Celebrating World Radio Day

Radio, first developed in the 1890s, still plays an important role in today’s free and independent press, providing information to an estimated 3 billion people worldwide every week.

United Nations Radio was established on February 13, 1946. UNESCO proclaimed World Radio Day in 2011 to recognize the key role radio plays in disseminating information to people in remote corners of the world, especially in times of crisis.

Radio has embraced new technologies, such as broadband and digital audio broadcasting, and can be used on mobile devices.

Radio also continues to broadcast when other media are out of action — for emergency communications or following a natural disaster. That is because traditional radio waves exist at a lower frequency, allowing radio waves to travel farther than cellular technology. A radio is considered an essential part of any emergency preparedness kit.

Reaching audiences in time of crisis

In 2021 when regimes in Burma, Cuba and Ethiopia’s Tigray region attempted to shut down the internet, networks affiliated with the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) were able to deliver information via radio.

USAGM said its networks added programming hours to radio transmissions in those areas to ensure public access to the latest news in local languages.

Worldwide, more than 142 million people received news via radio from USAGM networks each week in 2021. The networks include:

  • Voice of America (VOA).
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
  • Office of Cuba Broadcasting (TV Martí and Radio Martí).
  • Radio Free Asia.
  • Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Al-Hurra and Radio Sawa).

These organizations broadcast news in local languages to nations with restricted or no free media. The U.S. government provides financial support to these media outlets but does not dictate what these organizations cover or how they cover it because the United States supports an independent press.

VOA’s first official radio broadcast was in 1942 by William Harlan Hale out of New York City. It reached people all over Europe during World War II. “The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth.”

Who listens to radio in the U.S.?

Millions of Americans still get their news from radio. Traditional AM/FM radio, known as “terrestrial radio,” continues to reach a large portion of the U.S. population while online audio and podcasting audiences have grown over the last decade, according to a 2021 report from the Pew Research Center.

Pew found:

  • 83% of Americans ages 12 or older listened to traditional AM/FM radio in a given week in 2020.
  • 41% of Americans ages 12 or older in 2021 listened to a podcast in the past month, up from just 9% in 2008.
  • 68% of Americans ages 12 and older in early 2021 had listened to online audio in the past month.