Driving on the wane

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Car RadioThe Associated Press, citing Federal Highway Administration figures, says that the total miles driven by Americans during the first half of 2013 declined compared to those driven the year previous. The numbers going back to 2007 point to a cultural shift away from personal vehicles, or, as they are seen by the radio industry, the primary venue of program delivery.


According to the study, the Great Recession of 2007 reversed a long-term period of steady driving growth and made August of that year the peak. After a sharp drop, total mileage is said to have plateaued or declined, despite improvements in the economy and an ever-increasing population.

However, the downward trend dates back further than that – miles driven per driver actually reached its peak more than three years earlier, in July 2004.

Most significantly, younger demographics are placing less importance on having a driver’s license. Jennifer Lane of Audio4cast noted that two-thirds of US 18-year-olds used to get their license at the earliest opportunity; now the percentage is less than half.

On the other end is this fact: The biggest tradition driving age cell is 45-55, which until recently was populated with the population bulge known as the Baby Boom generation. That group has largely moved on to older brackets.

Other factors feeding into the decline:
* increased use of public transportation
* increased use of biking and walking
* high cost of fuel
* inability to afford a car, particularly among the young
* less need to travel due to online shopping

Lane wonders if a decrease in driving time will be accompanied by a decrease in time spent listening to local AM and FM radio.

RBR-TVBR observation: We think that radio’s biggest challenge is to convert the younger demos into life-long fans. If they are the least likely to be driving, that only increases the degree of difficulty.

It boils down on one level from being available on every venue possible. A strong presence on the internet and availability on smartphones will be even more critical when it comes to reaching young demos that aren’t spending a lot of time sitting in traffic. It means being open to experimentation and change.

And none of it will matter if radio doesn’t provide a compelling reason for them to tune in. And on that count, to channel The Talking Head’s David Byrne, it’s the same as it ever was.