CRS Nuvoodoo panelists

Smart Speakers are replacing non-car radios, especially among younger listeners. And with fewer people commuting — and more expecting to work from home when the pandemic ends — streaming strategies are more important than ever for country radio. Those are among the findings of NuVoodoo’s “The Road Forward” research presentation at CRS last week.

The presentation by NuVoodoo’s Leigh Jacobs and Carolyn Gilbert combined results from two studies, a qualitative one and a quantitative one, done between November 2020 and January 2021 and representing 3,100 people who considered themselves fans of “the latest country” or “country from the last 10 years.”

Among their findings: 18-34s use smart speakers more than non-car radios, and only 45-54s are generally more connected to over-the-air (OTA) FM. While Jacobs noted that “FM over-the-air and FM streaming can be a potent combo,” Gilbert added, “It’s really time to ride the horse in the direction it’s going, and we should acknowledge we should be using streaming to keep us in the game.”

OTA FM listening still leads in the car, but digital service providers like Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music and Pandora dominate everywhere else.

“In every other place we asked about — at work, outside the home, working at home, various rooms around the home — streaming of FM stations gets as much attention as a regular radio,” Jacobs said.

Current country music has positive momentum, in terms of how fans perceive it. DSPs have the edge, though, when it comes both to introducing new artists and the expectation that they will play more songs listeners love than FM radio.

However, Gilbert said, “FM is far from done, and we can do more to offer positive reinforcement to smart-speaker behavior.” That includes promotions, marketing and contests.

Whether it’s the blend of eras they prefer or the balance of songs by male country artists and female country artists, male listeners tend to think country radio has it about right. That’s less the case with female listeners: 56% of women responded they’d like a 50/50 balance of male and female artists, but only 49% said that’s what they got from the station they listened to most.

“Bottom line: Men are fine with the balance; it’s women who perceived a bit of a difference,” Gilbert said.

While country radio loses to DSPs on music delivery expectations, the study said, strong hosts and a feeling of community continue to generate a lot of love for FM country.

“The non-music elements, the things that help attach a station to the listener in the community, are all the more important in 2021,” Gilbert said. “It’s got to be more than the music.

“We have to focus on content and talent. It’s what we have that the DSPs can’t possibly match.”