Study: Radio still has broadest reach

Study by Nielsen's Council for Research Excellence shows that 77 percent of U.S. adults listen to broadcast radio on any given day. That's way ahead of any other form of audio.

Matt Rosoff
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.
Matt Rosoff
2 min read

In 2008, the Council for Research Excellence, a research group funded primarily by Nielsen and staffed by researchers from various media and advertising organizations, studied the media consumption habits of U.S. adults. Researchers followed about 300 people around for two days, in the spring and the fall, using a handheld device to track every single 10-second interval of media that they consumed. The study was mainly focused on video, with the unsurprising result that we watch a lot of TV (more than five hours a day on average).

On Tuesday, the group released a follow-up analysis focused exclusively on audio. The results are somewhat surprising for those of us who have been steeped in digital music for the last decade: the most popular form of media for audio is good old broadcast radio.

No static at all! Wojciech Pysz, via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, it's not even close. About 77 percent of U.S. adults listen to some broadcast radio on any given day--much more than listen to a CD or tape (37 percent). Satellite radio came in third with 15 percent. And the vaunted digital music revolution? About 12 percent of users listen to portable MP3 players on any given day, about 10 percent listen to digital media files stored on a computer, and only about 9 percent listen to streamed audio (including online radio). The study has tons of other data about age groups and time spent listening to each form of audio and so on, but an important point is that even digital music consumers still listen to the radio: nearly 82 percent of people who listen to MP3 players on a given day also listened to the radio. (This 38-page PDF has all the details.)

Now, the caveats. The study had a small sample size--300 people in only five cities. It didn't try to adjust for demographic differences between the sample audience and the population at large. And it didn't measure the type of audio content being consumed. So while we know that nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults listen to the radio, it's harder to know how many are listening to music. My suspicion is that people with MP3 players are turning to radio primarily for news and sports and other talk formats, and sticking primarily with their own collections for music.