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Arguments For AM: 82 Million Listeners, And One In Five Are Ford Owners.

Are Ford, and other major automakers, shooting themselves in the foot with their announced intention of removing AM radio from new vehicles? Recently-released research data from Nielsen and MRI Simmons suggests that's the case.

As reported in Westwood One's weekly blog, Nielsen's Fall 2022 survey shows that AM radio reaches 82.3 million Americans monthly, representing one out of three U.S. AM/FM radio listeners. More than half of that audience (57%, or 46.9 million) is tuned to news/talk-formatted stations, according to Westwood One's analysis. “[Those] are the very outlets that Americans turn to in time of crisis and breaking local news,” notes Cumulus Media/Westwood One Audio Active Group Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard.

MRI Simmons' Winter 2023 report further hints at the error of Ford's ways. Not only does the data show that Ford owners make up 20%, one in five, of all U.S. AM radio listeners (compared to 23% for General Motors), but owners of Ford's most popular models are more likely to be AM listeners vs. the U.S. average. Ford Ranger pickup and Ford Edge SUV owners respectively show an 18% and 12% greater likelihood to be AM listeners. “It seems like Ford and AM radio are really velcroed at the hip and have a lot in common,” Bouvard says.

AM radio, therefore, is a significant factor in AM/FM's in-car dominance when compared to other ad-supported audio. As Edison Research's “Share of Ear” study has consistently shown, and is pointed out in the blog, AM/FM's share of ad-supported audio among persons 18+ has stuck at 88% since 2019, dwarfing other competitors in the Q1-Q4 2022 period: podcasts place second at 6%, followed by ad-supported SiriusXM, Pandora and Spotify at 4%, 2% and 0.6%.

“Basically, [for] all the tuning minutes that occur to anything that has ads, nine out of 10 of those minutes go to AM/FM radio,” Bouvard says. “That dominant share is steady as a rock, so despite all of the new technologies, new options, and cell phones, if you want to reach Americans on the path to purchase, AM/FM radio is the dominant ad-supported player in American vehicles.”

Breaking down ad-supported car audio share by key demographics shows that AM/FM is just as powerful among persons 18-34. “There's that myth that no one under the age of 34 listens to radio.” Bouvard says, “[but] among 18-34s, AM/FM radio’s ad-supported audience share is nine times larger than podcasts, and 28 times bigger than SiriusXM and Pandora.”

While Westwood One's blog points out agencies' and marketers' continuing underestimation of AM/FM's overall 18+ share of ad-supported audio – 28%, vs. the actual 73%, based on Advertiser Perceptions' studies – it also notes the company's research showing these groups' increased interest and willingness to pay for in-car visuals syncing to AM/FM radio ads. The results of a Cumulus Media-commissioned series of Advertiser Perceptions surveys of 300 media agencies and advertisers during 2021 and 2022 showed awareness of the technology up from 39% to 52%, and interest (somewhat or very) up from 64% to 74%, while perceived fair price increase over typical radio buys increased from 12% to 14%.

“AM stations serve very unique, targeted constituencies and represent many languages and voices,” Bouvard says. “As automobile manufacturers consider eliminating AM radio, it’s important to underscore that the AM dial is one of the most diverse media platforms in the world. Why would we eliminate this variety from the car?”

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