Podcasts: Radio’s saving grace?

By in Views
On February 3, 2017

Podcast tech PR

On August 31, 1920, a station in Detroit aired the first radio news broadcast, heralding in a new era that revolutionized the way that people around the world consumed not only news, but also entertainment. Radio became king, but with the rise of television news in the 1960s and internet news in the 1990s, it has fallen to the wayside in terms of preference.

I used to only think of tuning into the radio on an AM station in the car. However, a new generation of listeners are downloading and streaming content through live radio apps and podcasts. In fact, podcasts are revolutionizing the way that millennials consume audio media.

The golden age of podcasting

A 2016 study from Edison Research found that an estimated 98 million people listened to a podcast in the past month, of which nearly 50% were between the ages of 12-34. With weekly podcast listeners spending an average of 4 hours and 10 minutes listening to programming, there is huge opportunity for radio stations to jump on the podcast bandwagon.

Serial, the meticulously researched investigative reporting of the murder of Baltimore teen Hae Min Lee and trial and conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, put podcasts on the map for many millennials – and it was produced out of WBEZ Chicago. My generation’s love of word-of-mouth information sharing, coupled with the extreme accessibility of podcasts via mobile apps and online streaming, created the perfect storm for a podcast boom. Serial was the first podcast I ever listened to, and since then my roster has grown to over 26 different programs.

Sounds great, right? The problem is, how do radio stations turn their engaged podcast listeners into engaged radio listeners?

Making the connection between podcasts and radio

I recently took a tour of Boston’s NPR affiliate station, WBUR, to learn more about its programming and outreach to millennial listeners. WBUR is home to nationally syndicated programs including On Point, Here & Now, Only A Game and Car Talk, and the station’s content reaches millions of listeners each week on NPR stations across the U.S. and online. It found success capitalizing on the rising podcast trend with Modern Love: The Podcast. In this program, notable personalities read popular pieces from The New York Times’ weekly Modern Love column, and a conversation with the essayists followed. Since its start at the end of 2015, the show has also spun off into live reading series.

On the tour, WBUR acknowledged that one of its key challenges is making sure that listeners know that their favorite program – be it Car Talk or On Point – originated from this relatively small space right in the middle of the Boston University campus. So, how is it addressing this?

First, anyone that has listened to a podcast knows that the station and/or distributor of the podcast is typically dropped either at the beginning or in the credits of the podcast. WBUR is no exception. Second, WBUR has a “millennial board” that works together to come up with unique programming and events to connect with younger listeners – out of this they’ve established partner events with the TEDx conference series, MIT Media Lab and the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management. Third, social media is top of mind for everyone involved. All events, broadcasts and podcasts have either a live social conversation happening simultaneously, or there is a social media call to action at the end of each recording.

Other opportunities to capitalize on podcasts

Radio stations have been a primary beneficiary to date of the podcast boom, but businesses and individuals are catching on. For businesses, it’s still a relatively inexpensive way to invest your ad spend while reaching a young and educated audience. However, it is still considered uncharted territory, with uncertain ROI on ads due to lack of metrics. It’s also a new way for online news media businesses, such as Vox or Slate, to reach their readers with tailored audio content.

For individuals, it’s a low-cost way to get your message out, and is often a complement to or spin-off of a blog. Within the tech PR world we’ve seen a growing number of industry influencers using podcasts to share their knowledge and message – presenting a new way for companies to get media recognition and establish relationships with key influencers.

With all these different opportunities, how will you bring podcasts into your personal or professional life in 2017? Share in the comments if you’re already using this medium to reach your audience!

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