Radio Stirling 101: Report on a Group Research Project

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In an age of information, people have an increasing number of options to access media for entertainment and information. Yet radio remains to be one of the most accessible and cost-effective conventional media, especially for people with limited financial resources such as university students. However, according to the cursory observation of the researchers of this project, the radio listening patterns of and their effects on university students have not been adequately addressed.

Therefore, this research project attempts to look into both the radio listening habits and music acquisition behaviors of students in Stirling University and, where possible, to identify the co-relation between the two sets of behavioral patterns. The findings of the research provide fairly clear patterns on both the radio listening and music acquisition behaviors with some definite co-relations between them. As an empirical research assignment of the Media Research Methods course, another purpose for this project is to utilize and test the basic research techniques that the researchers have learnt in class so as to pave the way for their future academic researches. Therefore, the last section of this report is devoted to the reflections on the project in different perspectives.


The research has been conducted in a form of a series of questionnaire-guided one-on-one interviews of Stirling University students on both campus and students residences. The planned sample size is 100 with a balanced gender make-up. Taking into consideration the factor of cultural proximity and comparability in radio listening and music acquisition, the interviews are targeted mainly at UK students and some international students from other EU countries as well as North America.

The research has not adopted the method of self-administered survey because the rather small sample size requires high validity of the feedback in each sample, which is prone to be undermined by the possible ambiguities in the case of survey questionnaires. Whereas, in one-on-one interviews, should any ambiguity occur, interviewers can provide interviewees with timely explanations and instructions to ensure that they do not give answers on the basis of their own interpretations of the questions.

The interview questions are designed as two types: structured questions with singular and multiple-choice answers and unstructured open-ended questions allowing interviewees to give rather detailed account of their individual radio-listening habits and music-acquiring behaviours. The former type aims at collecting quantitative data and the latter, qualitative.(how to analyse) The 21 interview questions are categorized into three major sections, i.e. demographic make-up, radio-listening and music-acquisition with a single-question section at the beginning of each interview to identify whether the interviewee is a regular radio listener (‘Have you listened to the radio in the last one week/ten days?’).

Pilot interviews have been conducted to test the quality of the questionnaire. Negative feedbacks have then been used as the basis of revising the related questions before the questionnaire format and content were finalized.

Findings and Discussion

The Demographic Make-up

The projects ended up having 94 valid samples with a fairly balanced 51% male and 49% female interviewees. Over 90% of the interviewees are below the age of 25, of whom 85% are UK students and 60% are Scottish, indicating a very young and locally-based demographic make-up of Stirling University students. 80% of the interviewees are undergraduates, which means that the result of the project is more representative of this group in nature.


This section starts out with a comparison of the popularity of different media exposures among Stirling students. The findings show that most respondents are exposed to multiple forms of media. Television appears to be the most popular medium for news/entertainment in general while radio scores the highest as the prime medium on campus, indicating a high penetration rate or radio receivers among students.

In terms of students’ actual radio-listening habits, research findings demonstrate high percentage of ‘today’ and ‘yesterday’ listening behavior (78% all together). Given the random dates on which the interviews took place, the data can be interpreted as a relatively high percentage of daily listeners among the interviewees. Some listeners mentioned a drop in radio-listening on weekends, which implies that radio is more of a week-day medium for students(?). As for radio-listening time band, mornings (46%) and evenings (29%) turn out to be the most favored time band for radio listening. A relatively high percentage of ‘no-fixed time’ listening (28%) shows that radio remains one of the most accessible media among students. Almost half (47%) of the interviewees said that listened to the radio for more than an hour daily showing high time spent for radio.

When asked about the reasons for radio-listening, respondents’ opinions were highly concentrated on ‘good music’ (82%) and ‘good DJs'(47%), while only 27% of the interviewees turn to radio for news and information and 17% for sports coverage. These data show that radio has become primarily an entertainment medium rather that a news or sports medium for Stirling students. During the process of data analysis, answers to the questions of ‘Which station(s) do you listen to?’ and ‘Which are you favorite stations?’ are combined to show both the listenership and listen loyalty of radio stations. The result suggests that Radio One is the most listened to station with also the highest listener loyalty. Local stations show comparatively bigger discrepancies in listenership and loyalty and are generally lower in the latter compared with stations with nation-wide transmission. BBC Scotland shows a limited but balanced listenership and loyalty level (both at 11%).

Four open-ended questions are given in this section concerning favorite radio DJs, radio stations listened to before coming to Stirling, ‘need gap’ on radio-listening and suggestions for radio stations to improve programmes. These questions allow interviewees to elaborate on their habits and preferences of radio listening. The findings are very coherent with previous data of the section. Radio One’s popularity results in there being very few interviewees who did not listen to it before coming to Stirling.

Radio presenter and DJs such as Chris Moyles, Sarah Cox and Jo Whiley are the students’ favorites-not surprising at all, they are all from Radio One. Some male and a few female respondents also mentioned the Off the Ball/On the Ball show(s) on Radio Scotland, echoing the balanced listenership and listener loyalty of the station. Furthermore, many respondents hold that there should be ‘less talk’, ‘less ads’ and ‘more and larger variety of music’ on radio stations. Their views seem to suggest that radio should be monotonized into a medium for music and entertainment only. Their non-recognition of radio as an advertising medium shows Stirling students’ little understanding of the economics of radio stations.

Music Acquisition

The research shows that the two major sources for Stirling students to acquire music are CD buying (63% from music shops and 14% online) and CD burning (an inference drawn from 34% borrowing from friends and 23% Internet downloading). HMV and Virgin are the most popular music store followed by Tesco, MVC, Fopp, etc. Only 42% of the interviewees purchased CDs last month and a third of them seldom buy CDs-translating to relatively low percentage of regular CD buyers among Stirling students. Among those who buy CDs, 62% stated that they bought less than three CDs per month. As for the media influence on CD purchasing, radio turns out to be the most influential of all mass media forms with 73% of interviewee recognition, two times the recognition rate of television, which ranked the second.


The research reveals that radio listening is the most predominant form of media exposure among students of UK origin in the University of Stirling due to its high accessibility. Radio One distinguishes itself as the most popular station among Stirling Students, also commanding the highest level of Listener loyalty. Local stations show a lower level of listener loyalty. BBC Scotland has a small but loyalty listenership thanks to its good sports programmes. Radio has established its presence as a medium for music and entertainment but failed to identify itself as a major news and advertising medium among students in the Unviersity of Stirling. The predominant means of music acquisition among Stirling students is through CD purchasing at music stores. Radio demonstrates the strongest influence on music purchasing decisions of Stirling students.

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