Media in general is constantly changing, and these changes are especially prevalent in the world of radio. Data released by Arbitron in early 2013 with data collected in the Fall of 2012 has shown the impact of demographic shifts with changes in the Top-100 Market Rankings as well as in the number of stations by format. The top ten radio media markets are: 1. New York, NY; 2. Los Angeles, CA; 3. Chicago, IL; 4. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA; 5. Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX; 6. Houston, TX; 7. Washington-Hagerstown, DC-MD; 8. Philadelphia, PA; 9. Atlanta, GA; and 10. Boston-Manchester, MA-NH. While none of these markets are new to the top ten, only the top three remain in their positions from 2012. All of the others have shuffled positions. Mostly notably, Philadelphia went from #4 to #8.
2013 is the first year that Arbitron has had sufficient Portable People Meter (PPM) data to use in their reports. PPM data is said to be much more accurate than previous data collected by the diary method, which fell victim to human error, in that it depended entirely on people accurately recording by hand every bit of radio they listened to. So it is possible that the data has not in fact changed, rather before it was simply incorrect. Of course, PPM data may not be the end-all-be-all of data collection as it too has its challenges. Some radio stations have complained that the sample size is too small. As measurement technology continues to evolve, and demographics continue to change, it’s likely we’ll see further shifts in the top-100 and other rankings.
Country, news and news-talk radio stations continue to thrive at the top of the list of station formats. News-talk stations are dominated by famous voices like Rush Limbaugh, who has dominated the top spot for the past few years. During election years and major news events or natural catastrophes, news-talk radio increases even more so as it is more important for citizens to get informed when trying to figure out who to vote for or the latest status on a major news event, such as the Boston Marathon Bombings. Many see radio as a more reliable and accessible source than mainstream media because it can weather power outages and easily go anywhere you go.
Country music as a whole is an industry, with television stations like “CMT” and shows like “Nashville,” thus; it is not surprising that country music tops the list as the most common radio station format. Country music is the most fluid between generations and populations—when a teenager and parent are in the car together, they are more likely to settle on a country music station rather than a jazz station or R&B station, as there is something timeless about country music.
Unlike formats, the number of radio stations by state does not change quite as often, as in most cases radio stations get bought out and changed to a different format rather than just cancelled completely. It is also not uncommon for radio stations to change format after the latest Arbitron ratings come out, in order to attract more listeners and make more money, with a more popular radio format.
Radio is a tricky business. There are constantly changes not only in format and rankings but in the way that radio is syndicated, whether that is online or through satellite. Stay tuned as radio continues forward on the media rollercoaster.
Read more about the evolution in radio audience measurement and Portable Personal People Meters