Listening to broadcast radio rose for a fourth consecutive month in May as vaccinations have rolled out, leading to a gradual return to pre-pandemic routines including dining out, traveling and more normal commutes. In Nielsen’s May 2021 PPM survey, radio’s Average Quarter-Hour 12+ audience hit its highest levels since March 2020. Radio’s AQH audience is now 20% larger than in May of 2020 and 11% above January 2021.
Nielsen says the May listening gains were spread across the day, with all major dayparts at or near their AQH peaks since COVID-19 began. Both morning drive (Mon-Fri, 6a-10a) and weekends (Sat-Sun, 6a-12midnight) hit their highest audience levels in 15 months in May. In fact, the weekend AQH of 6.6 million in May 20201 is higher than it was in March of last year (6.3 million) before the peak of the lockdown.
Cume figures offer a similar growth narrative. Radio’s weekly reach is now at its highest levels since March 2020, and has grown during each of the past four months. In May 2021, radio’s reach surpassed 122 million weekly listeners, within 2 million of where it was before the lockdown precautions took effect last year.
The year-over-year comparison between May 2020 and May 2021 PPM data stands at a 108 index for weekly reach and a 120 index for AQH. This means that from a weekly reach perspective, the radio audience in May 2021 is 8% larger than the same month from one year ago, while for AQH the audience is now 20% larger than May of 2020.
In markets outside of the top 50, AM/FM radio audiences saw little COVID erosion: February-March-April 2021 AM/FM radio reach in the diary markets is identical to the same period a year ago.
Consumers getting back behind the wheel and out on the road are helping fuel the audience growth. Geopath data compiled by Westwood One shows that while miles traveled over the last six months lagged about 10% below historical norms, April and May 2021 saw a sharp recovery to 2019 levels. And according to Apple Maps, in May 2021, car trip search requests were 45% greater than before the pandemic, marking their highest levels in the last two years.