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New Radio—A Turn-on for Young Adults
And a Turn-off for AM and FM
David Alan Free
University of Texas at Austin
501 E. Oltorf St.
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 445-0926 primary phone
(512) 585-2595 secondary phone
[log in to unmask]
New Radio—A Turn-on for Young Adults
And a Turn-off for AM and FM
This study examines the relationship between young adults and new
forms of radio. AM and FM frequencies have dominated the market, but
now, more choices for radio programming are offered by satellite,
Internet, and cable radio. The quantitative analysis of the data
attempts to discover "why" new radio is chosen over traditional radio
by applying the Uses and Gratifications approach. The results
provide insight into "why" young adults are switching to new radio.
Are AM and FM radio dead? Satellite radio, cable radio, and
Internet radio have become popular alternatives to the traditional
broadcast media forms of AM and FM radio and television, especially
with young adults who may possess a greater interest in sound quality
and programming availability and diversity. Have the 18 to
34-year-olds opted to abandon the primary, and sometimes only,
broadcast medium available to their parents and grandparents for
newer high-tech forms of information and entertainment?
Not all old technologies are discarded, but rather their existence
and function in society have been reinvented. Thus, radio did not
cause the extinction of newspapers as predicted in the early years of
radio. Television did not obliterate radio as surmised, nor has
e-mail made the United States Postal Service obsolete. The utility
of radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet has been altered
as consumers or audience members seek out the latest and most
technologically superior products, therefore, forcing the producers
of content and structure in an outdated medium to scramble to find a
utilitarian justification for that medium. Why younger audiences opt
for a newer form of electronic communication is the basis for this
study of new radio technologies.
RQ 1: What are the reasons young adults listen to new radio and how
do those reasons compare with reasons for listening to traditional radio?
Radio is a relatively new technology. Even though the standard AM
band has been used in commercial broadcasting since the 1920s and the
FM band has been commercially viable since the 1960s, the medium has
served as a major component for mass communication only a short time
when compared to other forms, such as newspapers. Although newer
technologies have appeared, radio continues as a practical medium for
disseminating news, information, and entertainment.
This study takes into consideration the usage of AM and FM radio,
but also examines newer forms of radio: satellite, Internet, and
cable. As the 1980s approached, cable television began to make its
way into many American homes. The popularity and excitement over
cable's possibilities led to predictions of radio programming
provided through cable-TV systems, which in turn will be linked
through satellite transmissions (Williams, 1982). Digital radio via
cable systems is available today on a subscription basis with local
cable television providers. Cable radio offers subscribers a myriad
of music formats and genres and is accessed over designated
television channels via a digital converter box.
The advent and growth of the World Wide Web and Internet spurred
another option for radio listeners. Internet radio stations appear
as Websites. Access to Internet radio requires a subscription to an
Internet Service Provider that allows access to the Internet through
a dial-up modem, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), or cable
modem. Internet radio is comprised of many different types of
radio stations, genres, and formats, including regular AM and FM
broadcast stations, Internet only stations, and short-wave
broadcasts. This study considered participants who may listen to AM
or FM broadcast stations online as being Internet radio users.
The newest innovation to hit the market and pose a challenge to
traditional broadcast radio is the Direct Satellite Broadcast (DBS)
system. The first "earth-station antennas or 'dishes'" began
appearing around the mid-1970s as a way for local cable companies to
receive programming from distant sources, such as CNN and MTV
(Campbell, 1998). The technology was applied to home use through the
1980s and 1990s for television reception. But the same technology is
being used today to beam radio-programming signals to satellites,
which in turn relay the signal to a ground receiver. Satellite radio
listeners subscribe to a service provider.
AM, FM, satellite, Internet, and cable radio do not necessarily
exist or operate in exclusive spheres. Some technical aspects are
contained among all radio media. A unique convergence of radio,
television, audio, video, and Internet technologies happened in 1996
when New York radio station WFAN's deejay, Don Immus, "simultaneously
put his syndicated radio show on national television and the Internet
via cable channel MSNBC" (Campbell, 1998). While the technical side
of radio transmission and reception is important, this study seeks to
examine the audience's participation in the communication process.
Theoretical Link and Literature Review
Market research and broadcast ratings systems are fairly accurate
measures in determining if and how audience members are getting the
message, as viewed from the communicator's perspective. However,
much of the research over the past 30 to 40 years has recognized the
audience's role in the communication process as "the uses and
gratifications approach involves a shift of focus from the purposes
of the communicator to the purposes of the receiver" (Severin, Tankard, 2001).
The early beginnings of the uses and gratifications approach to
understanding communication processes focused on radio programming
and newspaper readership. The emphasis on radio in the 1920s was
placed on the regulation of the technical aspects of the AM
bandwidth, policies concerning the licensing and establishment of a
commercial based medium operating in the public interest, and
advertising. The federal government was viewed as the "regulator"
and the private radio equipment and production industry as the
"regulated" (Benjamin, 1998). The sociological impact and effects on
audiences were not considered.
Herzog (1944) studied the relationship between afternoon radio dramas
and quiz shows and the listeners, who were predominantly women, and
concluded the programs "provided a source of advice and support, a
role model of housewife and mother, or an occasion for emotional
release through laughter or tears," rather than "superficial and
mindless stories." (McQuail, 2000, p. 387). Meanwhile, Lazarsfeld
and Stanton (1944) and Berelson (1949) were researching newspaper
readership. However, the majority of research turned to television
as the medium became more popular and accessible to individuals and
households. Early television studies included the gratifications
sought in television viewing by British children (Greenberg, 1974)
with much emphasis on the effects of television viewing as Katz,
Haas, and Gurevitch (1972) cites studies by Blumler and McQuail
(1968); McQuail et al. (1972), Rosengren and Windahl (1972), and
Robinson (1972), among many others.
By the 1960s and 1970s, researchers began to view the audience as
"active" participants in the communication process, as opposed to
"passive." McQuail (1972) and his colleagues designed a "typology of
media-person interactions" which stated audiences seek out media and
content for: 1) "diversion" as a means of "emotional release" or to
"escape from routine or problems;" 2) "personal relationships," which
offer "companionship" and "social utility;" 3) "personal identity,"
which provides for "self reference, reality exploration, and value
reinforcement;" and 4) "surveillance" as a means of seeking
information (McQuail, 1972, p. 388). Recent studies show
surveillance as the gratification sought by television viewing over
newspaper or Internet surveillance during a national crisis
(Poindexter & Conway, 2003). Katz, Haas, and Gurevitch (1972)
explain the approach as way of examining the "'gratifications', which
attract and hold audiences to the kinds of media and the types of
content which satisfy their social and psychological needs."
More recent attention has been paid to the uses and gratifications
from television viewing and little has been aimed at radio. Many
radio studies are available, but do not apply the uses and
gratifications approach. Internet research is becoming more
prevalent as is other technologies studies, but satellite, Internet,
and cable radio industries are so young, this is one of the first
studies to look at and compare the new forms of radio with
traditional AM and FM radio. Listeners seek gratification from
content, but even though content may be duplicated among the various
types of radio, why do they seek specific types?
To answer the research question, 30,000 randomly selected college
students at two large southwestern universities were surveyed as part
of a graduate research methods class project. Although limiting the
study to the college student population reduces the external
validity, the college student sample potentially increases the
internal validity of the study for two reasons: high Internet access
on major university campuses and a large number of young
adults. This high Internet access increases the likelihood that a
large sample exposed to Internet e-mail and Websites will be found.
To facilitate a sample selection, a sample list was acquired through
official open records request placed with each university in
accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. The student e-mail
information was obtained in a database format, totaling 94, 853, with
51,056 addresses made available from one university and 43, 797
addresses provided from the other. The combined databases were then
entered into the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences program
to produce a random sample of 30,000 potential respondents; 15,000
addresses from each school.
Respondents received an introduction and invitation e-mail
containing a hyperlink to the survey Website and a "token" to gain
access as a method of eliminating the possibility of answering the
survey or visiting the Website more than once. The survey included
65 questions on voting habits, media use, Internet use, and
demographics. Students were promised confidentiality and directed to
click on a link to the questionnaire. The introduction and
invitation were first sent November 10, 2004. The first reminder
e-mails sent two weeks later on November 23, 2004, and the second
reminder went out on December 2, 2004. The survey was concluded on
January 19, 2005. All responses were automatically sent to a
database and subsequently analyzed by using the Statistical Package
for the Social Sciences computer software. Response rate was 11
percent, representing 3,411 students. The following measurements were used:
RQ 1—The research question required two separate
measurements. First, survey participants were asked: What type of
radio do you listen to most often? Respondents saying, "Satellite
radio," "Internet radio," or "cable radio" were classified as users
of "new radio." Survey participants saying, "AM" or "FM" as the
radio they listen to most often were classified as "traditional
radio" listeners. Second, the open-ended contingency question
asked: Why do you listen to this type of radio?
The demographic profile for respondents was young adults enrolled in
two state-supported universities in the Southwest. The median age
was 21 years old.
Most (94%) of the respondents listened to AM and FM radio, which was
labeled traditional radio; only 7 percent listened to new radio,
which included satellite, Internet, and cable radio. Males (8%) were
slightly more likely than females (6%) to listen to new radio.
When reasons for listening to new radio were compared with reasons
for listening to traditional radio, the primary reasons
differed. The number one reason for listening to new radio was
convenience. Verbatim responses included: "I can do other things
while listening," "I can only use this medium while I'm at work,"
"Easy access," and "Because I'm used to it." The primary reason for
listening to traditional was entertainment (51%). Verbatim responses
included: "for the music," and "I enjoy the music" (See Table 1).
Comparing Young Adults' Reasons for Listening to New and Traditional Radio.
Reason New Radio Traditional Radio
Convenience 40 17
Entertainment 16 51
No Commercials 16 0
Choices 16 5
Information 10 19
Economics 1 4
Quality 1 4
(Valid cases) (2,708) (183)
X2 = 484.447, df = 8, p < .001
More young adults chose new radio for the absence of commercials
(16%). Verbatim responses included: "fewer commercials," "no
commercials," and "no ads." More choices were given as the reason
for listening to new radio (16%). Responses included: "better
choice of stations," "more variety." However, young adults tend to
stay with traditional radio for information (19%). Verbatim
responses included: "I get a different viewpoint than that of news
on TV," "Sports," "I find it informational and interesting," and "I
like to hear the pundits talk politics."
Males' and females' reasons for choosing new radio showed no
significance. Males favored entertainment (16%) slightly more than
females. An 18-year-old male said he listens to Internet radio for
"music, entertainment" purposes. Males also chose convenience (9%),
no commercials (2%), and quality (2%) slightly more than females, who
favored new radio for information (79%) and choices (3%) slightly
more than males.
While the results indicate no significance between male and female
reasons for using new radio over traditional radio, a more
significant difference appears between the reasons listeners are
tuning to new radio and why respondents listen to traditional radio.
This study seeks to examine the relationship between young adults
and radio media by applying the Uses and Gratifications approach
(Katz, 1959; Blumler, Katz, & Gurevitch, 1974) whereby audiences may
select specific programming to gratify needs, desires, or to affect
mood. However, the idea of uses and gratifications as applied to
programming may also be applicable to the types of media audiences
seek for entertainment, information, or economical reasons.
Advancing media technologies offer the consumer a wide variety of
choices for listening to radio. For many years, AM radio served as
the dominant source for electronic news, information, and
entertainment. The arrival of FM as a viable alternative provided
listeners with a quality signal and a variety of programming. Now,
satellite radio, Internet radio, and cable radio add three more
options for listeners to gratify their needs. As the data shows,
traditional AM and FM radio continues to be the dominant media, but
many are seeking newer technologies for reasons other than
programming. This study suggests young adult listeners are tuning to
new radio because it is convenient, provides a better quality signal
or reception, there are no or few commercial advertisements, and new
radio offers a better selection for stations and
programming. Listeners are more apt to stay with traditional radio
to meet entertainment and information needs.
This study does not take into consideration income, education, or
ethnicity, which could play roles in accessibility issues of new
media. While demographic information is gleaned from the survey, it
is not used in this analysis. These factors could alter the results
or further enhance a qualitative approach to the question, "Why do
listeners shift from traditional radio to new radio?" The sample
group chosen do not necessarily represent the general population of
young adults as the survey includes only those students enrolled in
college, representing only a small percentage of the young adult
population. However, college enrolled young adults may not
possess greater knowledge or exposure to new technologies than do
their non-enrolled cohorts. Further research and study in this
area may include a comparison of programming between traditional
radio and new radio, as well as a qualitative examination of the
reasons why young adults seek specific programming through new radio
sources and the impact income, race, education and general exposure
to new media have on listeners' choices for a particular
medium. Here, new radio use may also be studied by employing the
Innovation of Diffusion Theory (Rogers, 1976) as it applies to new
Further study is also suggested for retaining internal and external
validity in e-mail and Web-based surveys (Tuten, Urban, & Bosnjak,
2002). It may not be plausible to conclude findings from data
obtained from Internet source surveys as representative of a
generalized population. In the meantime, a combination of
face-to-face interviews, Internet surveys, paper-and-pencil mail
surveys and telephone surveys may offer further researchers a
generalized view of radio use among the aggregate population. Until
then, it is suggested that traditional radio is not in jeopardy among
young college enrolled adults as of yet. However, as technology
advances and the market allows for a more ubiquitous distribution of
products and services, audiences may be prone to leave the
traditional media behind and shift to a more convenient,
non-commercial, and better quality product. In the meantime,
traditional AM and FM radio remains alive.
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 It is important to note that even though access to the Internet
via a cable modem utilizes cable television lines, it is not
considered "cable radio."
 XM and Sirius are the two leading providers. Both promote over
120 channels, commercial-free music, and sports, talk, and news
programming. Information made available via the World Wide Web at
http://www.xmradio.com and http://www.sirius.com.
 The 2000 United State Census Bureau reports university and
college undergraduates represent 18.8% of the population and graduate
students and professional school students 4.1%. Data supplied by the
U.S. Census Bureau, accessible on the World Wide Web at