The Divergent Paths of Music Radio & Its Listeners Update

Since 2001 Bridge Ratings has been tracking and trending media consumption. Broadcast radio, internet radio, satellite radio, streaming, social media - it all is part of the daily manner in which audio consumers spend valuable entertainment time.

Traditional radio is no longer the only option.

So why are radio programmers missing the boat and not reflecting the tastes of their audiences.

Much has been written in recent years about the strengths of traditional AM/FM radio (its reach of 93% of the population) and its weakness (annual time-spent listening attrition).

Traditional radio’s music exposure structures no longer align with audience need.
— Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings

For many, music radio these days still uses structural exposure playbooks from the 1970s.

What's wrong with that?

Music radio song category structures and exposures no longer align with how the audience consumes music and in our latest findings here at Bridge Ratings, we've discovered that passion for music radio is slipping for 75% of the four major music formats we analyzed: Top 40 (CHR), Country, Urban Contemporary and Alternative.

Reduction in passion for music radio doesn't necessarily mean less passion for the music; on the contrary.

Of the four music radio formats we studied, only Urban Contemporary continues to align its programming to the needs of its listeners.

The Study

Methodology: Bridge Ratings has been tracking radio usage since its founding in 2001. Since 2001 each year we have randomly selected 5 radio stations in the four music formats in three market categories: Major Market (Ranked 1-10), Medium Market (Ranked 11-40) and Small Market (Ranked 41+). This totaled 20 radio stations per music format in each market category. Sample sizes varied by format and by year.

We tracked listening occasions per personal interviews and on-line surveys.

For each member of our sample aged 12 and over, we tracked their preference and passion for each type of music associated with each of the music formats (Passion Index).

The result was a comparison of weekly listening tune-in occasions and the passion.

The following charts summarize our findings:

Top 40

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As with all of these format examples, Passion for Pop music on Contemporary Hit Radio/Top 40 remains high over the sixteen year term of this study. What has changed is the number of weekly occasions of listening. Drop-off began as early as 2006 - long before many of the alternative methods of consuming Pop music became available. The divide between the passion and the tune-in is significant for this format yet provides an opportunity.

The gap between the Passion Index and the Tune-in Listening Occasions represents the growth potential for these formats.
— Dave Van Dyke


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According to our samples, passion for Country music has sustained its high numbers throughout this period having reached its highest point today. And as well-programmed are many of the Country radio stations reflected in this study, the passion for the music and the number of times listeners tune-in each day has slipped and in 2010 began to diverge into a Country music life group that is not as satisfied with Country radio as it could be. The gap between the passion index scores and the tune-in occasion number is the potential the format has for growth.

Alternative Rock

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Evidenced in most of these music formats is the growing gap of non-alignment and nowhere is it more evident than in the Alternative Radio segment. Passion for the Alternative music category which can include everything from Alternative, Punk, Indie, Rock and Alternative Pop remains greater than the satisfaction levels delivered by the stations represented in this next chart. Despite the drop-off, the passion for the music is only 14% lower than it was in 2000 while tune-in to these radio stations on average has dipped faster after a high in 2007.

Urban Contemporary

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An example of well-aligned radio to its audience is Urban Contemporary as shown in the following chart. Passion for the music and tune-in occasions have followed similar growth trajectories since 2000 and today the format is performing better than ever. Does this have anything to do with the fact that Urban music tends to be the most-consumed whether by stream, download or physical purchase? We believe it does.


According to a separate research study of radio program directors conducted late Summer 2016, only 44% of radio programmers used some form of music research. 70% of the group that doesn't use music research depends on published airplay charts to choose and manage their playlists.

The slow disintegration of station tune-in occasions not only aligns with advances in technology but also seems to align with an era when budget for solid station product research began to be cut or reduced and as revenues dried up since 2005, costs were eliminated and research was one of the victims.

The disconnect between listener expectations and radio’s music programming provides an opportunity.

Radio today continues to reach over 90% of the U.S. population weekly. And it's no secret that with all the entertainment options available, traditional radio has competition for the short attention span of most listeners.

With the varied audio options available to radio consumers, frankly they've gotten more sophisticated in their tastes, needs and expectations.

Our listener panels and the charts in this report point to one of music radio's key vulnerabilities: listener expectations are not being met.

Even listening behavior of older demographics have significantly adjusted to the influence of new technology.

The disconnect between listener expectations and radio's music programming provides an opportunity.

The radio industry can view this data in hindsight and wonder why time spent listening is dropping. However a return to investment in the product in the form of research, talent and marketing could resolve or at least halt the deterioration in listener commitment to radio stations that play music they are passionate about.

Genergraphics: Supercharging Radio Sales

Radio's New Revenue Opportunity

In a series of recent interviews with radio marketing directors,  Bridge Ratings Media Research learned that most companies (55%) use demographics (statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it) when marketing for increasing reach; 25% use psychographics (the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria) and 20% use some form of Genergraphics (separating the generations and their mindsets for marketing and advertising). 

Why is this important? 

In today's world of media overload, marketing messages generally do not cut through beyond "awareness" to "engagement" as much as they used to.

With so much clutter, a more focused approach to marketing/sales is needed and we're finding the genergraphic approach to marketing stimulates engagement and consumer recognition. This is because marketing messaging created with generational mindset vs demographic definition is much more effective. 

Analyst Jack Myers has released new data suggesting the potential for radio to break out of "the new normal" of the last few years' 0%-2% annual revenue growth.

Jack indicates that the growth of audio advertising will flourish at least through 2020 with "over the air broadcast" to cordon off the "lion's share of total audio spend in 2020". The number is 80% of the $20.8 billion forecast to be spent on audio advertising in 2020 leaving 20% for digital pureplays like Pandora and Spotify.

With this good news is even better news: if radio can perfect its sales approach by properly defining consumers, response to advertising will improve and increased dollars will flow.

Radio's been a fan of audience research for decades, refining it over the years to improve ratings and sales.

Audience insights through demographics brought a sophistication to radio ad buying and further improved with targeted advertising such as content and textual targeting, time targeting, sociodemographic targeting and behavioral targeting. 

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These tactics have been beneficial to radio, but as media consumption becomes more layered there is one definitive approach that should be given a closer look: Genergraphics - the marketing approach that combines psychographics with the sociological mindset of a specific generation.

The challenge is to shred the old school approach of demographic marketing to embrace a new, more targeted way of selling, programming and advertising.

It's time for a change.

The days of marketing to the wide 25-54 demographic or 50+ needs to be invigorated and Genergraphics is the answer.

Genergraphics® is the brainchild of Phil Goodman who also holds a process patent on Genergraphics Web sites. Phil Goodman and Craig Carapelho have brought together their experience and expertise in order to develop a full array of Genergraphics marketing services including Genergraphics Web sites, advertising and product marketing, market research, and communications consulting services. There's much to be learned here.


Generational marketing is more sophisticated and accurate in reaching consumers than common methods of dissecting a market by demographics or lesser-known psychographic analysis.

A generation is defined by the rise and fall of the birth rates by the Census Bureau.

Genergraphics and psychographics are both derived from sociology, but there is a big difference between the two. Genergraphics goes beyond an individual's personality which is pretty much determined by the age of six.  It equates to a person's mindset from their generation which is based on social circumstances of their youthful formative years (12-16 years of age).

Think about this: two people can have similar personalities but be members of different generations. 

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Generations can buy the same product or service but they purchase for different reasons. The number one reason many ad campaigns don't succeed as much as they should can be traced to the segmentation of consumers by demographics. The commonly-used 25-54-year-old demographic consists of three distinct generations who may like the same products and services but can be motivated to purchase for very different reasons.

Genergraphics market research does all that demographics and psychographics can do, but it goes further by revealing the "why" and "how" a generation does or does not influence another generation in buying decisions. 


More importantly, generagraphics will show you how to sell and market to more than one generation at a time without alienating the others that purchase the same product or service.

So, radio, keep this in mind...Genergraphics keeps the research for your clients on track by following different generations through different stages of their lives. 

Keep in mind that the social and historical events that occur during a young person's formative years (12-16) will dictate how they think for the rest of their lives. 

18-24 year olds in the 80s grew up in a far different world than today's 18-24s. Someone in their formative years in 1985 was born around 1970. The culture they grew up in still guides their consumption and entertainment choices today thirty-three years later.

Marketing should vary by mindset with an understanding that each generation carries its own unique set of circumstances which shape its expectations and way of life.

Traditional media has generally depended on demographics to target its audience for both sales and product research. In this age of media bombardment, marketing messages are challenged to break through. It's  time to move to a more focused approach.

Radio has all the tools to take advantage of generational marketing. 

New Generational Insights*

Millennials can’t seem to get a break. They are said to be either too lazy or too disruptive.  They are either all flocking to the suburbs, or to the city or some other various homogenization.  This 80+ million demographic is a mystery to most in marketers precisely because the vast majority of people believe that Millennials act as a monolith, and nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, there is a minimum of four sub-demographics that actually range wildly in values and culture  Forbes magazine offers this snapshot of three key areas-to-watch, as they intersect with tech, during these next couple quarters as they pertain to various parts of the Millennial demographic:

A. Money, Honey – Watch for an even greater intersection of Millennial behavioral trends and new scenarios around money including cryptocurrency. Crypto is very much a millennial’s game, with 17.21% of millennials claiming to own crypto, versus only 8.75% of Gen X and 2.24% of baby boomers jumping into digital currency, this new area of finance is more of an “Uber” Millennial play at the moment, not all Millennials in total.  The “Uber” Millennial is college-educated, more apt to live in a major city, and is a professional/upwardly mobile, among several other traits. This is the disruptor who is more financially stable and who is game for innovation.

B. Diversity - Race and ethnicity, not only pertaining to that steady drumbeat of diversity and inclusion, but also and missteps around this area as well as debate and conversation will grow in volume for certain segments of the Millennial audience.  While “Vice” Millennials (think hipsters, anti-mainstream, lovers of vintage) will continue to abstain from this conversation except within their own closely guarded circles, the “Culture” Millennial will see this area as a growing topic of interest but will show support via media properties (i.e. film, music videos) that address the issues rather than direct protest or organization and most of the sentiment will be expressed via Instagram.

C. Brother’s Keeper – The demand for social responsibility and identification of who stands for what will deepen, particularly when it comes to powerful corporations.  Much examination will be done out-loud via social media giving few brands time to prepare.

The debate around artificial Intelligence for good (or bad) will grow in volume within this trend segment as well. This will mostly be spearheaded by the  “Uber” Millennial, though other sub-demos of Millennials will join in freely depending upon the topic and the target.  This trend could and will impact any industry.

Gen-Y? Yes, The Echo Boomers

Gen-Y experienced 72 million births in the U.S.. They're called Echo Boomers because they are (mostly children of the Boomers coming after Generation-X. What key characteristics define this generation? One reason they are so important is because of the generation's size which is critical for a marketer to appreciate.

This generation saw events in their youths that made them cynical about job security based on how their parents lost careers in the 90's.

Tech/Web Savvy:

I’ll send you an email’.  Generation Y were born into an emerging world of technology and have grown up surrounded by smart phones, laptops, tablets and other gadgets. As a generation people are constantly plugged into technology and it becomes an essential aspect of the generations life. And they do not respond to traditional marketing methods. 

Generation Y prefer to communicate more quickly and effectively via email, social networks or text messaging as opposed to traditional means of communication. The generation are also attracted to organizations where technology is at the forefront of the companies ethos. Traditional companies are less of an attraction for the millennial generation . 


Echo Boomers need praise. They were always told how special they were when they were growing up and thus believe they are quite special. As a result they are highly confident and expect praise. This is a lesson for human resource managers and business managers: give Echo Boomers the praise they deserve.


Generation Y are confident and ambitious.  Expectations typically need to be managed as Generation Y’s are confident to take on important roles within organizations as soon as they begin. As an organization the difficulty is managing these expectations without stifling creativity and development. Generation Y have high expectations of their employers and expect this to be matched. Many are not afraid to seek employment elsewhere if this ambition is not met. Unlike generations before them they are happy to change job roles more often to find the right organisation to work within.

Team Players:

Teamwork is high on the agenda of Generation Y, but they still expect structure in the workplace.


Because of technology, Gen-Y are the first truly global generation. They are group-oriented, adaptable and excel at processing information quickly. It is important for marketers to speak through the tech and social media methods that this generation is so comfortable with. 

Final Thoughts

Regardless of targets, the Genergraphic approach to marketing supercharges the effort and focuses the message. Position your product to reach new age groups by appealing to their core values and needs. Marketing to each generation requires different mindsets and strategies. Communicating with different generations to sell products and services can be tricky yet Genergraphics can solve the puzzle.

Genergraphics can:

• Identify strong market segments within each generation based on differences in actual consumer behavior.

• Determine future demand in a dynamic marketplace as baby boomers mature and generation x'ers and Millennials mature in their prime earning years.

• Reposition your products to meet the needs and expectations of new generations as they transition into your market's target age range.

• Enhance cross-sell opportunities by knowing the entire market basket of goods and services used by different segments within each of the generations.

If there was ever a time to take advantage of this research-based lifestyle approach to marketing, it is today as digital media platforms coupled with traditional media targeting empower business to be effective communicators.

*New Generational Insights were derived from a national Bridge Ratings study fielded between March 1, 2018 through April 30, 2018 with a random sample of 4020 persons ages 6+. Sample error = +/-1.2%. Interviews were done through focus group interviews and on-line questionnaires. The sample consisted of 52% women, 48% men.

Digital Media Consumption Fatigue

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The average American spends more than 15 hours consuming media every day from dozens of different sources. How much more can we consume?

In short: Our culture has reached media over-saturation. And it’s affecting the way we consume and appreciate content.

Studies show that more options actually make us less satisfied. Researchers have found those who compare and deliberate on their choices more frequently experienced much higher levels of unhappiness — even depression.

According to a new Bridge Ratings consumer study, digital media burnout has reached a tipping point. Trends suggest massive time-spent increases with digital media platforms over the last few years have created decision-stress among most Americans. 

As typical Americans expand their use of digital media to the point of saturation: 12 hours each day, usage of some platforms will diminish. We're finding that generally only three of the most-consumed digital platforms for most individuals will manage to sustain current usage levels and by the end of 2018 we will see declines in time-spent with those that don't make the cut.

What does this mean for media companies? 

As much as increased digital usage over the last ten years has created competitive headaches for legacy media such as television, print and radio, heightened competition for attention has arrived which further complicates matters.


Digital Attention Deficit - when the amount of individual potential digital platform use exceeds daily time available.
— Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings
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While in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show this year, once again Bridge Ratings conducted focus groups to learn more about consumers time spent with digital media platforms. Added to our on-line research study of 2500 persons ages 13 and older which we conducted January 2 through 12, it is becoming clear that consumers are struggling with all the media available to them.

The team at Bridge Ratings has been trending digital consumption for over ten years and with each new year we have seen increases in total time spent with digital platforms which include on-line music streaming, on-line video streaming, social media, texting and more.

It has been exhilarating to see how much time is devoted to the world of digital entertainment.

Until this year.

We have just completed our January interviews related to digital platform preferences and the results point to the first look we have had regarding consumer prioritization of digital media content.

Teens have always been early adopters of all things new and digital entertainment has been no different. What we're seeing from them in this study we conducted in January 2017 and again January 2-10, 2018 may be a harbinger of movement across all demographics. Digital Attention Deficit - when the amount of potential digital platform use exceeds traditional daily time available.

We asked our panels to prioritize the digital platforms they use on a weekly basis.

For teens, Social Media, Gaming and On-line Video streaming reign supreme.

How to read: Digital entertainment platform preferences January 2018 v January 2017.  For teens , Gaming was the #1 most-utilized platform in 2017. in 2018 it is second.

How to read: Digital entertainment platform preferences January 2018 v January 2017. For teens, Gaming was the #1 most-utilized platform in 2017. in 2018 it is second.

For teens increased time-spent with on-line video streaming, TV on-demand and social media consume 75% of their weekly digital engagement. Reduction in Time spent is with Podcasts and texting.

Ages 18-34 Adults

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Millennials and adults 25-54 share similar consumption preferences when it comes to on-line streaming whether it be video or audio. As the above chart reflects young adults intend to spend more time this year with on-line video streaming likely at the expense of texting and podcast consumption.

Ages 25-54 Adults

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The Adults 25-54 years of age in our panels indicate more time spent this year with on-demand streaming - both audio and video with less spent with social media and podcasts among others.

Ages 55+

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Adults 55+ and Boomers actually see themselves spending more time with social media and on-demand Television. Podcasts continue to interest this demographic and is the only one of these four age groups where podcasting retains a high degree of time spent consuming.

And while podcasting is among those activities that may experience reduced usage this year among all consumers, primary users of the platform will likely continue to consume their favorite podcasts more frequently at the expense of expanding their list of downloadable podcast content.

Social Media Fatigue Leads

While the increase in influence of social media is undeniable, the social reality is that this year, survey respondents are showing signs of dissatisfaction.
— Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings Media Research

At the heart of the increasing media fatigue is social media. 

Though social media use remains high, a significant portion of our sample self-reports that they are not enjoying their time spent on it as much as they used to.

Daily social media usage has fallen from 70% to 63% over the last year. The most pronounced drop has been among ‘leading millennials', ‘the social media pioneers', among whom daily use of social media has fallen to 72%, from 84% last year. A decline in heavy users – defined as those that update or check their accounts more than 10 times a day – has apparently driven this overall decline. 

A third of our panelists have temporarily or permanently deactivated one or more of their social media accounts in the past year. 55% have unfriended or unfollowed friends on their platforms who have posted negatively. 

One in five ( 20%) Americans reportedly don't enjoy their time spent on social media, and 46% report spending more time on it than they would like. 

While the increase in influence of social media is undeniable, the social reality is that, this year, survey respondents are showing signs of dissatisfaction. 

Bottom Line

With social media feeding the fatigue factor among both our focus groups and on-line questionnaire participants and with a limited amount of time available each day for media consumption, there is evidence that consumers are being forced into making difficult decisions about the full array of media consumed during a typical day.

When given a choice consumers in our sample are choosing Entertainment-based platforms such as on-demand audio and video or gaming to capture what time they do have. Accentuating these types of platforms results in reduction of others as we see in the above study results comparing 2018 with 2017 digital media consumption.

With increasing sources of entertainment and greater consumer prioritizing, media companies in 2018 are faced with a new facet to competition: how compelling is your content? 

The long tail of on-demand digital entertainment has become overwhelming for many so they have become more critical in the way they spend time. 

Consumer choice related to most-used digital media platforms today is shifting more to entertainment than to information. This study confirms changes in behavior which should guide digital media content producers for the immediate future and provide a strategy for traditional (TV, radio, print) media to further engage audiences by offering exclusive - not reconditioned -  content on-line.


Sources: 8 in-person and on-line focus groups of 10 digital media consumers each conducted during the week of January 8, 2018 by Bridge Ratings Media Research. 2500 on-line interviews via questionnaire with persons 13-70 years of age Janurary 2-12, 2018.