Has Radio Lost the College Grads?

Throughout the long Democratic Primary season, one of the most consistent differences between voters for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has been by education. As the Exit Polls that our company, Edison Media Research, performs for the television networks and the Associated Press have shown, Obama has won convincingly among those who have graduated from college, while Clinton has taken the vote of those who have less than a college education.
Looking at these numbers has led me to learn more about the differences between these two large groups.

A general sense for the differences is summarized in this paragraph that ran recently in The New York Times:
“The college educated and non-college educated are likely to live in different towns. They have radically different divorce rates and starkly different ways of raising their children. The non-college educated not only earn less, they smoke more, grow more obese and die sooner.”
And it turns out there is another big difference: The college-educated listen to vastly less radio than those who have not graduated from college.
In the Spring of 2007, if one aggregates all of Arbitron’s diary markets (essentially the whole country except for Philadelphia and Houston), the weekly listening was as follows:
Not a College Grad: 18 hours 45 minutes
College Grad: 15 hours 45 minutes
Incredibly, I’ve never seen this talked about before, despite the fact that it has been possible to find this data all along. But this finding actually understates the difference. That’s because the ‘non-college-grad’ group includes all the teenagers, who have always given significantly less Time Spent Listening (TSL) to radio. So look at the numbers if we look at listening among 25-54 year olds:
Not a College Grad: 21 Hours 15 minutes
College Grad: 15 hours 45 minutes
Wow. As you can see in Figure 1, below, college grads listen to five and one-half fewer hours of radio per week, on average, than those who have not attained a college education.
Figure 1


Looking even more deeply at the data shows the source of the difference by location. Interestingly the biggest source of the difference is at-work. Again, among 25-54 year olds, on average college graduates only listen to about 5.5 hours per week at work; non-graduates listen at work way more: 9.5 hours. Non-grads also listen 50% more than grads do at-home. It’s only in-car where the two groups are equal (and actually they are to the decimal point).

OK. So we’ve seen that there is an enormous difference in total radio listening depending on whether you have graduated college. But now, as would Emeril, let me kick it up another notch. I obtained the ratings among the college grads in San Francisco – just as one example:
25-54 San Francisco share College Grads (four book average Spring ’07-Winter ’08):
KQED (Public Radio): 11.1
KFOG (Eclectic Rock): 6.2
KOIT (Soft Adult Contemporary): 4.9
Once again: Wow. KQED is five points clear of the field, and has the same share as the next two stations combined. And as we know, the public stations, with their Morning Edition/All Things Considered tent poles, are doing great numbers among college grads in pretty much every market in the country.
The significance of these numbers simply cannot be overstated. What this means is that if you combine the differential in total weekly listening with the fact that quite a lot of listening among college grads is going to Public Radio – you see that the difference in listening to commercial radio is enormous. Simply stated, college grads are now accounting for only a small minority of total commercial radio listening.
There are some obvious strategic directions that a radio station could take based on this information. The most clear would be to isolate the location with the most importance – at-work listening by non-college grads. There is more listening to be gained by targeting at-work among non-grads than any other ‘location by education’ cell.
The other direction one could consider would be for those stations that do perform well among the college-educated to start promoting the rankings among this group. While I know stations do use qualitative to sell, I’ve not heard of stations positioning around delivering high numbers of college grads and their incomes.
But I don’t want to camouflage the most essential question here: Why exactly is the portion of America that has graduated from college listening to so much less radio; and in particular to so little commercial radio?
Is it that the programming available from commercial radio is just not appealing enough to college graduates? Has our programming simply chased college grads away from the dial? Or is it that college graduates just have less time available for radio listening and more income to buy replacements like iPods and Satellite Radio, and it is not a function of the programming?
We will be releasing more data from our Internet & Multimedia studies that will help to give us a sense for why this phenomenon exists. The industry as a whole needs to start thinking about why college grads consume so much less radio, and what, if anything, can be done about it.

17 replies
  1. Jim Robinson
    Jim Robinson says:

    KQED, KFOG and KOIT are kind of like apples and oranges, Larry. I’d like to see a comparison between adult music stations, i.e., KEXP, KMTT and KRWM in Seattle.

  2. Tim Camp
    Tim Camp says:

    Could it possibly be that the dumbing down of radio and it’s formats have everything to do with this.
    College educated people I talk to feel there is never anything compelling on the radio to make then listen.
    Their attitude seems to be, “been there, done that”, “it’s just more of the same over and over isn’t it”.
    Some diversity, done with some intelligence is what will bring these people back to radio.

  3. Radio Marketing Director
    Radio Marketing Director says:

    Mr. Camp.
    Please enlighted us with your ideas for, “Some diversity, done with some intelligence is what will bring these people back to radio.”
    The reason we all “dumb down” radio is because THAT IS WHO ARBITRON USES FOR IT’S RATINGS DATA. Fish where the fish are my friend. If Arbitron is going to use dumb people to compile the ratings that drive our spot rates that ultimately put paychecks in the bank for us.

  4. Dan Vallie
    Dan Vallie says:

    I love this information. There is so much more to know, more questions to be answered before any conclusions. I would also like to see this same kind of information on tv, regarding consumption and types of shows and see what kind of disparity there is between radio and tv with college and non college. It seems having information on both radio and tv would give us an even better picture.

  5. George
    George says:

    If the title is “Has Radio Lost College Grads,” your study needs to compare the current figures with those from the past. Just presenting current figures is no indication that a change has taken place.
    The other thing to consider is the kind of work non-college grads do. Non-college grads are car mechanics, hair stylists, restaurant workers, and retail clerks. In all cases, the radio is played in the workplace. Office workers take meetings, write reports, and visit clients. I don’t know any college grads who have the time to listen to radio during the day, or are even allowed to do it by their employer.
    I think this report makes a nice headline and a nice press release, but doesn’t mean much. Changing radio isn’t going to cause people who aren’t allowed to listen to radio at work to defy their employers.

  6. Jerry Chomyn
    Jerry Chomyn says:

    There may be some validity to the “dumbing down” argument. In Canada the continued success of the public broadcaster may provide valuable evidence. Radio needs to do a little more industry market research. We need to know who is listening/who is not and why. The worst thing to do is to bury one’s head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening. One can fish where the fish are but why not look at another fishing hole that may contain more fish?

  7. John Cowan
    John Cowan says:

    Larry, to a large degree the Spanish Preferece households are probably driving these numbers. They have about 3 to 4 more hours of weekly TSL and they are becoming a more dominate percentage of the radio market. I suggest you either isolate Spanish Language stations or Spanish Preference diaries and rerun the results without them. There will still be a differnce, but nothing like the disparity you have reported.

  8. Bob Bellin
    Bob Bellin says:

    I think George’s points are correct, so the most actionable info from this study may be for media planners – that M-F 9A-5P is not the best time to reach college grads.
    It could make more sense to plan radio buys that target college grads/upscale listeners when they’re listening and resist the temptation to bring more expensive dayparts in with midday, despite the raw numbers.

  9. George
    George says:

    “Simply stated, college grads are now accounting for only a small minority of total commercial radio listening.”
    Once again, you’re saying “..now accounting for…” as compared to what?
    If they are now accounting for a small minority, show me a time when those numbers were higher.
    And then lets look deeper at college grads, what percentage of the population they were then vs. now, and where they have gone.
    That’s why I say this study and its title are both very misleading.

  10. Larry Rosin
    Larry Rosin says:

    Since I published this article in Radio & Records noting the difference in listening between college grads and non-college grads, I have been rightfully asked the following question: “Has it always been this way?” So I looked at the diary data from the sample of diarykeepers from our longstanding series of studies with Arbitron.
    In 1998: Non-College Grads ages 25-54 listened to an average of 102 Quarter-Hours per week
    College Grads ages 25-54 listened to an average of 86 Quarter-Hours per week
    In 2008: Non-College Grads ages 25-54 listened to an average of 100 Quarter-Hours per week
    College Grads ages 25-54 listened to an average of 70 Quarter-Hours per week
    In addition, the portion of 25-54s that are College graduates increased from 33% of 25-54s to 41% of 25-54s.
    What does this mean? That nearly all the 25-54 losses in TSL over the last decade are coming from college grads. The Non-grads are listening virtually the same amount.
    For what it’s worth, I also looked at today’s 35-64s– in other words the same cohort of people as the 25-54s were in 1998. And the data showed the same thing — significant decreases only among the college grads.
    Data from Public Radio shows that listening to non-commercial stations has grown significantly during the 1998-2008 era. So indeed, commercial radio is now accounting for significantly less total listening among College Grads than it did in the past.
    There are, as I said in the initial article, doubtlessly many explanations for these changes. We will continue to explore them.

  11. Bob Walker
    Bob Walker says:

    Larry –
    Have you ever seen similar data on network TV viewing – and a college education? I am talking about the “big 4” networks – no pay TV or cable channels.
    A radio user told me recently that radio had become reality TV without the pictures (she was not offering this as praise for our medium).

  12. Tom Zarecki
    Tom Zarecki says:

    This is fascinating research revealed at long last. Live the other astute comments above me, I’d also love to see more of the iceberg uncovered.
    But frankly, is this really rocket science?
    The answer: no, it is not.
    We’ve long known, or at least suspected, that NPR’s tent pole programs (ME and ATC) pulled the higher-educated, for numerous reasons, the most basic of which is that those shows are long-form programming.
    And, of course, we know that long form radio shows (unlike TV infomercials) bring in fewer of the lesser educated, because, um…the show is too long!
    Commercial radio, by its very uber-competitive nature, goes for the highest cumes, and that means lowest common denominator audience.
    But it’s not fair to say people who are not college grads are dumb, come on now, that’s too easy a target and a stereotype.
    It just means that there are more NON-college grads than college grads in every market, and who do commercial radio broadcasters want to reach most? Where the most people are.
    Thanks for this illuminating study…so far. I’d still love to see more of this info disseminated.

  13. Tom Zarecki
    Tom Zarecki says:

    And oh yeah, wouldn’t a good strategic move be to target college grads who are listening ONLINE, instead of on terrestrial FM/AM?
    With more content to insert every hour (because so many online spot slots remain unfilled), programmers should consider creating additional content to reach this specific target.

  14. George
    George says:

    Thanks for the comparison information.
    No big surprise. I know my workload has increased during the past ten years, and I share my time with many more devices than I did in 1998.
    While non-college grads probably still live under the traditional 8-hour day/5 day work week. That disappeared for me about 6 years ago.
    I doubt very much there’s any thing that anyone in radio can do about my availability to listen to more radio.

  15. Bob Christy
    Bob Christy says:

    I locked into NPR because of WBUR’s (Boston) coverage of the Brookline Clinic shootings, it was head and shoulders above anything the commercial stations in Boston did.
    Many of my friends outside of radio are NPR listeners. (BTW, they are almost all college grads.)
    There is some genuine talent on NPR, they don’t play to the lowest common denominator (they get great Arbitron numbers, Dan!) and there is the refreshing lack of hype. I like the fact that NPR spends time on a subject, looks under rocks for interesting stories, introduces me to new books, ideas and people. There was some discussion a few years ago about whether a format exists between NPR and commercial news talk. It would have to be so radically diffferent than anything commercial broadcasters are doing now that I can’t imagine anyone trying to do it.
    Bob Christy

  16. Bryce
    Bryce says:

    This article was very well written. I agree in that I find it very interesting to know that until your article this was not looked at. Although an abundance of statistics and information about radio is easy to get, very few do. I am currently a college student, and I would have to say unlike what the mainstream media says college students listen to, I am one of the students that streams terrestrial radio through my PC daily. It goes to show how the mainstream media has put radio on the back burner. Some friends and I however are currently working on a project that we aim to change that.
    -Bryce Clemmer
    Online Radio Redefined


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