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Radio’s Summer Heat Wave Spreads Across the Country
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Radio’s Summer Heat Wave Spreads Across the Country

Although summer didn’t officially start until late June, the competition on the radio airwaves for annual summer bragging rights has been hot and heavy for several months now. Beginning with the Nielsen March portable people meter (PPM) results, we’ve been eyeing a handful of major national music formats that are all vying to increase their share of audience come the dog days of summer.

Each year we track audience listening across formats in June, July and August and then compare the increases and decreases with the first five months of the year. And so far in 2015, a stable of past winners has made attempts to break away from the pack and grab the crown of “format of the summer.” We saw Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) and Classic Rock jump out to an early lead in March, Hot Adult Contemporary (AC) and Country close the gap in April and Urban Contemporary and Classic Hits join the race in May.

Now, with the release of the June PPM data, the recent momentum for Classic Rock, Pop CHR and Urban Contemporary has cooled, while Hot AC and Country are gaining steam.

Hot AC is currently hotter than a bottle rocket on the fourth of July. In June, the format again set or tied records for highest share of audience under PPM measurement in all three of the major demographics we assess. Among audiences aged 6 and older, Hot AC trended 6.7%-6.8% from May to June, setting a new all-time record for 6+ PPM share along the way. The 18-34 listener share was 7.7% this month (equaling the record mark set in February of this year), while Hot AC’s 25-54 numbers have held steady at their all-time high of 7.3% in each of the past three months. Hot AC is significantly ahead of last summer’s pace, and is one of the leading contenders this year for format of the summer.

Hot AC June Listening Trends

Hot AC Jun-12 Jun-13 Jun-14 Jun-15
Persons 6+ 5.8% 5.7% 6.3% 6.8%*
Persons 18-34 6.4% 6.1% 7.2% 7.7%*
Persons 25-54 6.4% 6.3% 6.8% 7.3%*
*Record
Source: Nielsen

Country continued to climb in June and is rounding into seasonal form of summertime audience spikes. And while this year’s numbers aren’t as high as 2014’s record-setting summer, June marks the third straight month of growth for Country. It also has the format back at share levels last seen in the fall of 2014. The most recent three-month trend has seen Country grow 7.8%-8.0%-8.2% in total, 9.0%-9.3%-9.4% with 18 to 34 listeners, and 7.6%-7.8%-8.1% with the 25-54 audience. Based on the fact that Country began 2015 at a lower point than last year, its steady growth over the past few months has it squarely in contention for the summer format crown.

Country June Listening Trends

Country Jun-12 Jun-13 Jun-14 Jun-15
Persons 6+ 7.5% 8.2% 8.6% 8.2%
Persons 18-34 8.6% 9.6% 10.6% 9.4%
Persons 25-54 7.2% 7.9% 8.4% 8.1%
Source: Nielsen

Lastly, Classic Hits continued its quiet, but steady, seasonal rise in June, tracking nearly identical to the results of each of the past two summers. The format built on its strong May performance by increasing share this month with listeners 6+ (5.4% in June) and 25-54 (4.7%), while remaining flat with the 18-34 audience (3.4%). When Classic Hits was the surprise winner last summer, it was a late charge in August that propelled the format over the top and into the winner’s circle, something that we will keep an eye on over the next two months.

Classic Hits June Listening Trends

Classic Hits Jun-12 Jun-13 Jun-14 Jun-15
Persons 6+ 5.4% 5.4% 5.4% 5.4%
Persons 18-34 3.5% 3.4% 3.5% 3.4%
Persons 25-54 5.1% 4.8% 4.6% 4.7%
Source: Nielsen

June 2015 PPM Markets Top 5 Formats by Average Quarter Hour Share (Full Week Daypart)

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
News/Talk (8.5%) Pop CHR (12.7%) Pop CHR (9.2%)
Pop CHR (8.4%) Country (9.4%) Country (8.1%)
Country (8.2%) Hot AC (7.7%) Hot AC (7.3%)
AC (7.4%) Urban Contemporary (6.4%) AC (7.1%)
Hot AC (6.8%) AC (6.2%) News/Talk (5.8%)
PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

Note: 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.