First, the good news: AM radio stations reach nearly 58.8 million people during a given week according to the latest Nielsen data based on the ratings company’s June 2017 RADAR estimates. To put that into perspective AM’s weekly cume is one-third bigger than the 38 million Americans who read a Sunday newspaper according to Pew Research. But the Nielsen results also show the uphill battle facing AM broadcasters. Just one-in-five (21%) radio users listened to any programming on AM stations during the latest ratings period. By comparison, Nielsen says 86% of radio listeners tuned into an FM station.
“I go back to compelling and unique programming—that has and will continue to draw listeners no matter where it is,” Nielsen VP of audience insights Jon Miller says. He points out in today’s media landscape audio success stories can be found on the AM and FM dials as well as on podcasts and streaming services. “What the data does make clear is that the pool of available listeners is simply larger on the FM band, and that’s why there continues to be a move—particularly in the larger markets—to simulcast heritage AM stations onto the FM band,” Miller says.
According to Nielsen data, AM radio’s weekly cume slipped 1% between June 2016 and this year. While that may be a far cry from the sky-is-falling rhetoric in some circles, it is worth noting that the AM band’s total reach shrank 8% when compared to five years ago when its programming was consumed by 63 million listeners each week.
“Fragmentation is likely driving the consumer choice because over that same period the number of AM stations reporting to Nielsen has been completely flat,” Miller says. “There are around 4,800 AM stations in the Nielsen database [self-reported] compared to more than 11,000 FM stations.”
The upside for radio as a whole is that even as AM radio sheds cume, FM continues to grow. It reached 235.1 million listeners during the latest ratings period. That’s up 1% compared to last year. And FM’s five-year weekly cume growth rate is twice as large. As a result, total radio weekly cume nationwide grew 3% between 2013 and 2017 when it hit 249 million.
“It’s hard to speculate how the audio landscape will continue to shift but we do know that compelling programming draws listeners no matter where it’s located, and that is not likely to change,” Miller says. “We know that the majority of AM programming is spoken word and those formats tend to have higher time spent listening and lower cume than FM music counterparts.” The latest Nielsen data shows the typical AM listener spends 6 hours, 46 minutes tuned in each week.