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Classical Music Still Feels at Home on Public Radio

Arbitron’s latest also shows news/talk remains the top public format

Classical music may be harder to find among commercial stations these days; but the format gained more share of the public radio audience than any other last year, according to the latest “Public Radio Today” report from Arbitron.

The number of stations airing straight classical public music (i.e., excluding those in the “news/classical” combo category) increased 9%, to 109, in late 2009 compared to a year earlier. Classical’s share of the public radio audience increased from 13.7 in 2008 to 15.4 in 2010, the largest of any format in the report. (Meantime, the number of stations in combo category “news/classical” was down 13 to 250 stations, though its share of listening grew a tad.)

“The increase can likely be attributed to several factors: an increase in the number of stations programming the format; … a steady decline of Classical music stations in the commercial band, driving more audience to public Classical stations; and the inheritance of some audience that public News/Talk had lost,” Arbitron stated. The format’s gender composition also has become more male, up to 49% from 45% four years ago; and though still skewing older, its age composition got younger over a year, with the sub-55 audience growing from 29% to 32%.

The study found that overall, news/talk remains the most listened-to public radio format, capturing nearly half of all public radio listening. A dozen stations added that format in 2009; its 12+ audience share and reach are more than twice the next strongest public format. However, its ratings were off from “stellar” numbers during the presidential election.

Other findings:

Adult Album Alternative (AAA) had 11 fewer stations in late 2009 compared to a year earlier, though its numbers are relatively stable.

Twenty-six new variety music stations helped boost that format from a 1.7 share to a 2.2 share of the public radio audience in 2009.

A decline in TSL to jazz music stations contributed to that format’s AQH decline over several reports. “On the other hand, more stations are programming News-Jazz and that format saw a big increase in cume audience over the last year.”

Arbitron’s report also replaced the former national map based on census regions with a state-by-state “heat index” map so programmers can see how formats perform in each state across the country compared to the format’s national average.

The study analyzes audience listening patterns and demographics of these public radio formats: news/talk, news-classical, classical music, news-music, adult album alternative (AAA), jazz, news-jazz and variety music. For the first time the study also reported on the format called news-AAA.

The authors also included a brief discussion for public radio programmers of what Arbitron has learned about the PPM so far:

“In our experience of measuring radio listening using the PPM system, certain characteristics stand in contrast to what we have observed using Diary measurement — the typical listener in the PPM system is exposed to nearly twice as many radio stations in a given week and uses radio on far more occasions than what is typically reported in the Diary,” they wrote. “The increase in the number of occasions is usually offset by a lower amount of Time Spent Listening per occasion in the PPM service than in the Diary. However, we have not seen consistent patterns in the amount of reported listening to a particular radio format or by particular demographic groups in the PPM service when compared to the Diary; these statistics can vary widely by market.”