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Radio & Audio South Africa

Has radio found a new normal for the SA middle class?

Free and far-reaching, democratic and community-building, informative, entertaining and companionable, radio is just about the only legacy medium still thriving in South Africa.
Has radio found a new normal for the SA middle class?

The country’s radio landscape is abundant with over 320 public, commercial and community radio stations ensuring universality and delivering a collective listenership that is estimated at 80% of the population.

Low-tech and data-free, radio has managed to firmly hold its ground, while the rest of its traditional media siblings have slipped into the digital abyss.

BrandMapp’s director of storytelling, Brandon de Kock says, “The story of radio’s continued success is interesting because it’s clearly a surviving dinosaur! Yes, plenty of South Africans still watch TV, but the nature of how that programming is delivered has changed radically and traditional TV has been hammered by streaming services like Netflix, Showmax and Amazon Prime Video in certain population segments.

And newspapers and magazines have been decimated as we have turned to digital content to satisfy our needs for news, views, gossip and advice. Radio, on the other hand, has been extremely resilient. One of the primary reasons given is that it’s free, so there’s no economic barrier of any kind, which is obviously true.

So, when you look at the BrandMapp audience, which is the top 30% of the country’s income-earners, you might expect that radio listenership would then not be that high amongst this group. But you’d be wrong!”

Has radio found a new normal for the SA middle class?

The latest BrandMapp survey which, every year, canvases over 33,000 adults living in households with a R10,000 or more monthly income disproves the idea that radio is only popular in the lower income segments.

Year on year, radio remains a significant force in the lives of South Africa’s tax paying households.

Only 7% of BrandMapp respondents never turn on a radio and a massive 58% say that they listen to radio every single day. 73% are tuning in once or twice a week, or more – which is very close to the official establishment data estimate of 75% for the total population.

Has radio found a new normal for the SA middle class?

De Kock says, “The story of radio’s impact on taxpayer adults in South Africa becomes more interesting when we look at a trended view of the BrandMapp data over the past few years. In the pre-Covid era, 47% of South African taxpayers said they were listening to the radio a few times a day.

The following year, radio listenership crashed by more than 10%, but importantly, it has since settled into a steady ‘new-normal’. What would have caused this crash?

There are numerous possible answers to that, all of which are worth considering because they might just shed light on how radio listenership, while still strong, is still in a state of evolution, or perhaps revolution!”

Has radio found a new normal for the SA middle class?

In a world where so many young people rely on social media for their news and information, the latest BrandMapp data confirms that age makes a difference when it comes to radio listenership.

De Kock says, “There’s a theory that younger adults, our digital natives, tend to listen to less radio and BrandMapp results back this up. Younger people in mid to top income households are more likely to ‘hardly ever’ or ‘never’ listen to radio, while the people most likely to listen to radio are our older working population and the parent generation.”

Has radio found a new normal for the SA middle class?

But perhaps the most striking shift in radio consumption has to do with when and where people are listening to radio.

Traditionally, morning and evening drive times were the ‘golden hours’ for commercial radio stations both in terms of on-air talent and premium advertising slots. But that has shifted dramatically in a post-lockdown world.

While 61% of the respondents are listening during their morning commute, afternoon drive time listenership has dropped to just 25%.

De Kock says, “This is even lower than listening to the radio at home in the morning before the morning drive. Where did this change come from?”

Has radio found a new normal for the SA middle class?

The crash in afternoon drive time listenership can be tracked back to Covid times.

In 2019, BrandMapp recorded 57% of people listening to the radio during the end of day commute, closely in line with the 56% listening during the morning drive.

Two years later, only 26% of the respondents were still tuning in to radio in the afternoon, a staggering 31% drop off.

De Kock says, “Covid cut the afternoon drive time listenership off at the knees. Obviously changed commuting patterns have a lot to do with it. BrandMapp also measures 60% of taxpayers engaging in hybrid work of some sort, so that traditional concentrated evening rush hour traffic phenomenon just isn’t what it used to be.

It’s the same reason why we measure ‘driving around during the day’ as such a big listener occasion for these people: they are now more likely to be commuting at arbitrary times.

But at the same time that this was happening, there has been a radical adoption of streaming services, not just TV but music and podcasts, and there’s been a lot more downloading of content as well. I think what we are seeing here is a multiplier effect.

In the morning, the radio is a very powerful here-and-now mechanism for finding out what’s going on in the world.

If you put the radio on in the morning while you are having breakfast and driving to work and school, you will know your local 24-hour weather outlook and what the important news of the day is around the world. Morning radio is a great way to be informed about the upcoming day.

But radio is not just about news, it is also about entertainment, and nowadays when we feel like being entertained at the end of the working day, we have other ways to achieve that.

On the drive home, we can switch to Bluetooth and listen to our own playlists on Spotify, the music we own or a favourite podcast on our devices.”

Although the listening occasions may have changed somewhat, it is clear that radio still has the ear of South Africa’s mid to top income earners and in fact, the strength of the medium in the morning has arguably never been higher.

De Kock concludes, “In the post-Covid world, South African radio’s signal is still strong. A lot of people currently listen to a lot of radio, but the way we engage with radio has changed, perhaps forever. In response to these shifts, we also see South African radio stations looking to keep up with changes.

For instance, radio station podcasts are starting to become more significant and there are stations launching parallel, 100% music playlist app-based specialist ‘stations’ to make sure they totally satisfy niche audiences. That’s clever thinking.

The radio stations that I see succeeding over the long term are the ones who don’t try to fight against evolving listenership, because you can’t. You must embrace it, and that means doing clever things and understanding more about what different people want to listen to, in different ways at different times of the day.”

BrandMapp 2023 insights are now available directly from the BrandMapp team at WhyFive Insights and by subscription via Telmar, Softcopy, Nielsen and Eighty20. For data access email az.oc.evifyhw@enna-eiluJ

Visit for an overview of what’s in the new data.

BrandMapp is a unique South African dataset that uses a mega-sample of more than 30 000 respondents to profile the 12 million adults who live in mid to top-income households earning in excess of R10 000 per month. Now in its eighth year, the BrandMapp survey is a bespoke, independent survey that powers the WhyFive consumer insights consultancy.
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