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Lee Ann Jackson “Podcasting: Is it the New Radio?”

Podcasting: Is it the New Radio?

Marking three decades in the Christian radio industry, I’ve seen a lot of changes -reel to satellite distribution, the advent of the internet and, the impact of Social Media. 

Thirty years later and the changes are also seen in the audio sector as the modes of delivery in the U.S. are split: traditional terrestrial (AM/FM) radio and digital formats, such as online radio and podcasting. 

As podcasting continues to proliferate, many of us in the traditional radio industry are watching closely.  As such, I was glad to attend the largest podcast gathering in the nation – the Podcasting Movement Conference in Orlando in August to learn the “latest” about the growing platform.

In a key note conference address, Tom Webster, Edison Research Senior VP, shared that there are over 750,000 podcasts today. This year’s Infinite Dial report showed continued growth for podcasting. Most notable, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital, listening to podcasts became a majority behavior with 51% of respondents 12 and over.  That would project out to about 144 million nationwide!

As podcast listening numbers boast such high figures, many in our industry may begin to wonder, “is podcasting the new radio?” 

Not quite.

Radio listenership numbers are just as impressive.  American adults who tune into radio each week is 92%.  That’s more than any other platform measured by Nielsen (Source:  Nielsen Total Audience Reports; Q1 2019 Report)!

As the comparison between the two platforms was a point of dialogue on session panels, it was the topic on their differences that seemed to be more the notable convention buzz. 

Consider these three ways the platforms differ:

  1. Mass or Niche

For the most part, the objective of radio shows is to hit on a wide range of mass appeal topics – this could be anything from sports, celebrity news, and general interest topics. I remember from my time on the team of the Rick Dee’s morning show on KIIS FM, our format included a handful of hosts discussing popular subjects ranging from working moms to Monday night football scores. Our listening audience ranged in age and interest so, our on-air content had to do the same.

On the other hand, podcasts try to appeal to a more niche audience, due to their focus on individual topics.  As Seth Resler, Online Strategist for Broadcasters and Digital Dot Connector for Jacobs Media, has noted, podcasts are not limited by station format or geographic reach as radio is, (automatically limiting audience reach by two factors), so they can focus on specific niches.

Tim Street, Authentic, VP of Influence and Production, shared about podcast content, in his session, Grow Your Audience,

“Create content your listeners can’t get anywhere else.” 

While theoretically this is an important goal on either platform, podcasting does give way to more freedom to share more unique content than the radio platform . . . one key factor in this equation is the clock.

  1. By the Clock . . . Or Not

Unlike a radio show, a podcast doesn’t have to time out to a specific length nor does it have to meet breaks at specified times.

Phil Becker, Alpha Media, Executive Vice President of Content noted in the Podcast Movement session, Radio Leaders on their Podcasting Strategies, that with a podcast, you can make your episodes as long as short as you want,

“So, if you have tons of compelling content, you don’t have to worry about not being able to include it all.”

In the same session, Sheryl Worsley, KSL Podcasts/Bonneville, Director of Audience Development reflected on how podcasts provide an opportunity to do a story arc over several episodes.  She also noted an added value to the podcasting platform is that

“Relationship building is stronger because you have more time.”

  1. Surfing the Dial or Subscribing

Podcasts, as accessed by most consumers, are things that listeners “opt in” to.

Unlike radio “surfing” and searching for content you want to hear, podcast listeners are intentional about seeking out and finding content they want.   Once they find it, they commit to the podcasts by subscribing.  Opting-in results in a different relationship between the content creator and the audience . . . you know the content you want is waiting for you when you’re ready to hear it and, it’s exactly what you wanted.

Steve Goldstein, CEO, Amplifi Media, says it best,

“Radio is lean back. Podcasts are lean forward.”

He notes that radio is great at curation – putting together a sportscast, sequencing music, generating newscasts with correspondents from all over the world. Push the button and radio does it all. Podcasts, on the other hand, are “opt-in.” Consumers must find and then choose to download a podcast. The intent is very different.

Podcasting and traditional radio share similar characteristics and yet, are unique in each of their platforms and, those differences go beyond the fact that they are different distribution technologies.   Goldstein refers to the differences between the two as “unique idiosyncrasies.” 

Here’s what the Podcast Movement conference sessions confirmed: both mediums are reaching audiences with a trajectory pointing to continued growth. 

Is podcasting the new radio?  The better question for those of us in the traditional radio industry actually is, “Are we using podcasting to extend our reach and engage the potential audience we might be missing on radio?”


Lee Ann Jackson is the Social Media Manager/Senior Marketing Strategist at the Ambassador Advertising Agency. In a 28 year tenure at the agency, Lee Ann has represented nationally recognized non-profit organizations such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Focus on the Family and Joni and Friends.  Lee Ann serves as a marketing and social media strategist creating national media campaigns for organizations with primary emphasis on radio placement, on-air promotion and integration of social media strategies.  Lee Ann’s career has involved international travel to participate in radio agency vision casting in Ecuador and lead Social/Digital Media Conferences in Ukraine and Cairo with MEDIAlliance. A fluent Spanish speaker, Lee Ann received her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with International Relations emphasis from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1989 and is currently enrolled in the Rutger’s Business School Mini-MBA Social Media Marketing Certification program. Reach Lee Ann at LJackson@AmbassadorAdvertising.com

Ambassador has over 50 years of experience serving non-profit radio broadcast organizations in marketing, production, audio distribution as well as creative development, and consulting on communication strategies which include social and digital media.

4 thoughts on “Lee Ann Jackson “Podcasting: Is it the New Radio?”

  • Every point is spot on, Lee Ann.

    The challenge with any rising media platform is not just with reading the signs but more importantly, knowing when to respond with changes in operations.

    Time is no longer our friend it would seem.

    As you note, the “51% of Americans (12 or older) Have Listened to a Podcast” is significant. It very likely represents the tipping point. As others point out, when a majority of the country is in favor of something, adoption usually picks up speed.

    And then there is this… Between 2020-2022, it’s estimated that 75% of new cars will be “connected” to digital services, breaking radio’s monopoly on the car dashboard.

    It’s not too hard to see how these two trends can converge. Last December Pandora (already on the dashboard of new cars) entered the podcast market with hundreds of podcasts and a wide variety of genres.

    Radio has a strong foundation, but it needs to leverage its great strengths and invest in compelling digital content and services. It appears that the time for pulling the trigger has arrived.

    Podcast infographic: https://musicoomph.com/podcast-statistics/

    • Thank you, Gordon! Appreciate your insights – valued perspective from a forward thinking radio industry veteran! Great quote: “Radio has a strong foundation, but it needs to leverage its great strengths and invest in compelling digital content and services.”

  • Good report, Lee Ann.

    • Thank you, Bill – excited to keep an eye on podcasting as it continues to evolve and with it, how our role, as Christian radio communicators, should follow suit . . . or take a lead!


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