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Long-Term Trends in Radio Listening Revealed

One of the biggest secrets in radio is what’s happening to listening over the long term. Talk to insiders and they will acknowledge that while a huge majority of Americans still listen to the radio the amount of time spent listening continues to decline.

Or does it?

Well, it depends on how you measure it. And that should add one more reason to the long laundry list of reasons why broadcasters should be irritated at Nielsen, which presumes to produce the accepted unit of measure.

Get ready for some pictures you rarely see. These are from a report by the Radio Research Consortium and compiled from official Nielsen data.

If you take a long view and look at Persons Using Radio derived from DIARY markets only, here’s the trend:


Note that listening continues a steady slide from 2007 to the present.

But these are only DIARY markets. What happens when we merge in the PPM markets and look at an overall total:


That’s a 2% increase in Persons Using Radio – turning around a steady downward trend. Well that means that the PPM numbers must be markedly up to compensate for the declining diary metrics, and so they are:


So we have to ask the obvious question: Why?

I put that question to Joanne Church at RRC whose team compiled these data. And her answer was simple: “The explanation is mechanical [not behavioral] – a combination of Voltair and eCBET [Nielsen’s “answer” to Voltair] has driven up listening levels by a smidgeon.”

In other words, this increase is an illusion – an artifact of a change in measurement methodology which quite likely does nothing to reverse the declining trend but rather resets the decline at a higher level before it begins to decline again.

This would certainly explain why one unchanged methodology (diaries) declines while another which changes (PPM) shows a sudden increase. And it obviously illustrates why broadcasters are right to withhold trust from a measurement technology which was deemed “accurate” just until the folks behind Voltair proved it was not.

Meanwhile, simply comparing the PUR with the PUMM scores shows the huge disparity in listening between diary and PPM markets. To an approximation, the larger the market, the less of that market is listening at any given time.

So despite a temporary reprieve in the form of a more sensitive measurement instrument, the long term trend for radio listening remains what it has been for years: Downward. The long term trend for radio listening remains ... downward. Click To Tweet

This is important because every broadcaster needs to understand the ways behaviors are moving in order to make proper strategic and business model plans. A fact-free zone is no place to be when envisioning how to keep our brands strong and vital across platforms for the next generation of listeners. staff, and advertisers.

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