Cross-Country Crazy, And Other Notes On Jazz Radio Listeners

cross-country skiing

Jazz radio listeners also like downhill skiing too, apparently. iStockPhoto hide caption

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Let's talk about you.

Every year, NPR's Audience Insight and Research division publishes a study that profiles the public radio audience for the demographic data, plus tastes and preferences. This year, they used data from Mediamark Research which surveyed 52,009 U.S. adults, including 4,059 public radio listeners and 564 listeners to public radio jazz stations. NPR's AIR team has a blog, by the way, if these figures really get your goat.

Presuming at least some of you occasionally turn on a public radio jazz station (do they have commercial jazz stations any more in the U.S.?), these stats represent you and me in a sort of profile. Some things you might have predicted; others, not so much. To the numbers:


Men make up 60.5% of public radio jazz listeners. Yet men only make up 54.7% of NPR listeners at large, and 48.3% of the U.S. adult population. That 60.5% figure is highest among all subcategories of public radio listeners, including news, classical and AAA ("adult album alternative") audiences.

—About 27.2% of public radio jazz listeners identified themselves as African American. That's well above the public radio index of 8.6%, and even the national average of 11.5%.

Many more findings, after the jump.

—The median age of public radio jazz listeners is 51. That figure, taken with the NEA's 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts which found a median age of 46 for live jazz attendance, would seem to spell a certain gloominess for jazz's future audience. But it's also important to note that the median age of U.S. adults is 45, according to both the Mediamark study and the NEA. The NEA did find that the aging of jazz audiences (and arts audiences in general) was not accounted for by the aging of baby boomers at large. However, for those of us who don't see an awful lot of young folks getting into jazz (and even fewer actually paying attention to it), it's worth noting that the jazz audience is only barely older than the median age for adults at large. By the way, the median age for public radio listeners is 50.

—The public radio audience skews more politically liberal than the composite of U.S. adults — but the spectrum is well represented. Twenty-eight percent of listeners classify themselves as very or somewhat conservative, 25% are in the political center, and 37% describe themselves as very or somewhat liberal. Jazz people — certainly its musicians — are generally thought of as politically liberal, and this holds somewhat true compared to the national index. But public radio jazz listeners are both less conservative and less liberal than public radio listeners at large (i.e. more are middle-of-the-road).

—Public radio jazz audiences are exceptionally big-city urban: 32.7% of us live in the top five media markets in the U.S., and 64.7% of us live in one of the 21 largest metropolitan areas of the U.S. In contrast, 21% of U.S. adults live in media markets 1-5, and 41.2% of U.S. adults live in the top 21 American metro areas. (Those figures are 22.7% and 50.13% for public radio audiences at large, respectively.) This would make sense: jazz musicians congregate around big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

—Jazz listeners also tend to make a fair amount of money. Both individual and household income are over $16,000 and $20,000 over the national average, respectively. These figures lag somewhat to the public radio listenership at large; i.e. other public radio listeners tend to earn even more money. This is also partly attributable to the fact that public radio listeners earn college degrees at over twice the rate of the national average.

—Unfortunately, the Mediamark survey didn't ask specifically if audiences had attended a jazz performance in the last year. But overall, public radio listeners' concert attendance — including that of public radio jazz listeners — is significantly higher than that of the general U.S. population for nearly every genre specified (save country music).

—Over 15.4% of the public radio audience had played a musical instrument in the last year. That's nearly twice that of the general U.S. population, which polled at 7.8%. Among all the subcategories, public radio jazz audiences were most likely to have made music: a solid 19% of those polled had done so.

—Jazz radio listeners were twice as likely to have bought a jazz recording in the last year as the public radio index at large. However, this figure only amounts to 13.8% of jazz radio listeners polled; one might have supposed that figure might be a bit higher. (The figure is similar for classical listeners and classical sales, by the way.) The survey's standard also reports that only 2.65% of U.S. adults bought a jazz record in the last year.

—Finally, a rather bizarre statistic, pointed out to me by Joe Matazzoni of NPR's Arts & Life team. Public radio jazz listeners are over three times as likely to be into cross-country skiing than the total U.S. population index; in this, they lead all public radio indices as well. Of course, there's an asterisk here that indicates that the sample size may not be statistically reliable, but one can't help but wonder if there's a connection ...

I'm no statistician, so if you see anything that needs to be clarified, let me know. Or if you're dying to know any other stats (nearly 53% of us jazz radio listeners have been to McDonald's lately), I'll see if I can't look it up.



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