Nielsen Audio Today cover 2019

“In small town America, radio isn’t just a ‘medium,’ it’s an extra-large.” That cheeky pun from Brad Kelly, Nielsen Audio’s Managing Director, speaks volumes about the role AM/FM plays in small and medium markets, which frequently get overlooked in an industry focused on the more glamorous big cities. But unlike the majors, broadcast radio “takes a back seat to no other medium,” Kelly says in the forward to the latest edition of Nielsen’s Audio Today, which focuses on these markets.

Kelly chalks up radio’s gravity-defying power in mid and small markets to the medium’s legacy and the decades local broadcasters have spent investing in community building. “They’re part of the fabric of small-town living. The county fair, high school football, local festivals, neighborhood events of all descriptions — radio has always been there, bringing communities together,” Kelly says.

The data reinforces the claim that radio remains an important component of small town America. Its monthly reach in these markets – 99% of adults 25-54, 98% of adults 18+, 94% of 18-34s and 91% of teens – outdistances all other media channels. Country is the top format in every major demo except teens, where it’s second to Pop CHR. News/talk is a close second among adults 18+. And proving that urban radio doesn’t only work in urban markets, urban contemporary is the No. 3 format among 18-34 year-olds in medium and small markets.

The fact that radio, quarter after quarter, continues to be the leading reach platform across all age groups is one reason why more money is flowing into the medium and why advertisers are paying more attention to it, Nielsen VP of Audience Insight Jon Miller said during a webinar Wednesday. That position of strength extends into the larger audio world. “Radio is the load-bearing wall in audio’s house,” Miller proclaimed. “It continues to lead in weekly reach among all the other audio platforms.” Yet even with explosive growth in podcast listening, rising smart speaker adoption and digital and mobile technology providing access to many different forms of audio, “radio continues to be the cornerstone of that,” Miller said.

The report portrays radio as a mass appeal medium reaching a diverse audience across all age groups. With 60% of its audience residing in the 18-54 demo, it offers an audience coveted by advertisers. The other roughly 40% are 55+, which represent massive buying power that many advertisers are eager to reach.

“Radio is having this reawakening period,” said Cheryl Kank, Nielsen VP/Sales Director. “I love to tell clients now is the best time to be in radio.”

In small and mid-market America, 77% of radio listeners are employed and 65% of listening is done out of home, which helps advertisers looking to reach a qualified, captive audience when they’re closest to the point of purchase.

The latest report, which Nielsen put together at the request of its clients in small and mid-sized markets, shows that radio delivers a substantial return on ad spend across various categories. It ranges from around 3-to-1 for low cost consumer purchases like fast food, 9-to-1 for home improvement and 14-to1 for telecom. “Making a case for radio’s return on ad spend is one way for radio to get its fair share of ad spend,” added Tony Herreau, newly named VP of Cross-Platform Insights. “Some of those bigger ticket items are where you’re going to see a bigger return on ad spend,” Herreau said.

There’s a lot of buying power among radio listeners in small and medium markets. The average household spends $7,300 on groceries, $2,700 on home improvements and $1,100 on furniture, in a year, according to Nielsen Scarborough data.

The report also dives into the audience characteristics of podcast listeners and smart speaker owners in medium and small markets. Both groups are younger than the average age in the marketplace: 39 for podcasts listeners, 42 for smart speaker owners. They also have about 20%-30% higher household incomes and employment levels than the average household in small and medium markets, and skew more male.

The data shows 90% of podcast listeners and 92% of smart speaker owners are weekly radio listeners. “These are not people who are turning off the radio, like cord cutters, these are users of radio and they’re ultra-consumers of other forms of audio on other platforms,” Herreau pointed out. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, news/talk is the top radio format among podcast listeners.