Can NextRadio App Make Radio Relevant for a Digital Audience?

After Apple Inc. announced a new music app that will use people to create real-time song playlists, HBO "Real Time" host Bill Maher joked that the company should be congratulated for "inventing radio."

But the radio industry isn't laughing, because it needs to hold on to young listeners who are spending more time with digital devices to hear their favorite songs and artists. It's why many stations have banded together to support NextRadio, an app that can turn every mobile handset into an FM tuner capable of receiving local over-the-air broadcast signals.

NextRadio also enables users to hear local radio on their phones without using up minutes or data in their mobile plans, providing an alternative to apps that deliver streaming radio through the Internet.

The NextRadio app was developed and launched in 2013 by TagStation, a division of Indianapolis media company Emmis Communications, with partial financial backing from the National Assn. of Broadcasters, the Washington trade group. NextRadio is getting an on-air promotional blitz with commercials running through the rest of the year on NAB member stations.

As the oldest of old electronic media, radio has held up reasonably well against the massive array of media choices that consumers have in the digital age. Nielsen figures from 2014 show that 91% of people ages 12 and older -- about 242 million -- listen to local radio each week.

But overall time spent listening -- a metric vital to advertisers who want their commercial messages to be heard -- declined in the fourth quarter of 2014. On a weekly basis, millennials ages 18 to 34 listen about two hours less a week than older segments of the population. It's why NextRadio is pushing stations to use its app with Internet streaming so they can provide graphic elements such as album artwork, a "live guide" that...

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