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Summer Classics: Radio Formats Line Up for Annual Summertime Bump

3 minute read | July 2018

The release of Nielsen’s June portable people meter (PPM) results allows us to take a first look at how audiences are shifting their radio listening behavior now that summer is in full swing. Seasonality plays a large role in how Americans use radio, and format preferences always shift during the warmest months of every summer. A number of factors drive this shift, including work (and commuting) schedules, the summertime music cycle and listeners seeking the musical vibe to match their seasonal mindset.

We’ve thoroughly documented the history of these behavior shifts since the inception of electronic audience measurement (the PPM system) seven years ago. And with the month-to-month cadence of ratings results, we have become accustomed over time to the ebbs and flows of a handful of major music formats during the middle of the year, namely, for Classic Hits, Classic Rock and Country radio.

In fact, looking back at the past six summers, these three formats (along with Pop Contemporary Hit Radio, CHR) have seen the most uplift in audience share during June, July and August compared with the first five months of the year. This yearly accounting has come to be known as the race to be the “format of the summer,” and since 2014, only Classic Hits and Classic Rock have won the title…both taking the crown in two year stretches.

The June 2018 book gives us our first opportunity to handicap this summer’s race among the top music formats nationwide. The July and August surveys will complete the picture, but for now, we’re using June as a leading indicator for how audiences shifted their habits once Memorial Day was in the rearview mirror (the June PPM survey covered May 24 through June 20).

Radio listenership in June was good for both Classic Rock and Classic Hits, which comes as no surprise considering that these two categories have each won format of the summer honors twice in the past four years. This year, listenership for both formats is pacing ahead of the average of the first five months of this year, but Classic Hits continued to break records in June. The format’s share of audience among persons 6+ was 5.9% in June, the highest mark for Classic Hits we’ve ever recorded.

Country is also performing well this year, as tune in to this format has been stronger than in the past few years. You have to wind the clock back five years, to the summer of 2013, to find the last time Country went on such a warm weather hot streak; in fact this was the same year it took home ‘format of the summer’ honors. Summer is always the biggest time of year for Country radio listening, and as the rest of this summer plays out on the airwaves, we will be watching closely to see if Country can influence radio listeners to the same degree that Classic Rock and Classic Hits have in recent memory.

Data used in this article is inclusive of multicultural audiences. Hispanic consumer audiences are composed of both English and Spanish-speaking representative populations.

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