The share of spoken words in ALL audio listening continues to grow. It’s good news. According to Edison Research, it has increased by 40% over the past seven years. More good news. Where this listening is coming from is a trend that should scare all talk radio stations.

Spoken word listener growth comes from podcasting

Younger and diverse audiences are driving much of the increase in listening to spoken audio content. More and more, they are enjoying this content via podcasts. Tom Webster and Marshall Williams highlighted a nugget in a recent Edison/Ad Results Media presentation on the “Super Listeners 2021” podcast focused on the whopping 116% increase in speech listening among 13-24 year olds over the same seven-year period.

According to Edison, listening to podcasts is more than double the time 13-24 year olds listen to spoken audio. Simply put, young spoken word listeners seek out and find valuable content beyond AM/FM radio.

While the trend of podcast listening among spoken word listeners aged 13+ is very clear, so is the impact of satellite radio, streaming and audiobooks. This is the “other” column in the table below.

AM/FM radio owned the category seven years ago. But looking at the past year, less than half of speech audio listening is on the radio dial. Even with a pandemic and a heated election cycle in 2020, the radio format, which leans heavily toward conservative politics, has largely failed to grow viewership in the crucial adult 25-54 demo.

According to news consultant Gabe Hobbs, 8 out of 10 stations saw a drop from 25 to 54 in 2020. Even consumption among older listeners (adults 35-64) has not increased. All of the gains came primarily from current listeners spending more time tuning in.

At 56, talk radio has the oldest median listener age of any major format in the United States and is arguably significantly older in many individual markets. The biggest names in talk radio are following the format’s demo closely, with Sean Hannity at 60 and Glenn Beck just behind at 58. Many other legacy hosts are certainly on the AARP mailing list. It certainly doesn’t help that many talk radio stations are on the dying AM radio band, complicating the problem of attracting young listeners.

More listeners get their news via podcasts

Another area worth focusing on is the growth in the number of people getting news from podcasts. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in July 2021, about a quarter of Americans “sometimes” or “often” get news from podcasts. Moving down, you’ll find more than one in three adults aged 18-29 (33%) say they get news from podcasts, and adults aged 30-49 only show a few percentages below 29 %. All of this is happening at the same time that many talk radio stations, which historically relied on news coverage to attract listeners, have eased off with a reduction in news staff. Many news broadcasts originate not from the station’s hometown, but from regional hubs.

Content Variety Drives Podcast Growth

Talk radio is aware of its declining audience and the anemic development of young listeners. Some have taken steps to combat the problem. A handful of encouraging migrations from podcasting to broadcasting come to mind, such as the Cumulus Media syndication of Ben Shapiro, 38, via Westwood One. Before migrating to commercial radio, Ben started with a successful podcast. Dan Bongino had a podcast and now has a very successful podcast and syndicated radio show. Rush Limbaugh, who died a year ago at 70, was replaced by Buck Sexton and Clay Travis, two hosts in their 40s.

While this is welcome news, both essentially replicate the narrow appeal of political content already present on these radio stations, while 13-34 year olds seem to seek out topics beyond conservative discourse.