The State Of American In-Car Audio: AM/FM Still King Of The Road!

November 4, 2015 By Pierre Bouvard

This week in Detroit, radio and auto industry insiders will convene for one of the most innovative conferences: “DASH 3.0 Radio & The Connected Car: A Survival Guide For Radio Broadcasters.” This event is the brainchild of Paul and Fred Jacobs, founders of Jacobs Media, and is presented by Radio Ink. The agenda is stellar:

    • Mark LaNeve, Ford’s VP of marketing and sales, has a session entitled “Digital Marketing: Its Rapid Growth and How It’s Transforming the Way We Go to Market.”
    • Coming innovations in the connected car will be revealed by General Motors’ Kevin Squibb, who leads General Motors’ global connected consumer field sales and operations.
    • “Fasten Your Seat Belts: Here Come Apple and Android” presented by consultant and former Ford executive John Ellis, will detail Apple’s and Google’s plans for the car.
    • Podcasting and on-demand audio will be represented with many content players and distribution platforms.
    • J.D. Power presents a study entitled, “I wanted it, but now I’m not so sure,” which reveals not all consumers actually use their feature-rich connected car entertainment systems.
    • Car dealers will describe how their advertising needs are changing and what consumers want in their in-car entertainment systems.

The team here at Westwood One has been asked to present the current state of American in-car audio usage. We turned to Edison Research’s “Share of Ear,” the gold standard quarterly study of how American’s use audio, to determine in-car listening trends. These findings are from Edison’s just released Q3 2015 “Share of Ear” study.

Here are our five key findings.

1. In-car audio is huge. Americans spend one hour and 14 minutes a day listening to audio in the car. Nearly one-third of all audio time spent occurs in the car.

2. The “big three” audio platforms persist. Almost all (97%) of in-car audio time spent still goes to AM/FM, SiriusXM, and consumer’s personal music collection. Only 3% of in-car audio time spent goes to emerging audio content (e.g. podcasting, streaming, etc).

3. AM/FM is “king of the road.” Seventy-two percent of all in-car audio time spent goes to AM/FM. SiriusXM has a 14% share followed by consumer’s personal music (11%). Despite all the cool streaming apps now available in the car, only 2% of time spent listening in the car goes to steaming. One reason could be consumers are wary of using their phone data for in-car streaming.

4. Most AM/FM tuning occurs away from home; most listening to streaming occurs at home. According to Nielsen, two-thirds of all AM/FM time spent occurs away from home. Per Edison, 68% of all streaming time spent occurs at home.

Perhaps the use case for streaming is a “lean back” experience of at-home background mood music. AM/FM’s personalities, news, information, and entertainment is more of a “lean forward,” engaged use case, more suited for away from home.

5. AM/FM in-car reach trends are stable. According to Nielsen, over the last five years, three-quarters of all Americans are consistently reached by AM/FM in the car.


While the promise of the connected car and its consumer applications burns bright, the state of the American in-car experience is firmly based on AM/FM with mass reach (76% of all Americans) and huge in-car shares of time spent (72%). AM/FM is the king of the road.

Pierre Bouvard is CMO of Cumulus Media | Westwood One

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