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Country Roads Lead to Success on National Radio
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Country Roads Lead to Success on National Radio

In the U.S., country music is more popular than ever! It rules on radio—the format has with the largest listener share on the national level. And since 244 million Americans listened to radio each week in Fall 2013—that’s over 90 percent of listeners in nearly every demographic—the genre’s radio popularity is good news for the country music industry. So what songs are generating this popularity? And who’s listening to all this music?

Country’s National Radio Reign

In the U.S., country music is king of the airwaves. The Country format’s 14.9 share of national listenership in Fall 2013 broke its previous high-water mark from earlier in the year. This isn’t big news for most radio folks—Country has been the No. 1 national format for more than eight years! Year-after-year, Country has managed to grow its piece of the total listening pie in Nielsen’s National Regional Database, which captures radio listenership across more than 250 local markets in the U.S. And it seems to set a new record in each new survey. Nevertheless, its popularity and marketability has risen as the format has continued to increase its share of total listening across America since the mid-2000s.

The chart below tracks Country’s share of the total U.S. radio-listening audience age 12 and older, going back to the spring of 2006.

Country’s Share of Total U.S. Radio Listeners

Survey Spring 2006 Spring 2007 Fall 2008 Fall 2009 Fall 2010 Fall 2011 Spring 2012 Spring 2013 Fall 2013
12+ AQH Share 13.0% 13.1% 12.9% 13.4% 14.1% 14.2% 14.2% 14.8% 14.9%
Source: Nielsen

So what songs were playing when the format commanded its largest listening share ever? The chart below lists the most played country songs in 2013 on the radio.

2013 Top 10 Most Played Songs – Country

Rank Title Artist Detections
1 Wagon Wheel Darius Rucker 195,000
2 Downtown Lady Antebellum 188,000
3 Mama’s Broken Heart Miranda Lambert 185,000
4 Get Your Shine On Florida Georgia Line 184,000
5 Don’t Ya Brett Eldredge 182,000
6 Done. The Band Perry 180,000
7 Runnin’ Outta Moonlight Randy Houser 178,000
8 All Over The Road Easton Corbin 177,000
9 Anywhere With You Jake Owen 175,000
10 Sure Be Cool If You Did Blake Shelton 175,000
Source: Nielsen

Country’s Listeners Are in the Best Places

While it’s no surprise that different generations favor different radio formats, Country is popular across ages. Country is the No. 1 national format among Millennials (aged 18-34) and Generation X’ers (aged 35-49). Among Boomer’s (aged 50-64), it’s the second most popular national format after News/Talk radio. While these younger generations are increasingly tech-savvy, both groups are still heavy radio listeners. In Fall 2013, 65.6 million Millennials and 57.1 million Gen X’ers used the radio each week, listening for 11.25 and 13.25 hours on average a week, respectively.

The Benefits of Country’s Record-Breaking Radio Presence

In addition to Country’s long popularity on radio, the genre’s music has lasting power. Garth Brooks is currently the top selling artist of the SoundScan Era (based on album sales from 1991), with more than 69.4 million units sold as of December 2013. And three other country artists, George Strait (more than 44.7 million units sold), Tim McGraw (41.8 million) and Alan Jackson (40.3 million) also appear among the top 10 selling artists. Sixty-three percent of music listeners still report discovering new music through traditional radio, which could account for its long-standing and current popularity. Either way, the Country music industry is well situated to benefit from the format’s high radio listenership.