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Streaming Services Killed the Radio Star: Is Radio Dead?

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By: burgundy bug

Streaming Services Killed the Radio Star: Is Radio Dead?

Source: The Burgundy Zine

Streaming services killed the radio star, in our minds and in our car – or did they? Is radio broadcasting actually dead? Is it more of a… “one foot in the grave” sorta-thing?

In the era of streaming services, consumers are able to enjoy the luxury of a seemingly endless variety of music across Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon Music, Pandora, Tidal, iHeartRadio, and SoundCloud, to name a few.

With millions of tunes to choose from, users can curate their own playlists and navigate easily from song to song without being at the mercy of a radio DJ or their local stations’ playlists: streaming services allow the listener to be their own DJ.

Music streaming is an $11 million dollar industry in the United States with Apple Music and Spotify competing neck-and-neck for the position as the most popular streaming service, Statista reports. From 2010 to 2018, music streaming generated a revenue of about $7.4 billion.

As of 2018, music streaming accounted for 75 percent of revenue in the United States music industry.

Recording Industry Association of America

However, tuning into streaming services doesn’t necessarily equate to tuning out radio altogether… Yet. According to 2019 Pew Research Center report, 89 percent of Americans 12 years and older listened to AM or FM radio in a week. 67 percent had listened to online radio within the last month.

In the first quarter of 2019, the average consumer in the United States spent almost two hours listening to radio per day – and there are still over 15,500 commercial radio stations nationally, Statista’s data shows.

The fear of the radio industry dying out – radio industry ‘FOMO,’ if you will – is nothing new, and it certainly didn’t begin with the dawn of streaming services.

The History of Radio Consumption in the United States

40 percent of households in the United States owned a radio in 1930, according to American RadioWorks. By 1940, that number had risen to 83 percent.

“Live musical performance dominated the airwaves in the early years,” American RadioWorks says. “Dramas, comedy acts, talk and educational programs soon followed.”

Within 20 years of the boom of radio, the industry met its biggest competitor: television.

In 1950, there were 93 million active radio receivers in North America, reported the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in 1963. By 1960, there were 190 million active radio receivers in North America.

Meanwhile, there were 28 million active TV receivers in 1950 and 61 million by 1960.

Despite active radio receivers outnumbering active TV receivers three-fold, many historians and scholars note the mid-20th century as the end of radio’s golden age and the rise of television, as seen in the Digital Public Library of America.

Yet radio broadcasting certainly didn’t die in America then, which is made apparent by the sheer amount of Americans who still listen to radio over half a century later.

However, the history of music streaming consumption has followed a similar spike to the rise of television at a much faster rate – could this be the nail in radio’s long-feared coffin?

The History of Music Streaming in the United States

The dawn of music streaming services began just two short decades ago.

In 1999, then-college student Shawn Fanning launched “Napster,” a service that allowed users to share music stored on their computers with one another over the internet, says Encyclopedia Britannica.

Just as the platformed peaked at 1.5 million users in 2001, it was forced to shut down after the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Napster didn’t constitute as fair use, as seen in the 2001 case summary of “A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc.”

Around the same time, Apple had just launched iTunes, which allowed users to import and organize audio files, easily create custom CDs, and listen to online radio.

Yet, it wouldn’t be until 2003 that iTunes would have a music store, and their music streaming service – Apple Music – didn’t launch until 2015.

Pandora hit the internet in 2005, followed by SoundCloud in 2007, Spotify in 2008, and the rest is history.

In 2005, music streaming accounted for 1 percent of the music industry’s revenue, Statista reports. In the last 13 years, it’s seen a 74 percent increase.

Radio v.s. Streaming: The Verdict

While streaming continues to boom, radio has yet to see a significant decline in reach, as seen in Pew Research Center’s data. Over the last decade, radio audiences have teetered around 90 percent of Americans over the age of 12, hitting a high of 93 percent in 2011 and a low of 89 percent in 2018.

The surge in music streaming isn’t a perfect comparison to the rise of television’s impact on the golden age of radio, but if history repeats itself, radio stations may coexist alongside music streaming services for a bit longer than researchers are anticipating.

Sure, it’s entirely possible that music streaming will replace radio broadcasting altogether in the future – especially if free “Spotify in the car” becomes a vehicle standard.

However, radio certainly isn’t dead yet, and despite reports of radio dying out by 2030, a sudden collapse of the radio industry doesn’t appear to be looming around the corner.

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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