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 108||Classic Hits||8.5||iHeartMedia|
|2.||KS95||Adult contemporary||7.9||Hubbard Broadcasting|
|7.||104 JACK FM||Adult Hits||5.9||CBS Radio|
|8.||KTIS||Contemporary Christian||5.5||University of Northwestern|
|10.||Cities 97||Adult contemporary||4.9||iHeartMedia|
|13.||KNOW||News/Talk||3.7||American Public Media|
|15.||The Current||Adult Alternative||2.5||American Public Media|
|16.||KSJN||Classical||1.6||American Public Media|
|18.||The Vibe||Hip Hop||1.3||Cumulus|
|19.||ESPN 1500||Sports||1.1||Hubbard Broadcasting|
|20.||KMOJ||Urban Contemporary||0.6||Center 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.)