By Mike Kinosian
LOS ANGELES — Reflective of the unique nature of what has become the “new normal” owing to coronavirus’ spread, the April 2020 ratings period had more than its share of significant twists and turns.
With COVID-19 dominating all media outlets and kitchen-table conversations across the country, this very well might have been the most anticipated sweep since electronic measurement became radio ratings currency.
It differed from the highly-precarious annual “Holiday” ratings period on a number of fairly clear-cut levels, not the least of which is the divergence between pleasant family memories contrasted against newfound angst regarding a deadly virus.
Past has definitely been prologue that stations playing all-Christmas music in a “Holiday” sweep will display sizeable upticks in that period and, in virtually 100% of the time, chalk up (by far) their best stat of the ratings calendar. It’s not uncommon for all-Christmas music stations to double or triple their 6+-stats as dozens of such outlets touch double-digits (6+), and we’ve even witnessed the shattering of the 20-share level (6+).
There is a fixed time for the programming strategy – usually a week or two before Thanksgiving and running through Christmas Day. The outcome can be accurately predicted as much as nine months in advance.
Absolutely gaudy figures we are accustomed to seeing from music-intensive stations entrenched in playing holiday hits did not surface – for the most part – from spoken-word stations in April 2020.
One barometer though of a significant station shift in the electronic-measurement age is a sweep-to-sweep fluctuation in excess of one full-share.
To put things in the most vivid perspective: There were nearly four times as many of these swings (April 2020, 6+) as were registered one year ago (April 2019).
Open for debate is when the coronavirus should have been taken seriously. It’s worth remembering that the sitting POTUS was impeached by Congress in December 2019 and acquitted by the Senate on February 5, 2020. A fatality reported by Washington State officials later that month (2/29) was initially thought to be the earliest U.S. coronavirus-related death (although it’s now believed that at least two others died from the illness several weeks earlier).
Given that the final date of the April 2020 sweep was April 22, the just-concluded ratings period would mirror roughly two months of COVID-19 coverage.
There’s no contemporary history of what radio ratings look like when – in a matter of weeks – the country suffers flu-related deaths by the tens of thousands. Prognosticating ratings results was, therefore, uncharted (morbid) territory.
Playing all-Christmas music works in every market – virtually every time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blue state or red state; a warm weather climate or a cold weather region. Appetite exists for that programming at that time of the year and it can’t be found on any broadcast or cable television network. Completely unknown was the level of desire for pandemic news on radio.
Five April 2020 Observations
Here are five observations from one of the most “memorable” sweeps (April 2020) of the PPM-era.
- Any assumption that the #1 position in every PPM-market would automatically be occupied by a news; news/talk; or public radio news/talk station didn’t come to fruition. In fact, a music-intensive station sets the pace in approximately three of every five cases (61%, April 2020, 6+).
- Correctly forecasting anything was an exercise in futility. If so, a spoken-word station would have dominated the survey period in Middlesex-Somerset-Union, a region decimated by the pandemic. Instead, the runaway leader in that New Jersey market is iHeartMedia New York City classic rocker WAXQ “Q-104.3.”
- With no professional games being played, sports talk programmers and on-air hosts are arguably the most challenged during this crisis. It was a genuine rarity for a sports talker to improve in April 2020; remaining steady is considered a moral victory.
- Rather than seeing adult contemporary’s vaunted calling card of “relaxing favorites” translate into ratings success, the format endures April 2020’s harshest ratings sting. Meanwhile, classical-programmed outlets score several notable advances.
- Those ignoring or downplaying Spanish-language or regional Mexican facilities did so at their own risk.
Email managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com