Is the Potential Radio Audience Shrinking?

Just before the holiday I saw some numbers that were alarming, and (surprise, surprise) they came from Nielsen.

Five top markets with audience measured from December 2017 to December 2018. And in all five, the total AQH persons had DECLINED by an average of 11.1%. Yes, you read that right. I’m not talking about AQH persons to any one station here, I’m talking about total radio usage on an AQH basis for the MARKETS.

Digging deeper, we also looked at total CUME listening to radio in these markets. Those numbers were likewise DOWN in every case but one – the average decline was 0.6%. While you may see this decline as frictional, keep in mind that the POPULATION of the US is UP about 0.7% per year, meaning that listening to radio should increase simply because the population is growing. Unless, of course, it’s not.

Now obviously there could be some kind of unique December to December glitch here. Some fluke of an ever-flukey Nielsen. But remember that this analysis is across FIVE major markets and considers ALL radio listeners, not just those to one station or one format.

So if these numbers are to be believed, then here’s what it means: TOTAL listenership to radio is shrinking slowly. AVERAGE listenership to radio (a.k.a. “time spent listening” and its relationship to “occasions”) is shrinking more dramatically. This makes sense since we would expect listeners to alter the mix of listening choices before we’d expect them to turn off the radio altogether.

When you view this alongside the explosive growth of smart speakers in homes and elsewhere, it’s fair to ask this question:

When a consumer buys a smart speaker to listen to a vast variety of things in their home that they didn’t before listen to, we know that radio is one but only one of those many things. We know that MOST of the listening will be to “NOT radio.” If these people consumed SOME radio in this venue before the smart speaker, it’s then possible to speculate that every new smart speaker has the potential to DEPRESS radio listenership more than it ADDS to it. 

While we know some listenership to radio is coming via these devices, we also know that overall listening to radio is shrinking (if the above numbers are truly representative). So you tell me: Is the smart speaker an asset or a curse on balance?

It doesn’t matter, of course. The future is here whether it suits the radio industry or not, and we must play the hand we are dealt. But the question remains, what’s the best way to respond in an era when some data suggest listeners are tuning out the radio or at least tuning it in much less often?



Mark Ramsey is president of Mark Ramsey Media, strategic research provider to many Christian music stations including K-LOVE, AIR1, KLTY/Dallas, WPOZ/Orlando, KTIS/Minneapolis, and many others. More information about his services is at Sign up for FAITHBRIGHT, his weekly email of smart and actionable ideas for Christian broadcasters here: Reach him at 858-485-6372 or

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