I can remember it as clear as day, August 1st, 1981, there, playing in front of me on my TV was the Buggles song: “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Catchy as all hell, the song was made even more memorable because it was the first ever video to be played on MTV.
Lyrically you may not have got it on first listen, but the song had a rather darker and more serious connotation than its bubbly chorus would have had you believe. Clearly, the chorus was telling us that with the advent of this new music video format we would see the death of the radio star. But upon closer inspection, the song also says that music listeners everywhere would turn their backs on their favorite radio stations and would now exclusively start watching channels like MTV and the barrage of music video stations that were about to start appearing worldwide.
Let’s face it, MTV really did shake things up though. Pre-MTV meant that you only got your music fix from radio, late-night talk shows or perhaps, Saturday Night Live.
But with MTV’s “I want my MTV!” campaign, the channel very quickly built up a huge following and ended up breaking and showcasing artists from across the globe like Van Halen, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Ratt, The Police, and The Cars. It was new, exciting and everything that radio wasn’t.
Following the arrival of MTV there was not a single person in radio that didn’t fear the call to their station’s head office with the news, “Sorry, you’ve been great, but we’re streamlining and we’re thinking of doing a new format based on videos.” Now, that’s fine if you’re in your mid-20s and relatively good looking, but if you’ve been around the block and are fast-approaching middle age, then the prospect of being offered a job fronting a video show for ’the kids’ wasn’t realistic.
So, with every radio personality shaking in their boots, and every radio station executive looking to survive in the video age, the question was—were the Buggles right? Did video kill the radio star? I beg to differ, and here’s why.
On first look, you’ve only got to go to YouTube to see the sheer amount of video content available to the casual and business consumer. In fact, the total number of people who use YouTube is estimated at a staggering 1.3 billion viewers. There are over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute! And here’s the big one, almost 5 billion videos are watched on Youtube every single day. Those are crazy numbers when you take into consideration that the very first YouTube video was uploaded only 14 years ago on 23 April 2005. Also, you can make serious money via YouTube. The World’s highest-paid YouTube stars earned a combined total of $127 million in 2017. The highest individually paid Youtube partner is Daniel Middleton – DanTDM; his annual income reached a massive $16.5 million for 2017 alone. Clearly, YouTube is creating stars, too.
So, with all that information at hand, surely this next paragraph will explain the death of the old radio format and that it has suffered immeasurably, right? Well, no it hasn’t. In fact, it’s thriving. Satellite radio station Sirius XM recently released their number of subscribers reported by the radio company from the first quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of 2018. At the end of the last measured quarter, the company had approximately 33.49 million subscribers. You have to figure that this number will have surpassed 40 million by the end of 2019.
Even terrestrial radio is on the rise. According to Nielsen’s second-quarter 2017 Comparable Metrics Report, more Americans tune in to AM/FM radio than any other platform. What’s more, 93% of U.S. adults 18 and older listen to radio every week—that’s more than those watching television, using a smartphone, a TV-connected device, tablet or PC.
In fact, AM/FM radio is America’s top reach medium, giving it mass appeal among diverse audiences—across generations, ethnicities, and demographics. By generation, radio has the largest reach with Generation X (ages 35-54), with 80.5 million listeners tuning during an average month (97% of the Gen X population). This number is followed by Millennials (18-34-year-olds), with 71.6 million listeners tuning in monthly (95% of the Millennial population). Meanwhile, radio reaches 41.2 million monthly listeners among Baby Boomers (ages 55-64), representing 98% of the Baby Boomer population.
Another non-video format is on the rise: podcasting. The current estimate is that there are over 660,000 podcasts. With the growth of audio podcasts growing daily, check out the breakdown of how and why below:
(Credit: Nielsen Q3 2017 Podcast Insights)
70% of the US population is familiar with the term “podcasting” – up from 64% in 2018.
- 50% of all US homes are podcast fans (Nielsen, Aug 2017)
- 51% (144 million) of the US population has listened to a podcast – up from 44% in 2018.
- 32% (90 million) listened to a podcast in the last month – up from 26% in 2018.
- 22% (62 million) listen to podcasts weekly – up from 17% in 2018.
- 16 million people in the US are “avid podcast fans” (Nielsen Q1 2018
- 56% of podcast listeners are Male
- 45% of monthly podcast listeners have household income over $75K – vs 35% for the total population
- 27% of US podcast listeners have a 4-year college degree – vs 19% for US pop
- 36% of podcast listeners are non-white – vs 30% in 2010 (Nielsen, Aug 2017)
So, to answer the question I posed at the head of this article, “Did Video Really Kill the Radio Star?” I have to answer irrevocably: No!!!
In the end, even MTV had to realize that the video only format had to end. The station even changed from a 24-7 music channel to reality TV, a change by the way that eventually saved MTV, but at the same time signaled the end to 24-7 music video programming.
In today’s world filled with smartphones and gadgets that offer instant gratification, the phrase ‘adapt or die’ comes to mind. Radio and the genre of spoken-word did just that, they adapted.