Deflated: The Word of the Month for January on the Airwaves

Deflated: The Word of the Month for January on the Airwaves

As another historic winter grinds on in the northeast and football fans everywhere endure their own seasonal depression now that the NFL season has ended, the January portable people meter (PPM) survey results come down to one thing for many leading radio formats: deflation.

Whether assessing the effect of last month’s “deflate-gate” on the sports dial, the series of “deflated” pressure systems that have brought storm after storm to the most densely populated region in the U.S. and spiked the ratings for news radio, or the softest (“deflating”?) start to the year in a good while for Country’s Millennial audience, the January radio landscape was greatly influenced by one manner of deflation, or another.

Amid the overall lull, the Adult Contemporary (AC) and Hot AC formats were two notable exceptions. AC, which leads the pack each season for holiday listening, was coming off a strong holiday book that was a standout year for the annual “all-Christmas” format compared to years past. That positive momentum carried over into January, with AC recording a 7.6% among audiences 6 and older, an improvement of about 3% over last January (7.4%). Hot AC also did well this January, quite well in fact, setting a new record for the format’s best January (6.3%) to date. To put this in perspective, Hot AC has gained nearly three full share points since January of 2011 (see chart below).

In the Sports arena, January was simply awesome for the ratings, as the NFL playoffs lived up to their already high standards for both excitement and on-field controversy. And if that weren’t enough, anybody not living off the grid heard about, talked about and wondered about the air pressure standards of professional footballs in the run-up to the Super Bowl. For the record, the January survey ended on Jan. 28, the Wednesday before the big game. The result was the best January ever in PPM measurement for Sports among listeners 6 and older (5.1%) and those aged 25-54 (5.7%). The format’s 18-34 January results (3.9%) were second only to January of 2012 when Sports recorded a 4.2%.

Country radio has been a hot topic of conversation over the past few months, as the end of 2014 brought a well-documented stretch of declining audience shares that ended in last month’s holiday book. January delivers some positive results, particularly in historical context, but it also comes with a significant caveat when talking about Millennial (aged 18-34) audiences. First, the good news: Country’s 6+ share this month (7.5%) was its second-highest January share in PPM, behind only last year’s 7.7%. And among listeners 25-54, the format matched the January high water mark of last year (also 7.5%), meaning the two best January surveys for Country in PPM measurement have come in the last two years. These results position the format well to build its audience in the first half of 2015 leading up to the annual seasonal summer peak of Country listening.

On the other hand, this month’s 18-34 results (8.6%) mark the lowest January in two years and the lowest non-holiday book share for Country since January 2013. It was only seven months ago that Country scored its best 18-34 numbers ever in PPM (10.6% in June of 2014); that’s a change of two full share points from then until now. After two years of consistent 18-34 audience growth, Country finds itself this month back at the same place it was before that growth trend began. Needless to say, the next six months will be very interesting as we track Country’s performance among the Millennial audience.

The table below highlights the five-year trend of January PPM results for more than a dozen major formats among audiences 6 and older. Three formats (Hot AC, Sports and Classic Rock) saw their best January results last month, while another three (News/Talk, Mexican Regional and Rhythmic Contemporary Hit Radio) begin the New Year at the lowest January levels ever captured by Nielsen’s PPM measurement.


Persons 6+ Jan 2011 Jan 2012 Jan 2013 Jan 2014 Jan 2015
News/Talk 10.7% 10.2% 9.8% 9.3% 9.0%
Pop CHR 7.7% 7.7% 7.9% 8.2% 8.1%
AC 8.6% 8.0% 8.1% 7.4% 7.6%
Country 6.7% 7.0% 7.3% 7.7% 7.5%
Hot AC 3.7% 5.3% 5.3% 5.9% 6.3%
All Sports 4.1% 4.5% 4.5% 4.7% 5.1%
Classic Hits 4.9% 5.2% 5.1% 4.8% 4.9%
Urban AC 4.6% 4.9% 5.1% 4.8% 4.9%
Classic Rock 3.8% 3.7% 4.1% 4.4% 4.9%
Mexican Regional 4.0% 4.2% 4.0% 3.6% 3.4%
Urban Contemporary 2.6% 2.5% 2.8% 3.0% 3.1%
Rhythmic CHR 4.1% 3.8% 3.7% 3.7% 3.0%
All News 3.0% 2.7% 2.8% 3.0% 3.0%
PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen

January 2015 PPM Markets Top 5 Formats by Average Quarter Hour Share (Full Week Daypart)

Persons 6+ Adults 18-34 Adults 25-54
News/Talk (9.0%) Pop CHR (12.3%) Pop CHR (8.8%)
Pop CHR (8.1%) Country (8.6%) Country (7.5%)
AC (7.6%) Hot AC (7.5%) AC (7.5%)
Country (7.5%) AC (6.4%) Hot AC (6.8%)
Hot AC (6.3%) Urban Contemp./Rhythmic CHR (5.8%) News/Talk (6.4%)
PPM—Portable people meter. CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio. AC—Adult Contemporary.
Source: Nielsen


Nielsen Audio officially has 48 measured PPM markets, but three of them (Nassau-Suffolk, Middlesex-Somerset-Union, and San Jose) are included in the larger New York and San Francisco metro areas. Therefore, the listening data from those markets are included in these results even though we did not break them out separately.

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