‘An Enormous Issue’: Headphones and Radio


The radio industry has been concerned about measurement of listening while wearing headphones or earbuds.

Alan Burns

But, until now, no one has known just how big the issue could be.

New data from Alan Burns and Associates and Strategic Solutions Research suggests headphones matter when listening to AM or FM, putting new worry into industry leaders who believe the disappearance of a wired earbud jack presents a problem.

The latest data from the Burns/SSR What Women Want survey of 2,000 respondents finds that nearly half (49%) of all women 15-54 years old wear headphones during some of their time spent with radio.

While the key word here is “some,” veteran programming consultant Alan Burns says the amount of listening by women while wearing headphones may be far higher than most would have guessed.

Furthermore, the percentage is higher among heavy radio listeners (56%) and at-work listeners (57%).

“Those numbers are well beyond ours and most people’s expectations,” Burns says.

SSR EVP Hal Rood adds, “Many of those women use headphones for a great deal of their Time Spent Listening. Some 15% of women told us they use headphones for half or more of their radio listening. If that listening was not accurately measured it can have a massive impact on radio AQH.”

The bigger story, though, may be found in what actual Nielsen Audio ratings participants said.

Interestingly, of the 2,000 or so survey respondents, exactly 142 are former ratings survey participants.

Isolating this group of respondents yields even more telling data regarding the essential role of headphones and radio consumption among women.

“The numbers escalate dramatically among women who had actually been part of a ratings sample,” said Burns. “More than 4 out of every 10 of them (43%) said they wear headphones or earbuds during half or more of their radio listening. That’s enormous. Imagine how incomplete measurement of that kind of listening could impact listening estimates. It’s critical that headphone listening be captured and measured fully and accurately, and we know Nielsen is working on the issue.”