New research suggests the iPod - rather than the Internet, 3G or media fragmentation - will have the greatest impact on the future of radio.

The research, undertaken by The Knowledge Agency found interest in the iPod among 18-30 year-olds to be "phenomenal".

According to the Knowledge Agency: "Two consumer trends have contributed to the popularity of MP3 players and the growth of music downloading, and both present the radio industry with a knock-on effect. The first is the shift towards personalization. The second is a growing demand from younger consumers to have greater control over their media.

"As a result, 18 to 30 year-old radio listeners now want content that is more personalised and more directly relevant to their own tastes and needs."

"Given the choice between hearing your favourite tracks in tip-top quality whenever you want on an iPod or hoping they'll crop up next on a radio station's playlist, who wouldn't prefer Apple's latest must-have toy?" asks the Guardian's Meg Carter.

"But while MP3 players pose an obvious threat to radio, they present opportunities, too, which the radio industry must now tackle," she adds.


The Knowledge Agency director Mark Ellis said: "One of radio's main perceived strengths is its spontaneity - the fact the listener doesn't know what the next track will be. But the iPod can even emulate that with shuffle technology."

The research showed that radio is valued for its role as an information source; its ability to enhance or change a listener's mood; and its role in introducing new music. New digital radio features such as pause, rewind and record functions were also valued.

But there is a lack of understanding of what digital radio offers. According to The Knowledge Agency few of those surveyed had digital radios and understanding of digital radio's potential beyond better audio quality was limited. Ellis added: "While the digital radio market is dominated by large box sets, there's a clear disconnect between what the market is offering and what younger listeners want: a radio that's small, light, integrated and easier to use."

"The digital radio industry lacks a single piece of hardware with the sex appeal of an iPod," he added.

GWR digital content manager Nick Piggott (Classic FM and local radio stations) said: "If radio doesn't rise to the challenge of new technologies which are reinventing consumers' approach to media we'll lose a whole generation of listeners.

"There's no reason technically why we couldn't do music downloading straight to a portable digital music device via DAB, leading to the attractive proposition of a single brand being able to deliver a radio station and sell the music it plays. The missing link, however, is the availability of appropriate receivers, which we hope will be on the market some time next year."

If it is to compete with iPod, radio must emulate MP3's strengths and capitalize on its weaknesses. It is a challenge, but a necessity, too, concludes the report.

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