Why do people still listen to radio – is it a social network thing?

Red radio

At Colourtext we live happily on both sides of the great divide that splits the modern media research industry.

On the one hand we’re excited about our work in the emerging science of Social Insight, which is shaping the future of social media. And on the other we’re passionate about our work in traditional media like TV and Radio.

Indeed, radio is the the world’s most venerable wireless broadcast medium, so it’s particularly interesting to watch how new technologies are changing the way we consume audio content, and even changing the way think about ‘radio’.

The Web now offers radio listeners customisable music choice, higher quality audio, mobile apps that stream music, advert-free content (or at least more relevant advertising), social features, and so many other exciting benefits it’s a wonder more people don’t use it.

Why do so many of us still listen to conventional radio?

There are many answers to this question (check out this thread on Quora.com <http://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-still-listen-to-conventional-radio>). But our experience of developing both radio brands and new social media technologies leads us to a new conclusion. Here’s our thought.

Listening to radio is rarely a lonely experience; indeed, people explicitly switch on the radio for ‘company’. Listeners often say it feels like a DJ is in the same room or car with them, and that can feel nice.

However, even when the DJ isn’t speaking listeners feel aware that other people they know are experiencing the same thing, at the same point in time, as they are.

This makes the live radio listening experience feel more ‘real’ or ‘alive’ than time-shifted media consumption or iPod listening sessions. This is probably because listeners feel, at some important psychological level, that they’re not the only witness to their subjective experience.

However, I think this only comes into play when listeners have ‘real space’ (rather than ‘virtual’ or ‘online-only’) relationships with other people that shared the same live radio experience.

For instance, if I read a forum post from a guy in California (I live in England) about an internet radio show I heard yesterday, it isn’t the same as knowing my work colleague or best mate listened to the same FM breakfast show as I did this morning.

I don’t think the vehicle or the medium through which a live-radio audio experience is delivered is actually as important to listeners as knowing (perhaps anticipating?) what other people in one’s ‘real space’ social network are also tuning into.

Today, most people I know through real-space relationships find that broadcast wireless radio (FM/ AM/ DAB) is the easiest and most convenient way to access popular live radio.

However, I don’t think anyone cares too much if other, equally convenient media technologies appear, just so long as they make it easy to access the live radio experiences that I and my ‘real space’ neighbours like to ‘share’ and talk about.

To find out more about Colourtext, you can download our presentation “Introduction to Colourtext” here.

If you would like to get in touch with Colourtext please email jason.brownlee@colourtext.com.

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