A majority of air talent believe broadcast radio will be in good shape over the next five years. Six in ten (62%) radio personalities surveyed by Jacobs Media said AM/FM radio will “hold its own” in the next five years and 10% believe it will grow. “But three in ten are a little more skeptical,” Fred Jacobs said during a webinar Wednesday afternoon. Of them, 15% predict radio will “be in trouble” in five years and 13% say it will “go backwards.”

Similarly, more than two in three radio personalities say they currently are at their highest level or at a high level of passion for radio: 20% say their current passion level for the broadcast radio business is the highest while 48% indicated it was high. Just 17% said it was waning and 13% said they were neutral.

The data comes from AQ2, the second annual online study of on-air talent and producers at commercial radio stations in the U.S., conducted by Jacobs Media.

In another indicator that air talent are feeling good about their profession, almost two-thirds say the sound of radio is as good or better than it has ever been. Compared to the past couple years, 36% of respondents said the overall sound of AM/FM radio is the “same – sounds good,” while 27% checked the box “better than it used to be.” But with 28% selecting “worse than it used to be,” Jacobs noted that “we clearly have some difference of opinions here.”

In addition to general attitudes about the radio industry, the survey also inquired about how hosts feel about their life at the station. “We wanted to get a sense of who at the radio station do air talent count on for support,” Jacobs explained to webinar attendees. “We came up with a list of areas of support and asked air talent to give scores of excellent, good, fair or poor.”

The survey found that support is far more likely to come from co-hosts than from sales or corporate. Nearly half of air talent (45%) say they get excellent support from their co-host, 32% from their PD, 28% from women in general at the station and 27% from other members of the staff. “The least amount of perceived support inside radio companies is coming from the corporate side and the sales team,” Jacobs noted. Only 14% say they get “excellent” support from corporate brass and just 13% feel support from sales. “Millennials feel they are getting more support than their older counterparts,” Jacobs offered.

When it comes to the size of the company, medium-sized broadcast companies are the most desirable to work for. Survey takers were asked this question: “Knowing what you know now, if you were just starting out in the radio business, [what] type of company you would most like to work for?” Roughly four in ten (39%) picked a medium-sized company with a regional presence, followed by a big company with hundreds of stations (24%) and 15% picked a “mom & pop.” Keep in mind that nearly half of the sample (46%) currently works for a medium-sized company.

More Guidance Needed From Management

The survey also turned up a desire among air talent across all dayparts for more direction from their program director. Nearly four in ten (37%) said they are never airchecked, especially weekend hosts and overnighters and those working in diary markets. Among those who get them, aircheck sessions occur infrequently with 21% saying they happen a couple time a year, 13% weekly or more often, 11% every couple weeks and 11% monthly. “A large percentage of air talent aren’t getting a high level of guidance from their programmers and managers,” Jacobs observed.

In a similar vein, more than half (53%) say they often feel underappreciated by station management/ownership. But the number leaps to 63% among those who are never airchecked. “A lot of the data in the study screams for [programmers] to pay attention to the airstaff, knowing they feel underappreciated,” Jacobs said.

As stations employ fewer people, many report feeling angst and insecurity. Nearly six in ten (58%) feel that way, up from 55% in the 2018 survey.

The AQ2 survey underscored the importance of air talent being adept at social media skills. In fact, nothing scored higher among “very important skills for being successful on air” than social, selected by about two-thirds (65%) of the sample. But personalities feel they could do better work in this area with just one third (32%) rating themselves as having “excellent” social media skills. And while a clear majority agrees it’s important, more than one third (36%) feel social media takes time away from doing their shows, morning talent in particular. The belief that social media can be a time suck is a pretty common sentiment across different segments of air talent in the survey.

Radio’s Most Influential Personality

Who do today’s air talent look up to among their peers? Jacobs Media asked this as a write-in question – no multiple choice responses were given. Curiously, the top response is someone who hasn’t worked in broadcast radio for more than 13 years. By a country mile, SiriusXM Radio morning man Howard Stern is the most influential personality among men (32%), women (22%), Millennials (29%), Gen X (33%) and Boomers (25%). Rush Limbaugh came in first with 31% among spoken word hosts with Stern second at 21%. “By generation, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Millennial or Boomer, Howard Stern is still the No. 1 most influential air personality,” Jacobs said. KDWB Minneapolis morning man Dave Ryan came in second place with Millennials and Limbaugh was No. 2 with Boomers.

In other findings from AQ:

  • The majority of morning talent (66%) feel the vibe on their show is positive. But there’s more morning show “drama” on spoken word stations than on music stations.
  • Most radio personalities feel their station’s strategy and target audience are clear.
  • A majority says they are at least comfortable financially, but four in ten report they are in debt or struggling.
  • Nearly six in ten report at least some level of job stress, with personalities in diary markets and at music stations describing higher levels of stress than their counterparts in PPM markets and at spoken word stations.
  • Four in ten radio personalities have dated a listener, and some even married them.

The online study was sent via email from June 13-July 18 to the databases of Jacobs Media and “Jockline Daily,” augmented by “lots of word of mouth.” Of a total 1,035 responses, 988 were from commercial radio air personalities and 47 from commercial radio show producers in the U.S. More than eight in ten (82%) work on air fulltime, 14% part-time and 5% were producers. Among formats, 84% work in a music format while 11% for spoken word. Just over half work in markets 51+, 23% in markets 21-50 and 20% in top 20 markets. Nearly half (46%) work for a medium size company, 17% for a “mom & pop” outfit, 13% for a small company and 12% for “one of the big ones.”