Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Radio Listening Audiences Rebound Despite Pandemic Impact

Nielsen report finds those with greater spending optimism are more likely to be heavy AM/FM radio listeners

Just as people have adjusted their day-to-day living habits under a COVID-19 world, so too have they adjusted their listening behaviors. A series of client webinar surveys held by Nielsen looked at spending intentions, listening habits and perceptions about when the world will return to normal — and found that heavy AM/FM radio listeners may hold a key to kickstarting that engine.

The first key insights that the survey revealed is that radio listening is on the rise, that listeners are tuning in with greater frequency to news/talk formats and that those with greater spending optimism are more likely to be heavy AM/FM radio listeners.

[Read: Amidst Stay-at-Home Orders, Radio Listenership Remains Strong]

“Advertisers who seek to influence shoppers who are ready and willing to spend will find them listening to American AM/FM radio,” said Pierre Bouvard, chief insights officer at Cumulus Media/Westwood One and author of the report.

One of the key findings: radio listening levels rose in the first few weeks of April after seeing a dip during the last few weeks of March. After all of those surveyed said they listened to radio in the first week of March, listener levels dropped significantly — to a low of 67% — in the back half of March as people began sheltering at home. But during the three-week period between late April and mid-May, those levels rose 22% to a high of 82%, perhaps as Americans began searching for information and news about the coronavirus.

The survey also found that the highest level of radio listening occurred during the weekend. “A major finding from Nielsen’s Portable People Meter data is the significant resurgence of crucial weekend listening which occurs as Americans run errands and shop,” Bouvard said.

Those trips to the store for supplies or food correlate with survey data by two geolocation sources: Apple Maps and Geopath. Both reported significant levels of driving trips and miles traveled.

Even during the regular weekday, the majority of listeners were consuming AM/FM radio when they’re out of the home. The study found that 58% of all U.S. AM/FM radio listening in the April PPM market survey was out of home, compared to 71% in March. In April, 27 of Nielsen’s 44 PPM markets had out-of-home listening volumes that were over 60% of total listening.

Nielsen, listenership, Pierre Bouvard, coronavirus

It’s probably no big surprise to reveal which station formats had the greatest share. When looking at the 45 different markets that were used in the survey, news/talk formats (both commercial and noncommercial) grew by double digit amounts in February, April and March. In February news/talk grew by 12%, in March it grew by 13.3% and in April it grew by 15%.

Nielsen also commissioned a separate survey of 1,000 Americans and asked them what their spending intentions were in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Nielsen identified three consumer segments with varying degrees of post-COVID-19 normalcy: those with a “wait and see” attitude, those with a “proceed with caution” outlook and those with a “ready to go” outlook.

The “wait and see” group were those consumers who do not believe that life is normalizing or that the economy is opening up. The “proceed with caution” consumers are those in the middle when it comes to resumption of the economy. The “ready to go” are those Americans most optimistic about a return to normalcy.

Nielsen, listenership, Pierre Bouvard, coronavirus

The study found that roughly one-third of those surveyed fall in the “ready to go” category feel positive about life returning to pre-coronavirus norms. Those individuals also had stronger spending intentions.

Across seven categories, the “ready to go” group had high-spend intention indices for purchasing within a month. Within a month, this segment said they were 29% more likely to spend on auto parts and repair, 47% more likely to spend on household services and 43% more likely to spend on home improvement. That group tended to be younger individuals who are employed with kids, work outside the home and spend a lot of time in their vehicle.

One of the study’s major conclusions is that those with greater spending optimism are more likely to be heavy AM/FM radio listeners.

Nielsen, listenership, Pierre Bouvard, coronavirus

The survey found that heavy AM/FM radio listeners say they will spend more soon. Those individuals who fell into the “ready to go” group were 29% more likely to be heavy AM/FM radio listeners.

Across various consumer categories, heavy AM/FM radio listeners are far more likely to indicate that they will be spending in the near term compared to heavy TV viewers, he said.

Radio bested TV in a number of subsequent areas including the percentage who expect to order take out within the near term, to visit a hair or nail salon, to plan a vacation, and to make a major purchase such as an appliance.

One third of those who referred to themselves as heavy AM/FM radio listeners also said they were more likely purchase an auto or home purchase in the next 12 months.

“There is a growing number of optimistic Americans who feel life is returning to normal,” Bouvard said. “These consumers are ready to be at the forefront of marketplace spending across dozens of categories.”

These high and moderate optimists and their growing consumer confidence are key drivers of the country-wide momentum towards a more normal way of life and spending, he said.