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Format Scorecard: Country, AC, Classic Rock Are 2023’s Big Gainers, So Far.

Fueled by major crossover hits from Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs and Jelly Roll, country radio is enjoying a ratings resurgence in 2023. According to Inside Radio's monthly analysis of Nielsen's PPM cross-market average quarter-hour share data trends, covering Monday-Sunday 6am-midnight, country’s year-to-date 6+ share leapt from 6.0 from Jan.-Aug. 2022 to 6.5 in the same period in 2023.

After five consecutive PPM surveys of sequential monthly growth this year (6.0-6.2-6.4-6.5-6.7-6.8, from Jan.-Jun.), country leveled off at 6.6 in July and August, ranked third behind adult contemporary (8.2) and news/talk (9.9) in the August survey.

For many listeners, country is the pop music of today, and the format is seeing more of its biggest hits cross over to CHR than it has in years. That helps explain why country finished first among adults 18-34 for a third straight month in the August survey, tied with Adult Contemporary at 7.7 after eclipsing AC in June and July. Country traditionally garners its highest shares in the summer months while AC explodes in the December and Holiday periods so it will be interesting to see how the 18-34 showdown between the two formats shakes out in the next few months.

Adult Contemporary’s Growth Spurt

No format has grown its total audience share more than AC during the past two years. AC advanced from 7.6 (Jan.-Aug. 2021) to 8.0 in the same period in 2022 to 8.3 in the comparable months of 2023. Year-to-date, AC has narrowed the gap with top-rated news/talk from a 3.7 share difference in 2021 to 1.6 in 2023. AC continued to dominate 25-54 in August with an 8.0 share and has not been below an 8.0 since last November, when it posted a 7.6 prior to the arrival of the Christmas format juggernaut.

August marked the fourth consecutive month that top-rated news/talk fell below a 10.0 share in 6+ although by just a skosh (9.9). A look at year-to-date trends puts news/talk’s consistent decline in sharper relief. It moved from 11.3 (Jan.-Aug. 21) to 10.9 (Jan.-Aug. 22) to 9.9 (Jan.-Aug. 23). In the Big Money 25-54 demo, news/talk tumbled from a tie for first place with AC in Jan. 2022 (7.7) to fourth place in Aug. 2023 (5.9).

Classic rock and classic hits also have big year-over-year growth stories. Among listeners 6+, classic rock added half a share from Jan.-Aug. 21to the same period in 2023 while classic hits is up 0.4 during the same time frame. Much like country, both formats see a ratings pop in the summer months and 2023 was no exception. Classic hits increased its 25-54 share from 5.3 in August 2022 to 5.7 in August 2023.

The steady erosion of CHR continues in 2023 as the format slips below a 5.0 share (6+) year to date, trending 5.2-5.0-4.9 during the Jan.-Aug. periods of 2021, 2022, 2023. On a monthly basis, CHR came in at a 5.0 share just once so far in 2023 (May) and has tracked 4.8-4.9-4.8 since then. However it remained radio’s third rated format in both 18-34 and 25-54 in August, trailing only country and AC (8.0).

As it enters primetime season with the start of the NFL season, sports is already at a three-year high with a 4.3 share 6+ year-to-date. That’s up from 3.9 in the same period in 2021 and 4.1 in 2022. Also showing year-over-year gains are adults hits (2.5-2.6-2.8) and contemporary Christian (3.0-2.9-3.2).

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