With the second leg of the Triple Crown set to get underway this weekend in Baltimore, horse racing is once again enjoying its annual moment in the spotlight. Over on the radio dial, it’s also a big time of year for jockeying; that is, tracking the fortunes of major radio formats with summer right around the corner. In March, we saw Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) and Classic Rock bolt out of the gate strong, and with the release of Nielsen’s April portable people meter (PPM) results, Hot Adult Contemporary (AC) and Country are also looking to show in the race for summertime success on the airwaves.
Historically, the crown of ‘format of the summer’ is awarded to the major format that sees the most audience growth during June, July and August compared to the first five calendar months of the year. There’s still a ways go around the yearly track, but as we head towards the first turn, let’s examine the pole positions for some of radio’s most popular formats.
After a spike last month among all listeners aged 6 and over, Pop CHR dipped slightly in April (going from 8.7% to 8.5%) but is still ahead of its pace looking back over the past four years. The format held steady with 18 to 34 year olds since March ( 12.8%), and in the 25-54 demographic, the format trended down just a tenth of a share-point (9.5% to 9.4%). Looking at the chart below, Pop CHR is out of the starting gate strong this year compared to past years.
However, the real headline story this month is the record-setting pace that Classic Rock continues to set. For the third straight month, the format went out and set new records for audience share among all three of the major audience groups we examine. Here are the growth trends from February to April: 5.1%-5.2%-5.3% among listeners 6+, 4.4%-4.6%-4.8% with audiences 18-34 and 5.6%-5.7%-6.0% in the 25-54 demographic. In racing terms, these have been some historic splits for Classic Rock. If the format keeps up this pace, it could be celebrating in the winner’s circle once summer concludes.
Speaking of a record-setting pace, Hot AC isn’t far behind Classic Rock this month. While we haven’t mentioned the format recently, it has been quietly having another great year and breaking records along the way. In April, Hot AC set new records for its best share under PPM measurement for both listeners 6 and older (6.7%, topping the 6.6% mark set in the holiday book and repeated in both February and March) and 25-54 (7.3% , breaking the 7.2% mark it achieved in each of the last two months). Hot AC had a huge summer back in 2011 and is poised to do well again this year as we head into barbeque and flip-flop season.
It doesn’t seem appropriate to call Country a “dark horse” in this race since it wears the crown of being radio’s number one national format. But after a significant cooling-off period following several years of explosive growth, the format is once again on the fast track.
Overall, April was a good month for Country, which saw positive share growth across all three age groups, posting its best month since last November. The format moved from 7.6% to7.8% among listeners 6+, from 8.5% to 9.0% with 18- 34 year olds, and from 7.4% to 7.6% with those 25-54. What stands out is the increase of half a share-point with 18-34 listeners; Country hasn’t seen this kind of growth in its 18-34 audience share in a single month in more than four years.
And this could be the start of several strong months for the format. The last two summers have been very good to Country; 2013 was the format’s best in terms of percentage of audience growth, while 2014 was its all-time PPM peak. Comparing this April’s results to years past, Country has now positioned itself to make a run at those successes again, though it will take some significant gains in the next few months to match or approach 2014’s record highs.
One final notable result this month is that Urban Contemporary continues to rise. Expanding on March’s then-record 6.4% with listeners aged 18-34, in April the format upped the bar again by posting a 6.5% share with the same demographic. After never breaking the 6-share ceiling in the history of PPM in the 18-34 group, Urban Contemporary has now done it in six of the last seven months.
What’s more, Urban Contemporary’s growth is in many ways happening separate from the upstart popularity of the classic hip-hop trend, which kicked off last fall. This is because, of the dozen or so new stations that have gone to classic hip-hop, only two of them are currently classified as an Urban Contemporary station. The others are a mixture of Rhythmic AC, Urban AC and Rhythmic CHR, meaning they aren’t contributing to the growth of Urban Contemporary formats in our monthly trends.