Each summer, Americans favor a particular radio format, and the summer of 2018 is no exception. This year, the Classic Hits format saw the largest boost in audience during the warm weather months compared with the start of the year. The format achieved the same feat—winning the annual “format of the summer” race—in both 2014 and 2015. In other words, over the past five years, Classic Hits has seen the biggest upswing three times during the summer. During the other two years (2016 and 2017), it was Classic Rock.
Clearly, music preferences on the radio during the summer turn toward the classics—rock and pop music written during the past half-century, which form the foundation for the Classic Hits and Classic Rock formats. The differentiator is that Classic Rock focuses on rock-based music, while Classic Hits infuses more pop music and plays more songs from the 1980s. Nielsen Music’s BDSradio airplay data reveals that 40% of the songs played on Classic Rock stations were written in the 80s, and another 40% were from the 70s. For Classic Hits stations, 52% of the songs aired come from the 80s, while another 33% come from the 70s.
The release of Nielsen’s August portable people meter (PPM) results allow us to call Classic Hits the winner in the race for “format of the summer,” as this format garnered the biggest listener boost when comparing January through May trends to June through August. The table below rolls up the 2018 monthly trends among the 10 largest radio formats ranked by share of total audience (listeners 6+).
Summer 2018 was unique because the movement among these major formats during June, July and August was smaller than in years’ past. Only a few tenths of an average quarter-hour (AQH) share point made the difference this summer for Classic Hits, Classic Rock and Urban Contemporary, which were the three formats that grew their listening the most.
This final chart tracks the three- month summer progression in 6+ audience share for Classic Hits, Classic Rock, Urban Contemporary and Country – the four formats we focused on this year for the ‘format of the summer’ race. Classic Hits started out strong, setting an all-time PPM record for share in June at 5.9%; dipped slightly in July, and then rebounded in August with the best August number we have seen for the format at 5.8%.