Light At The End Of The Radio Tunnel?


(By Charlie Sislen) A year ago, our lives were changing. Everyone was still trying to determine how COVID was going to affect them and for how long their market would be shut down. The March 2020 PPM data was being released and broadcasters started to see how COVID impacted radio listening. Half of the March 2020 survey was before major changes had taken place, and the other half was after the shutdown. In most markets, listening fell in March of 2020, and then fell even further in April.

Last year we predicted that the trend in radio listening would resemble the Nike swoosh. Down really fast, and a slow steady return. From February to April 2020 listening fell, but in many markets it has slowly returned and is approaching March 2020 levels.

Fast forward to today, about 20 million people are being vaccinated per week. Businesses are open and rush hour traffic is a thing again. This week, the top markets are seeing indications of this in the March 2021 survey. Remember, the March 2021 survey reflects people’s lifestyles and radio listening from March 4-31, 2021. This trend in increased levels of listening continues today as people’s lives slowly normalize.

So, what happened? While all markets are different, the news is good, maybe very good. Most markets have experienced healthy increases in market listening compared to the February 2021 survey, with several markets showing a steady increase in listening over multiple surveys. Many markets are approaching listening levels similar to the March 2020 survey.

A major part of that success is cume growth. A segment of the population left radio due to lifestyle changes. Now that their lifestyles are returning to normal, they are coming back to radio.

Why is this important?
The size of the radio pie impacts every station in the market. As the pie continues to grow with the March 2021 survey, there are more ratings points to be had. More ratings points increases stations’ unit rates and therefore revenue. It also shows how important radio remains to the general public.

We at Research Director, Inc. suggest that both sales and programming folks keep an eye on listening levels. Whether they are PURs (diary) or PUMMs (PPM), it is important to track how your potential listeners are using radio.

Now that we are approaching March 2020 listening levels, it is time for our industry to grow the size of the pie, and get back to February 2020 listening levels. Revenue will follow.

Charlie Sislen is a partner at Research Director, Inc. He can be reached at 410-956-0363 or by e-mail at [email protected]


  1. Charlie is right. And from a revenue standpoint, time for all of us to hit the gas pedal. Raise your rates now by 10%. Many businesses have already raised their prices by 10% to offset revenue shortfalls caused by Covid. Develop strong campaign and commercial ideas and specs.
    Sell it!!

    • And then, when we rightfully raise our rates, we need all of the radio broadcasters to stick with it and not buckle to the competition. Even with thoughtfully raised rates, we must maintain rate integrity by being prepared and going into a client meeting defending our value, not haggling price.

      • Absolutely. And Covid caused a lot of disruption for sure. But Covid is creating new trends and new businesses too. Think outside the box. Drill outside of the “regular businesses.” New businesses need to establish themselves, and only radio offers mass reach…plus digital assets. We now offer 2 mediums, in effect.
        To your point, SELL the value!! Go for the bigger piece
        of the pie, that we deserve.


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