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Latest Research Shows AM/FM Listening, Vehicular Traffic Are Both Up.

While Nielsen Media's September PPM data shows continued recovery for AM/FM listening, up 4% from a year ago, additional research indicates a similar growth pattern for vehicular miles traveled and driving search volumes.

“The strong recovery in miles traveled and driving has powered AM/FM radio listening recovery,” Cumulus Media Chief Insights Officer and Westwood One Audio Active Group President Pierre Bouvard says in this week's Westwood One “Everyone's Listening” blog. “Consumer driving behavior from Geopath and Apple Maps have predicted AM/FM radio audience growth.”

Geopath's monthly tracking shows U.S. miles traveled in September 2021 were 5% greater than the pre-pandemic levels of September 2019, in line with traffic figures during most months compared to two years earlier, since April 2021. Meanwhile, Apple Maps' driving search volumes have passed pre-COVID levels and have steadily gained since March of this year. “The April 2020 lockdown caused a sharp drop in Apple Maps driving searches, [but] this drop was short lived,” Bouvard says.

Tracking AM/FM's month-by-month recovery since March 2020, the past six months since the vaccine rollout show audience at 91%-97% of March 2020 levels, with September 2021 AQH listening at 94%, up 4% compared to September 2020. Nielsen's just-released diary market data shows a stronger story, with average quarter-hour listening levels at 100% of where they were in March, and in the third and fourth quarters, of 2020. “Geopath miles traveled data reveals the reduction in driving in 2020 occurred mostly in the largest markets where the Portable People Meter is utilized,” Bouvard explains. “Outside the top 50 markets, Geopath has shown very strong miles traveled, reflected in Nielsen’s stable diary market listening trends.”

Additional Nielsen PPM data reported by Katz Radio Group shows that year-over-year, weekly cume is up 1.4 million, to 121.5 million, while average quarter-hour persons are up 300,000 to 7.6 million. AQH persons are up year-over-year in both AM (+1.2 million) and PM drive (+400,000) as well as evenings (+100,000), with both AM and PM within 800,000 – and evenings 200,000 – of their pre-pandemic audiences. While weekends are flat year-over-year, the daypart is up 1.5 million from pandemic lows and within 100,000 of pre-pandemic levels.

Also notable, given the concurrent gains for AM/FM and vehicular traffic, are the significant discrepancies between marketer and agency estimates of commuting figures, based on results of a July study by Advertiser Perceptions, compared to the most recent actual numbers from the U.S. Federal Reserve. While the Reserve shows 66% of U.S. workers commuting every day, marketers and agencies estimated 38%, with the reverse finding for working from home, where marketers and agencies estimated 29% vs. the actual 16%, as reported by the Reserve.

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