From hi-fi to wi-fi: the growth of digital radio
My earliest memory of radio was listening to the Top 40 countdown on Radio 1 on my parents’ hi-fi in the dining room. It was May 1982 and I can still remember Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Ebony and Ivory’ at number one, followed by England’s World Cup song ‘We’ll Fly the Flag’ and then PhD’s ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ at number three. I also recall that Radio 1 typically broadcast on Medium Wave at that time, but it transferred to FM for a few hours per week, including Sunday afternoons. The reception we had was crackly at times, but it was an appointment to listen for me every Sunday.
Fast forward 30 years and my radio listening habits have changed somewhat. For a start I do not listen to the Sunday chart run down and I do not even have a hi-fi. My radio listening meanders through a DAB clock radio in the bedroom when I wake up, followed by Digital TV in the kitchen at weekends, analogue in the car and online in various rooms during the evening.
The latest set of RAJAR radio audience figures have just been released and highlight the continued growth of digital radio. Listening across all digital radio platforms has grown 13% year-on-year and now commands 31.5% of all radio listening. The Government target for triggering the digital radio switchover is 50% (digital share of all radio listening) and there will be an announcement next year on where we are with switching off the analogue radio signal.
A lot of attention has been centred on DAB sets because in-home listening provides the biggest share of listening (62%) compared with vehicles, workplace and other out of home locations. But whilst DAB radio listening has the highest audience (15.1 million adults aged 15+) of all the digital platforms and continues its steady, if not remarkable, growth of radio listening hours (+13% year-on-year), the biggest driver of digital radio listening currently is the Internet with a year-on-year rise of 37%.
Notwithstanding the presence of personalised online radio, which competes for share of ear with broadcast radio, Radioplayer’s launch last year coupled with the growth of Smartphones and tablets are major factors in digital radio’s audience growth. Indeed, the growing importance of online to radio was forecast by Ipsos MediaCT earlier this year. Package this with the increasing presence of digital-only radio stations such as BBC 6 Music and Absolute 80s and radio is in a strong place as it adapts to the digital technology world.
I still think back to those days thirty years ago listening to the charts with affection, but times have changed for radio and for the better thanks to digital platforms. Radio has had its time and it’s had the power, but it’s yet to have its finest hour.