Reality Check! Is Radio Advertising Dead?


  • Despite of a slow growth and low contribution to advertising industry, radio advertising is popular among the masses.
  • According to a survey by Nielsen, radio comes across as the 2nd most accessed media, the most trusted media as well as most emotionally connected media.
  • When it comes to incremental reach for advertising, radio is one of the most effective media.


One of the biggest media events that occurred in 2019 was the launch of Spotify India. With the entry of Spotify, the competition among the audio OTT platforms has increased manifold. But amid this chaos, what about our good old radio?

With more and more people opting for smartphones and connecting to the Internet with the help of cheap and fast data connection, has radio lost its sheen? And if it has, what is the implication for radio advertisers? Should they move on to other platforms like audio OTTs? We would take a closer look at this question in the article.

Growth of Radio as an industry in India

Radio industry in India
Figure 1: Advertising Industry Size in India
Source: KPMG India’s Media & Entertainment Report 2019

If we look at the performance of various advertising media over the course of the last 5 years, radio exhibits the slowest growth after print. In India, radio advertising is contributing about 3-4% as compared to 8-9% globally.

Looking at the data above, should we assume that radio advertising is going to be dead soon?

Last year, Nielsen conducted a survey among Indian listeners in metros and non-metros to gauge the popularity and effect of radio. Based on the findings, we emphasize on some pointers that make us believe radio has a long way to go in India when it comes to mass connect and advertising.

Radio- One of the most trusted medium

When people in metros, as well as non-metros, were asked about their trust and emotional connect with media platforms, radio emerged as one of the most trusted and emotionally connected media. 

trust factor of various media in india
Figure 2: Perception of Various Media- Trust (Metro vs Non-Metro)
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen
Emotional connection with various media in India
Figure 3: Perception of Various Media- Emotional (Metro vs Non-Metro)
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen

The survey results show that when it comes to trust and emotional connection, radio is the preferred medium for the population in both metros and non-metros. It is on par and sometimes more favored than television.

  • Radio is a mass media still appear to be personalized since conversations happen on the radio is often two-way, i.e. Between RJs and audience.
  • We can see the trust factor, as well as the emotional connect, is higher in metro cities as compared to non-metro cities. The reason can be a higher number of private FM stations in metros that have prominent RJs that are more than program anchors. They are the new-age influencers whose popularity transcends their radio show duration.

Radio- A true companion

  1. In both metros and non-metros, Radio is the 2nd most accessed media with listeners tuning in to radio 5 days a week.
  2. In metros, people mostly listen to the radio while out of home, mostly commuting, on their mobile sets.
  3. In non-metros, people mostly listen to the radio while at home, mostly doing household chores.
Most accessed media in metro cities
Figure 4: Most Accessed Media in Metro Cities
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen
Most accessed media in non metro cities
Figure 5: Most Accessed Media in Non-Metro Cities
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen
  • In metros, radio is not the most frequently consumed media owing to strong competition from the Internet but it records higher time spent as compared to other media due to the radio being the preferred media during commute/work.
  • In non-metros, radio is the most frequently consumed media after TV owing to less usage of the Internet.
devices used to access radio in India
Figure 6: Device Used to Access Radio
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen
  • While listeners in metros often use their phones to access radio, listeners in non-metros also use their own radio sets to access radio.
  • A significant number of the audience (20%) listens to the radio while on public transport in case of metros.
Location while Accessing Radio
Figure 7: Location while Accessing Radio
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen
  • In the case of metros, people like listening to the radio while commuting owing to long distances between home and workplace as well as traffic jams.
  • In the case of non-metros, people prefer listening to the radio while at home/college or office.
Activities while Accessing Radio
Figure 8: Activities while Accessing Radio
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen
  • Only 7% of listeners in metros actively listen to the radio as compared to 17% in non-metros.
  • 63% of listeners in metro cities listen to the radio while they are out of home as compared to 43% in non-metros.
  • Both in metro and non-metros, more than 70% audience listens to the radio while relaxing.

Radio- An effective advertising medium

Radio is an effective advertising medium when used as the base medium as well as when used for incremental reach above TV or newspaper especially for the categories Government, Real Estate, Banking, and Automobile.

advertising effectiveness of radio
Figure 9: Ad Effectiveness of Radio
Source: Power of Radio: A Report by Nielsen

Challenges faced by Radio in India

Currently, radio is a growing medium in the urban areas of the country. There are a number of macro factors that have stunted a consistent and high growth for radio. Some of the most important ones are:

  • Delay in the next batch of Phase III auctions that would have witnessed a massive growth in private FM channels in tier 2 and 3 cities.
  • A shift in the reserve price strategy from population size to the market potential of the city.
  • Restriction in broadcasting news except re-broadcasting the AIR news.
  • The decrease in the minimum required space between two radio stations.

Right now, there’s a limited number of radio channels in each city. For example, there are only 9 radio channels in Mumbai as compared to 45 radio stations in New York. This places a lot of pressure on radio stations in the metro cities.

The average ad rate per sec on a private FM channel in metros goes as high as INR 60. The average ad duration per hour for a private FM channel in metros is about 18-24 minutes during non-peak months and goes up to 30 minutes during the festive season.

This sometimes leads to the disenchantment of the audience and shift to uncluttered environments like audio OTT platforms.

In non-metro cities, the number of channels is very low and so are the radio ad rates. The average ad duration per hour is also limited to 8-10 minutes. What this also means is a big room for growth for radio advertising in non-metro cities.

The Road Ahead- Transformation of Radio in India

Radio is one of the most popular media in India. It has a mass reach, deep into the remotest part of the country too. When it comes to cities and towns with private FM channels, radio is more than a source of music and entertainment. They are the eyes and ears of the city.

  • RJs of these radio stations are brands in themselves. Apart from engaging their audience on-air during their shows, they also engage with people through their social media handles. Radio is no more uni-directional.
  • Radio is not limited to playing songs on request but has moved ahead to capture the voice of citizens.
  • The popularity of radio can be estimated by the fact that a number of Bollywood celebrities like Karan Johar, Kareena Kapoor, Vidya Balan have their own shows on the radio now.

As an advertiser, what is your opinion about radio advertising? Do you see it as an effective functional advertising medium or a dead medium? Let us know in the comments.


  1. KPMG India’s Media and Entertainment Report 2019
  2. Power of Radio- A Study by Nielsen
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