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Radio Formats Fall into Familiar Trends in September
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Radio Formats Fall into Familiar Trends in September

With summer’s heat in the rearview mirror and pumpkin-spiced everything filling the shelves, we are turning our attention to fall and, on the radio dial, to the seasonal change in habits that corresponds with cooling temperatures and shorter days. Also behind us is the heat of the annual summer push to rule the airwaves, where Classic Hits grabbed headlines last month and was crowned “format of the summer.”

Now, with the release of Nielsen’s September portable people meter (PPM) ratings for U.S. radio, we’re seeing that some of the formats that popped during the summer months are maintaining the momentum while others are rebounding from seasonal declines. The September survey covered the last three weeks of August through Labor Day, and the storylines include Urban Contemporary setting records across the board, Country moving to near-record levels and spikes for both Sports and Spanish-language music.

Urban Contemporary tops the headlines by posting the format’s best month ever in PPM measurement. This comes on the heels of 2014, which was Urban Contemporary’s best ratings year, and so far 2015 looks to be even better. From August to September, the format grew in all three of the demographics we profile, with listening share rising from 3.6% to 3.7% with all audiences 6+ and from 4.1% to 4.2% among listeners 25-54. But it was with 18-to-34 year-olds where things really took off, with listening share jumping from 6.6% to 6.9%. Using the chart below to track the format’s September progress over time, you’ll see that Urban Contemporary has gained nearly two full share points with 18-to-34 year-olds since 2012.

Urban Contemporary September Listening Trends

Urban Contemporary Sep-12 Sep-13 Sep-14 Sep-15
Persons 6+ 2.7% 3.0% 3.1% 3.7%*
Persons 18-34 4.7% 5.4% 5.8% 6.9%*
Persons 25-54 2.9% 3.2% 3.5% 4.2%*
*Record.
Source: Nielsen

For Country, September was also a good month, particularly among audiences 18-34 and 25-54. This month marked the seventh consecutive month of growth with 18-to-34 year-olds, where the format has gained nearly two share points since the most recent Holiday survey (7.9% in Holiday to 9.8% in September). The 9.8% in September matches last year’s result when Country was coming off its largest summer ever. Of course, that success was also followed by a half-year of decline, and that trend will be top of mind as we track Country into the final stretch of the year. But speaking of Country’s record-setting summer of 2014, this month’s 8.3% in the 25-54 demo is just a 10th of a share-point away from the all-time high mark of 8.4% set in July 2014.

Country September Listening Trends

Country Sep-12 Sep-13 Sep-14 Sep-15
Persons 6+ 7.4% 8.2% 8.3% 8.2%
Persons 18-34 8.6% 9.6% 9.8% 9.8%
Persons 25-54 7.2% 8.0% 8.2% 8.3%
Source: Nielsen

Finally, below are several other highlights from Nielsen’s September PPM data across 45 markets* using the full-week (Monday-Sunday 6 a.m.-midnight) daypart audience shares.

  • The passing of Labor Day in the September survey also marks a seasonal pivot on the sports calendar, as football returns and baseball pennant races shift into high gear. As a result, Sports radio stations often bank on big fall numbers, and if September is any indication, they may be in for another banner year. Since August, the Sports format saw steady growth this month with listeners 6+ (rising from 4.4% to 4.6% month-over-month) and 25-54 (4.9% to 5.1%), but what’s more telling is that the format is tracking right alongside last year’s pace. Fall 2014 was a high point for Sports radio in PPM, and with no indication that the appetite for sports content on the radio is waning, this fall may set more records.
  • The two largest Spanish-language formats also spiked in September, as both Mexican Regional and Spanish Contemporary gained audience this month. For Mexican Regional, the No. 1 Spanish-language format nationwide, September’s 4.7% share among 18-34 listeners (both Hispanic and non-Hispanic combined) is the best result since March and caps a run of four straight months of growth after May’s low of 4.2%. A similar trend is happening in the 25-54 demographic; September’s 4.2% listening share is also the best result since March and represents a significant turnaround since May’s low of 3.8%. As for Spanish Contemporary, the past three months the format has trended 2.5%-2.6%-2.8% with listeners 18-34 and 2.5%-2.5%-2.7% with the 25-54 audience.

September 2015 PPM Markets Top Five Formats by Average Quarter Hour Share (Full Week Daypart)

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
News/Talk (8.8%) Pop CHR (12.1%) Pop CHR (8.7%)
Country (8.2%) Country (9.8%) Country (8.3%)
Pop CHR (7.9%) Hot AC (7.4%) AC (7.2%)
AC (7.4%) Urban Contemporary (6.9%) Hot AC (7.1%)
Hot AC (6.6%) AC (6.5%) News/Talk (6.1%)
PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

*Nielsen Audio officially has 48 measured PPM markets, but three of them (Nassau-Suffolk, Middlesex-Somerset-Union, and San Jose) are included in the larger New York and San Francisco metro areas. Therefore, the listening data from those markets are included in these results even though we did not break them out separately.

Data used in this report is inclusive of multicultural audiences. Hispanic consumer audiences are composed of both English and Spanish speaking representative populations.