeners is a result of fully understanding the answer to the first question of who is listening.

The fact is that not everybody listens to radio and of those who do, some listen much more than others. The same fact applies to television broadcasters… not everyone watches TV. So the starting point for understanding who listens to radio is by studying the results of research into demographics. In business terminology these are called “markets” while in the world of nonprofits and government the accumulated data is the “demographic”. Results from studies commissioned by all three groups; business, nonprofits, and government confirms that not everybody listens and reveals that today the number of non listeners has grown well past the numbers of prior decades. image

In radio’s heyday, prior to television’s entry into the mass market, the ages of radio listeners pretty much spanned a person’s lifetime. Radio was everywhere, in the home, on the job, in the car, and at the market. With that kind of saturation you could create a radio show that spoke directly to any segment of the population. In today’s environment that is no longer the case. Today, if you broadcast a radio show geared towards informing or entertaining the elderly, or even teens, the audience will be few at best.

Studies show that most people beyond the age of retirement choose television as their source for entertainment, news, and even music. The change in who listens to radio also shows up among the younger generation. Teenagers, who were once the number one consumers of radio, are now spending their time with computers and other music devices such as smart phones, iPods, and tablets. So who is listening?

Media industry consensus, which is informed by studies done by PEW, Edison Triton, Bridge Ratings, and NPR, reveal that the bulk of radio listeners are age 21-55 yrs. and that 25-45 year olds have the highest number of hours spent listening to radio. When you combine that knowledge with the population demographic of your broadcast area… it answers the question of who is listening.


This information tells our station who is tuning into our programming and directs us on how we can be more effective in our messaging. And being more effective relates directly to question number two… “How many are listening?”.

DJs and show producers often bristle when the programming department asks them to focus their dialogue towards a specific demographic. But the fact is that a program which deals with issues of elderly care is not being consumed by very many people in the elderly community. The show is being listened to by people who will one day face these issues themselves or who have an elder that they are currently caring for. Speaking to the correct audience, and understanding that yes, some elders are tuning in, will keep listeners engaged and cause them to dedicate a place on their tuner to the station and recommend the station to other people.

In the world of noncommercial radio, tracking the number of listeners creates real challenges. There are no Neilson ratings for noncommercial radio and market share impact studies done by other stations are rarely shared. Public Radio, which is what our station is, has to rely on roundabout methods to gauge audience. These methods include, web stream tracking, street surveys, membership numbers, event turn out, and on-air incentives. All of this data, and more, is used to paint a picture of whether a station is growing or losing its audience.

Portsmouth Community Radio has been growing in audience after experiencing a brief trough. Our call letters recognition is up, our membership is up, our revenue is up, and our shows are garnering increased editorial recognition from other media and outside organizations.

As long as we pay attention to who is listening… we will be able to serve them better and increase the numbers of listeners through both our terrestrial broadcast and our online streaming.

-Rick Dirck-