The new issue of Rolling Stone now on newsstands features “40 Reasons To Be Excited About Music.” Though I might argue with a lot of the reasons (Black Eyed Peas are reason #1?!), I’m pretty convinced by #40: “Because You Really Like Music.” One of the factoids backing up that claim is the breakdown of how surveyed readers say they listen to music.
Out of eight formats FM radio comes in at a very respectable third place, with 59% of readers saying they listen to it for music. That comes behind 87% of readers who listen to CDs and 72% who listen to legal downloads (readers could choose all the formats they listen to). Satellite radio comes much further down the list at #7 behind cable TV, vinyl records and illegal downloads, surpassing only online subscription services. There aren’t a lot of details given, so I don’t know if Pandora or last.fm are considered online subscription services or if they’re lumped in with “legal downloads.” Also missing from the list is online radio; maybe that’s part of “legal downloads,” too?
Admittedly, at this point in history Rolling Stone doesn’t have a reputation for being at the cutting edge of music or technology. But with a circulation of 1.4 million the magazine isn’t fringe either. A 20-something Pitchfork reading indie rocker might think of a Rolling Stone reader as an aging boomer willing to pay $200 a seat for Eagles tickets, but the mag’s actual demographics show a reader’s median age to be 31, with 63% having at least some college education. So we can’t assume that the average RS reader is necessarily behind the times, as is also evidenced by the fact that 72% of readers listen to legal downloads.
All this goes to show that radio hasn’t yet been abandoned by rock music fans, like the Rolling Stone readership. Then again, 59% does not indicate a medium at its peak. I haven’t been able to track down any similar stats from an earlier year, if in fact RS has conducted such a survey before. But I reckon the percentage of radio listeners ten years ago would have been much closer to CD listeners.
What this tells me is that music radio still has a chance to hang on to listeners, and maybe even grow a bit. But I think it’s clear that the direction of commercial (and, unfortunately, some noncommercial) radio towards tighter playlists, national programming and strict, homogenized formats will not do anything to aid this cause. I’d love to see a breakdown of what kind of radio the Rolling Stone readers listen to, but alas I don’t think they asked that question.
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