Welcome to the Future of Radio

Kelli Frieler
Last updated by Kelli Frieler

In the radio industry, the key to staying relevant is continuously seeking ways to foster connections with local communities. Because of this, industry leaders are always implementing strategic techniques and engaging in new efforts. So what can you expect to see from radio in the future? Innovation. Connectivity. Relevance.

Why Radio is Important

Because of the nature of the radio business, we are intrinsically connected to the communities that listen to us. Radio goes far beyond the stereo—it can often be found promoting local charities, calming families after a rough night, and informing the busy citizens that don't always have time to watch the news. But with the disruption digital media has served up, is radio still important? Short answer, yes; the future is bright.

The thought that digital disruption has eroded "traditional" media’s reach and relevance is one of the biggest misconceptions about technology. Mobile apps, Alexa skills, and social media have in fact expanded the reach and opportunity for engagement, even with "traditional" media.

Daily Connectivity

Technology has given us a chance to stay connected to our community throughout the day. In the home, traditional radios have been fading away over the years, but now smart speakers have revitalized audio listening in the home.

Jacob's Media found that connecting to AM/FM stations were two of the most frequent uses of smart speakers.

25% of owners requested to listen to music via radio station, and 15% of owners used a smart speaker to listen to news or talk from an AM/FM station.

Digital disruption has enhanced our connection to our listeners and to our community. It has kept radio on its feet. Now, our local news coverage reaches well beyond the listeners of our heritage AM News stations. Plus, more than 45% of Americans get their news from Facebook, so using social media channels, our website and our mobile apps enables us to distribute local news to a much broader audience than ever before.

Radio's Impact on Society

From its conception, radio has had a profound impact on society. It is the vehicle that brought, and still brings, music from one culture to another, creating a curiosity for diversity and opportunities for so many less privileged artists. Radio has always had such community based roots – giving away experiences, providing financial assistance, or educating listeners on what is going on in the world around them. The connectivity and community support radio offers is incredible and consistent, even though how we do radio is ever-changing.

Music's Impact on American Culture

Radio is so many things to so many people... and this is largely because of the music it offers.

Graphic of silhouette with guitar next to wordsMusic has been nothing short of pivotal in terms of American culture. It has united many communities and has helped society as a whole express themselves. Think about the last party you attended. I am willing to bet there was the sweet sound of music in the background, or maybe it was even a main focus! Music has become an integral part of the expression of celebration in American culture.

It is undeniable that music can provoke many emotions, and as humans, our actions are largely influenced by how we feel. Music influences our actions on a daily basis. Throughout the transformation music has undergone, it has consistently set moods, entertained large groups of people, and created a vast number of professions. Music allows people to bond and overall, has created moral and ethical shifts in American culture. Music is so pervasive that it's even being used as treatment for patients with memory disorders like Alzheimer's or dementia.

This is yet another reason why radio is so important.

Innovation and Radio

Innovation is part of our culture, and an integral part of how the industry has impacted society. Innovation might mean a new process for ticketing at our Craft Beer Tours. Or, it might even be a new strategy on TikTok after listeners and employees learn from their kids what TikTok is (and then realize it's taking social media and marketing to new levels). Taking on these tasks typically betters the community by making it easier for anyone to access important information.

When deciding how to prioritize innovation initiatives, we have to use filters. One common filter is to determine if this enables us to activate our passion: to serve, connect, and celebrate our community. This is where the impact of radio is most clear — communities. That is radio's leg up. We really care about our communities and innovation allows us to better serve them. How do we continue growth and build connectivity in our community? Mobile apps.

Radio Streaming Apps + Online Listening

Online listening continues to grow in almost every age demographic.

The Infinite Dial did a study that showed a steady increase in the number of people listening to online audio weekly from 17% in 2009 to 60% in 2019.

Time spent on mobile continues to grow as well and most time spent on mobile is in app vs in browser, so creating a mobile app that allows people to multitask while listening, or has push notifications to bring them back and keep them engagement is essential to continued growth.Phone with headphones on it

With a move towards using apps, the listener who is on the road for work and wants to listen to their hometown school’s state championship football game can connect to our broadcast stream via mobile app.

As breaking news happens or closings & delays start coming in during the winter months, we can use push notifications to ensure our community is connected to what’s happening.

For someone that works in a space without access to radio during the day, they can stay connected after their morning commute by checking social media feeds and local news updates on a mobile app during their break or lunch. Or perhaps listen to a local station through it's mobile app live stream.

Even in the absence of a traditional "broadcast signal," listeners can still engage with local radio stations.

Continuing the journey of using mobile apps for distribution of content will be immensely impactful and could even lessen the divide in knowledge among various communities.


Mobile apps aren't just good news for listeners; they will benefit radio partners as well.

At Leighton Broadcasting, we currently have sponsorships within the app that give clients an opportunity to extend their brand. Many of our most active app/streaming users will be hearing client commercials and now seeing that client’s logo as our local news or weather sponsor.

Digital sponsorships on apps and stream players allow brands to layer their impact with our audience both in audio and visual presence across platforms. We have opportunities on our digital platforms to build engaging content; like a "What Craft Beer Are You?" quiz. Brands can sponsor engaging contests that delight the audience and give them a chance to win a prize. It’s a fun way to nurture positive brand association and engagement.

None of these examples require an advertiser to actually be on the airwaves of a radio station. This opens the door for local stations to reach advertisers who's service area exceeds the reach of the terrestrial signal.

Interactive content generally creates greater engagement than passive content, so the collaboration between our on-air support, our mobile apps, our social media, and the client creates an opportunity for brand extension, brand awareness, and lead generation.

Internet Radio in Cars

Another "interruption" digital technology has created is the ability to personalize one's radio listening experience in the car. Mobile apps have put a spin on listening to the radio on the go. Now more than ever, Americans are streaming the radio via internet services such as Pandora, especially while on the road. This is made possible by using the internet and mobile data. Looking at the trend in usage, it is likely to continue being an important avenue for the radio industry to travel down.

Image of man changing radio

According to a Nielsen study, radio reaches more Americans than any other platform, and most of the time it is in the car. This just confirms what we have stated many times – accessing your target audience when they are driving is incredibly powerful. Increased use of internet radio in cars has been seen as a threat to "traditional" radio, but it is actually very exciting for radio stations and partners alike.

With the advent of Apple Car Play and Android Auto, listeners can plug their phones into supported vehicles and use these apps to stream a local radio station over the car's sound system. Even if the station is across the country, that person can stay connected to home.

Many of the listening systems found in new vehicles use radio apps to play content even without a mobile phone connected. In the near future, I believe this is a change radio must capitalize on. We will likely start focusing more effort on... you guessed it, apps. Keeping this shift in mind, fellow members of the industry will be able to move forward and truly focus their efforts on simplifying the user experience, which is crucial to success.

So, what is the future of radio?

There are so many opportunities that will allow radio to move forward in full force. The future of radio is brighter than most believe. If you are in the industry, pay attention to the changes in mobile usage and keep tabs on how your audience is listening, and then find the way that radio fits in. 

We are currently seeing an increase in connectivity in American lives. From smart speakers, and smarter cars, to mobile phones, our audiences are craving convenience and connection. How do we accommodate that? By connecting with our audiences where they are and how they are.

We see apps as an opportunity to enhance our ability to brand ourselves and enhance the growth of our local partners. The ability to have an app that is local, responsive, and accessible is the future of marketing. We are excited to see how it plays out.

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