Though the News-Talk stations typically grab the headlines for growth in public radio's broadcast ratings, Music stations have recently grown in prominence.
In the Fall 2009 national ratings, Classical KUSC Los Angeles claimed the distinction of having the largest weekly audience for any public station, reaching more than 850,000 listeners on its FM signal alone. Then more recently, Classical WQXR New York rose to the top in the Winter 2010 metro-measured-only survey. Regardless of who claims the largest audience mantle in the future, recognizing that Music stations can reach larger audiences than News-Talk might influence how public radio can expand its audience.
Why the recent change for Music stations? There are several factors at play: First, commercial networks are moving away from Classical, leaving the space for willing public stations to step in their place by acquiring signals which have large reach over some of the country's largest cities.
Then there are the seismic changes in how Arbitron measures who listens to what on the radio. Quite simply, the PPM is more adept at collecting all of those radio-listening occasions that diary-keepers may forget to dutifully record in their 7-day diary. Consequently, many stations - and more so music - have enjoyed a 'cume-bump' from the PPM.
Put these two together with new efforts within public radio to expand audience and suddenly the list of the top public stations has a stronger music presence than in times past. On the table below, three of the top 8 public stations carry classical only and six of the top 20 stations devote much of their programming to music.
Given the recent surge of interest in internet streaming, which allows listeners to listen to stations outside of their local market, it will be fascinating to see how this list of the top audience stations changes over the next few years.
Ben Robins is the Research Manager for NPR Programming