How On-Demand Listening Is Changing News Radio

By Madison McVan | Investigate Midwest

The way radio listeners consume news is changing, and it’s opening up opportunities for newsrooms to connect with consumers differently. 

Newsrooms have long held assumptions about the way people listen to radio, said Arionne Nettles, lecturer and director of audio journalism programming at Northwestern University’s Medill School. 

Radio news has been programmed around the idea of adults waking up, getting in the car, turning on the radio and commuting to work, Nettles said. Now, that person might instead open an app on their phone, connect it to their car’s bluetooth and drive to work. 

And the coronavirus pandemic shifted habits more. As more people work from home, “rush hour” news programming is less relevant, since people have more flexibility when it comes to listening.

“How our audience is spending their time is changing,” Nettles said.

This has opened the door for newsrooms — audio-based or not — to use different formats and reach new audiences. Digital audiences can be more specific that the traditional drive-time radio audience, Nettles said. 

Nettles emphasized the importance of investment and intention when it comes to production. When considering new platforms, newsrooms should ask, “What can this platform help me with, or what can this platform do for me?” Nettles said. 

Production quality is important for newsrooms who want to stand out from other shows in users’ podcast feeds. While audiences are tolerant of audio issues, mistakes and banter on live radio, they may be pickier when it comes to choosing a podcast, Nettles said.

And podcast producers shouldn’t forget that the tenets of good radio stories — pacing, clarity, scenes — also lead to good podcasts. 

“Not everything has to change,” Nettles said. “Even if we’re talking about new mediums and making things better, there’s still this heart to radio, and that’s never going to change.”

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