Radio Listening Not Only Recovered In Spring 2021 But Audience Became More Upscale.


In a promising development for radio ad buys in fourth quarter and next year, new nationwide Spring 2021 data from Nielsen shows AQH listening gains of 7% versus Spring 2020 for virtually all of the major buying demographics. And compared to the pre-COVID Fall 2020 Nationwide survey, AQH listening among the major buying demos is virtually identical. Only persons 18-34 saw a 1% dip from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021.


Nationwide is Nielsen’s roll up of all AM/FM radio listening from all U.S. markets and counties – in both diary and PPM markets – produced twice a year in Spring and Fall. The Spring Nationwide survey is used as the basis for AM/FM radio network upfront negotiations for the coming year as well as so-called scatter buys in the fourth quarter.


“The exceptionally steady listening levels from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021 are especially good news for advertisers and agencies,” says Doug Hyde, Senior Director, National & Local Insights at Cumulus Media, which analyzed the new numbers for a post on Westwood One’s “Everyone’s Listening” blog. That’s because there are usually modest 1% to 2% AQH listening losses from one survey to the next. “The fact that listening is so stable from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021 is a testament to the resilience and vitality of American AM/FM radio. This is in stark contrast to the freefall in U.S. linear television viewing,” Hyde says.


The new Nationwide report also shows an extraordinary audience recovery among females. Radio listening has long skewed more male with a 53%-47% male-female split in average quarter hours among 25-54 year-olds. But during the pandemic the radio audience tilted more male with a 56%-45% split. In the just released Spring 2021 numbers, it returned to a 53%-47% male-to-female ratio.


“During the lockdown of Spring 2020, AM/FM radio listening among women dropped more than men,” Hyde explains. “During the pandemic, the burden of child care fell disproportionally to women. The question was: Would female AM/FM radio listening recover as kids returned to school in Spring 2021 and the country opened back up?”


As it turns out, the answer is a resounding yes. Compared to Spring 2020, the just-released Spring 2021 Nationwide survey shows AQH listening surged 11% among women 18-49 and grew 13% among women 25-54.


Radio Audience Profile Becomes More Upscale


The new roll-up of all listening also shows an eye-popping increase in upper income Americans. Comparing the Nationwide Spring 2021 numbers to Spring 2020 reveals that the greater the income, the greater the listening recovery. AM/FM radio listening shot up 17% year-over-year among persons with an annual income of $75,000 or greater. Listening among those in the $50,000-$75,000 range rose by a more modest 4%.


“Post-pandemic, the profile of American AM/FM radio listening is more upscale,” says Hyde. Before COVID, 47% of total AM/FM radio listening came from those with an income of $75,000 or more. In Spring 2021, the $75,000 income audience composition has grown from 47% to 52% of total U.S. listening.


And from a reach perspective, there are actually more AM/FM radio listeners with a $75,000 income today than before the pandemic. Among persons 25-54 with a $75,000 income, radio’s reach has grown 3% from pre-pandemic.


In addition to the new Nationwide audience listening data, Nielsen last week also issued August 2021 listening results for the 48 PPM-measured markets. It shows significant year-over-year gains in Black (+7%) and Hispanic (+6%) AQH listening. Comparing August 2020 to August 2021 also shows 2% total growth among persons 25-54 and 4% among persons 35-64.


In addition, out-of-home radio listening has returned to pre-COVID levels. Back in March 2020, as the spread of COVID was intensifying but before widespread lockdowns, 71% of listening in the Mon-Fri, 6am-7pm daypart in PPM markets took place out of home. That fell to 58% in April 2020. The new August data shows it has recovered to 70% of listening.


Zeroing in on just the diary markets (which never experienced COVID audience erosion) finds they remain remarkably steady. “AQH listening in the 44 continuous diary markets has been incredibly stable over the last 20 months,” Hyde notes. Benchmarking AQH listening to the pre-COVID Jan-Feb-March 2020 survey reveals AM/FM radio listening levels are unchanged in the most recent May-June-July 2021 survey.

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