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Think Most AM/FM Listening Happens In Drive Time? Think Again.


According to research conducted last November among marketing professionals, weekday morning and afternoon drive are perceived to be AM/FM radio's most-listened-to dayparts, suggesting those should be the focus of most ad buys.


The reality, however, is that more listening takes place in middays, and that most occurs outside of AM or PM drive.


More than 300 participants in Advertiser Perceptions' study said an average 24% and 22% of listening takes place in the Mon.-Fri. 6-10am and 3-7pm dayparts, respectively, as opposed to just 16% for 10am-3pm, propelling what Cumulus Media/Westwood One Audio Active Group Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard refers to as “the drive time myth.”


“Some advertisers only buy drive times thinking they are getting most of AM/FM radio’s audience – that is a mistake,” Bouvard says in Westwood One's weekly blog analyzing this and other radio research data. “[It's] a myth about radio listening that can actually be quite destructive to sales results.”


The reality, according to Spring 2023 PPM and diary data from Nielsen’s nationwide study, shows that weekday middays account for 26% of AM/FM radio listening, vs. 21% for AM and 20% for PM drive. This means that 59% of U.S. AM/FM listening happens outside of drive times, with weekends accounting for 20% – rivaling morning or afternoon drive – as opposed to the Advertiser Perceptions sample's estimated average of 15%.


“There is as much listening occurring to the radio on the weekend as there is in a typical drive time,” Bouvard notes, suggesting that advertisers may be swayed by AM/FM's strength in cars, citing its 85% share of ad-supported audio according to Edison Research's Q3 2023 “Share of Ear” study. “It would stand to reason most AM/FM radio listening occurs when Americans are commuting to and from the workplace.”


Nielsen's deeper dive into daypart listening by demo shows similar patterns across the board. “The main message here is if you want to maximize reach, to drive success for your store or your brand, use all days and dayparts, because that's how you build reach and success,” Bouvard says.


Further proof of the power of allocating an ad budget across all AM/FM radio dayparts comes from a Nielsen analysis shown in the blog, where adding middays and PM drive to just mornings lifts reach of adults 25-49 from 22% to 26%, and adding nights and weekends moves that to 33%, or a 54% increase over just the AM drive buy.


The key takeaway here is, Bouvard says, “AM/FM radio does not just dominate in-car listening during drive time. It also has massive shares during the day when Americans are working. Tune-in occurs when listeners are commuting and are at their place of employment. Drive time is important for AM/FM radio advertisers, [but] middays and weekends are just as effective for advertisers to reach consumers.”

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