Radio Format of the Summer? A Younger “Classic Hits”

Nielsen says playlist changes coincide with the format’s best PPM performance
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It was a good summer to play classic hits on U.S. radio.

“Summer seasonality is an important factor for the classic hits listener.” So says research firm Nielsen, which analyzed portable people meter ratings to find out which major national radio format saw the most “lift” in audience during June–August compared to the first five months of the year. “This annual race to crown the ‘format of the summer’ is now in its fifth year, and for the first time, we have a repeat winner: Classic hits takes home the title in 2015 and becomes the first format to win the race twice and the first to win in back-to-back years,” Nielsen wrote in a blog post.

It said the format’s seasonal improvement was challenged by hot AC and country. “But in the end, the audience share for classic hits jumped by nearly 10% this summer, the most of any major format.” Perhaps not surprisingly, all-news saw the biggest drop in summer listening share by format. (See the results for 17 formats.)

Notably, the last two summers have not only been best on record for classic hits, but “they’ve brought in more listeners. In fact, summer shares among 18-to-34 listeners have risen nearly 10% since 2012. This is a noteworthy trend for a format that is not generally associated with millennials or younger audiences.”

Nielsen published charts showing how big-market classic hits stations have updated playlists over several years. It found that more than half of the top 20 most-played songs this summer were from the 1980s. “Three years ago, no songs in the top 20 came from that decade. And since then, the average release year among those songs has shifted by seven years from 1973 to 1980.”

(Example: The songs atop the list three years ago were “Sister Golden Hair” by America from 1975 and “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett from 1977, while this year the leaders were “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey from 1981 and “Always Something There to Remind Me” by Naked Eyes, 1983. See the full list by scrolling down on the blog post.)

Nielsen says these playlist changes have coincided with the two best summers classic hits has seen in PPM measurement.

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