A few takeaways from the latest radio ratings report

It’s a stretch to call Nielsen Audio’s ratings for radio an exact science — complaints about its ​ability to gauge the primary listener’s intent linger on. The current system relies on Portable People Meters (PPM), a pager-­like device that picks up coded signals from a station’s broadcast automatically logging which station a listener is tuned to.

But it the Neilsen system has its flaws — is the mom driving kids to school tuned into the station ​she​ chooses or what the kids want to hear? — it is far more reliable than the old Arbitron system, which relied on selected listeners filling out paper diaries after listening to something. (Pop quiz: What station were ​you ​listening to at 4:45 p.m. six weeks ago?)

Anyway, the broadest measure of Nielsen’s monthly surveys, the one measuring all listeners 12 years of age and older (aka “12+”) is available without buying a Nielsen subscription. And as a service/curiosity, below are the December 2015 “12+” ratings for the 2,875,000 such people in the Twin Cities metro area, the 16th largest market in the United States. 

For those unfamiliar with the ratings process/radio business: Almost every station programs its airtime to appeal to a particular age, gender or ethnic audience, i.e. its “target demographic.”

For example, Hubbard Broadcasting’s myTalk 107.1 (KTMY­-FM) focuses on topics it believes are of interest to women primarily from 18-­49 years of age. iHeartMedia’s KFAN-­FM 100.3 prefers men 18-­54. Sales teams from each station fan out in search of advertisers with goods and services appealing to those specific demographic groups.

The point being, if the stray 12-year­-old male tunes in to myTalk­FM, it is an anomalous benefit, but not something the station is going to concern itself with particularly, and almost no station is programmed for every listener, which is another way of saying no station is aggressively targeting the entire “12+” demographic.

With that caveat, here are the numbers. The “rating” figures represent the percentage of possible listeners tuned to that station:

1.KOOL 108Classic Hits8.5iHeartMedia
2.KS95Adult contemporary7.9Hubbard Broadcasting
5.KQRSClassic Rock6.9Cumulus
6.KDWBContemporary Hits6.3iHeartMedia
7.104 JACK ­FMAdult Hits5.9CBS Radio
8.KTISContemporary Christian5.5University of Northwestern
9.WCCONews/Talk5.2CBS Radio
10.Cities 97Adult contemporary4.9iHeartMedia
12.BUZ’NCountry4.3CBS Radio
13.KNOWNews/Talk3.7American Public Media
15.The CurrentAdult Alternative2.5American Public Media
16.KSJNClassical1.6American Public Media
17.MYTALKTalk1.5Hubbard Broadcasting
18.The VibeHip Hop1.3Cumulus
19.ESPN 1500Sports1.1Hubbard Broadcasting
20.KMOJUrban Contemporary0.6Center for Communications and Develop.

Because I’m not privy to the detailed demographic information for each station or specific shows, I won’t wander very far into an analysis of who is and is not surviving best in the rapidly fragmenting business of radio, an industry under particularly intense pressure from new technologies like Spotify, Pandora and the rapidly proliferating universe of podcasts. But here are a couple of thoughts worth considering.

  • The “nostalgia” appeal of formats like KOOL 108, 92 KQRS and 104.1 JACK­-FM remains comparatively strong, confirming the long­-held belief that the target demographic for those stations are among the last to adopt new technologies.

  • There would seem to be no contest at all between KFAN-FM and Hubbard’s 1500 ESPN Twin Cities for the ears of sports fans. One is clearly doing things fans appreciate ­­— a lot — while the other isn’t even coming close. (Also note: In August “105 The Vibe,” Cumulus’ hip-­hop station, replaced “The Ticket,” a short-­lived attempt by the company to play in the sports-­jabber game.)

  • KTLK (aka “News Talk AM 1130”) the only full-­bore conservative talk station in the Top 20, seems to be holding its audience, despite its demotion to an AM signal in 2011 and a line­up consisting almost entirely of syndicated acts. (Two other political talk stations, AM-950 and AM 1280 The Patriot, do not subscribe to Nielsen Audio surveys and therefore are not listed.)

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Rick Ryan on 01/26/2016 - 10:53 am.

    sports talk radio

    As a consumer of sports talk radio, ESPN 1500’s biggest problem is from 1-4pm, Joe (getoutamyyard) Soucherary belongs on KTLK or off the air. KFAN benefits from the Vikings broadcast and with Gopher men’s sports in the tank and generating NO interest from the audience 1500 is at huge disadvantage. Most importantly old Soochie boy must go.

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 01/26/2016 - 10:57 am.

    KOOL plays Xmas tunes 24/7 in December

    The only time I (and many others, I bet) ever listen to it. Prolly has something to do with topping the December chart.

  3. Submitted by Jim Meyer on 01/26/2016 - 12:51 pm.


    Was Go96 in this report? I’m surprised, and not, that it didn’t even register.

  4. Submitted by Carrie Preston on 01/26/2016 - 02:57 pm.

    Talk Radio

    The TC is missing something that most large cities have: an entertaining talk radio station.

    Except for the key day-time shifts, WCCO interrupts their programming with sports and infomercials. MyTalk is TOO targeted on a particular audience. And MPR is..well…MPR.

    I listen to internet/satellite radio for music. It would be nice to have a consistently programmed talk radio station that is local, informative and entertaining.

  5. Submitted by Joann Anton on 01/26/2016 - 04:35 pm.

    96.7 FM

    Try 96.7 FM ! Great music and the person introducing each song isn’t loud and obnoxious.

  6. Submitted by Jeff Hamilton on 01/26/2016 - 07:12 pm.

    Wow! Epic beatdown of ESPN1500 by KFAN!

    Of course, having the Vikings and Wild have contributed to this, as well as PA, Common and Bump! That said, the Power Trip Morning Show is still garbage. At least they don’t have Morris who has flopped at 105.7 and is helping to kill Judd and Mackey with his “I’ve heard” anecdotes.

    To the person that points a finger at Soucheray, you are correct. His act is so tired and nothing Reusse can do will save him. Heck, Patrick can’t even save himself. Pat and Joe should retire, ESPN1500 should go away and KSTP1500 should return with an all talk format.

    As for Judd and Mackey; they should beg for jobs at KFAN and replace the dreadful morning show! Cities97 should revert to their old format, dump the annoying Keri Noble and pair the great Chris Hawkey with a good partner (Tone E Fly?) and let them banter about sports and music. As for Cory “Sludge” Cove? Send him out to pasture with Meatsauce and the nasally Falen and please get 54 year-old Dave Ryan off the air!

  7. Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 01/26/2016 - 11:10 pm.


    Go 96.3 didn’t place? I know their ratings are bad but I find that unlikely.

  8. Submitted by Scott Stansbarger on 01/27/2016 - 07:47 am.


    The morning show at KDWB is so tired. I don’t listen to it very often but they need to rid the show of Dave and bring in a newer and fresher morning show. Very outdated. In the mornings I mainly flip between KFAN, The Current, and 96.3. The Current’s morning show will stabilize once Jill returns and Brian joins her. The morning show at 96.3 is missing something. Maybe a woman to join the show?

  9. Submitted by Scott Stansbarger on 01/27/2016 - 08:15 am.

    Local News Ratings

    I would like to see the local news ratings – especially the morning news. I’m curious to see if WCCO took a hit with Jamie’s departure and the addition to Kim behind the news desk. Jamie was a natural but Kim seems very, very forced. Not enjoyable to watch.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/27/2016 - 08:36 am.

    I found it almost impossible to find 96.3 and 93.3

    I was curious to see how the new Alt Rock stations were doing compared to the Current and I couldn’t figure it out. 96.3 is still listed as some kind of sports talk station, 93.3 is an Iheart radio split signal of some kind. One of them, I can’t remember which, says on it’s website that they’re getting 1.5 in the 18-35 demographic but I don’t know what time period that is. I suspect those stations are gaining listeners at a decent pace but…

    I’ll tell you this, I’ve stricken The Current off my first tier preset buttons now that I have two Alt. Rock FM stations in addition to satellite.

    • Submitted by Scott Stansbarger on 01/28/2016 - 11:51 am.


      I had Alt 93.3 in my first tier of stations but when I drive from one outer burb to another for work, I grow tired of the constant static. It’s now in my FM2 options. They play pretty good music and I would listen to it a lot more if they upped the signal strength.

  11. Submitted by Pam Hill Kroyer on 01/27/2016 - 08:56 pm.

    Kool for the Holidays

    I’m pretty sure the December ratings reflect the market’s love of constant Christmas songs. Kool is always on top in December. Full disclosure: I, too, love hearing variations on “O Holy Night” & “The Christmas Song” all. month. long.

Leave a Reply