All about public radio

Arbitron, the radio audience measurement company, has released its annual profile of… us. Public Radio Today 2010, How America Listens to Radio, analyzes nine public radio formats and paints a picture of the typical — if there is such a thing — public radio listener.

News/talk is the dominant public radio format, beating its next-strongest public radio format (combinations of news and classical music). In fact, there is no age demographic in which news/talk isn’t the most-listened-to public radio format.

A “heat index” reveals where news/talk on public radio is heaviest, although the most intriguing note is where it’s not:


Nearly 70% of public radio news listeners have a college degree and 92% have attended some college.

Listeners to classical public radio stations jumped 1.7% in the fall of 2009, compared to a year earlier, which Arbitron attributes to the disappearance of the remaining commercial classical stations. More men, apparently, are listening to classical than a similar Arbitron report four years ago. And, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, the classical music listening audience got younger, increasing its below-55 audience from 29% to 32% in a year.

The “heat index” map isn’t surprising…


Contrary to their public perception, almost half of public radio listeners drive — or plan to purchase — an SUV or midsize car, the report says. The least popular vehicle — and this isn’t surprising anyone, is it? — is a pickup truck.

  • I’m surprised Minnesota doesn’t rank higher on News/Talk. Do you think, Bob, that is a reflection of the strong MPR offerings on their classical and Current stations?

  • davidz

    The two maps have identical labelling (except for the source). Is the first one for news/talk and the second for classical only? Or the news/classical combination?

    Maybe you in the radio trade understand what a “heat index” really means, but I don’t, and from reading this article and looking at the maps, I don’t really get any further enlightenment. Alas, going to the original article to try to get their map information takes me to a signup link rather than actual content.

    What does “no stations” mean? None in that format at all? (Begs the question of which formats the maps represent again). With a decent chunk of Wisconsin picking up MPR signals, how do they measure the whole state? Or Massachusetts with “no station” and WGBH serving all classical in the main market for the state?

  • Bob Collins

    The second one is for classical-only stations.

    “No stations” means “no stations” in THAT format for which Arbitron has measuring data.

    Entire states are measured via ADI. So a Massachusetts would be measured with — I’m guessing — Boston and Springfield ADIs (maybe Worcester, too)

  • John P.


    Heat Index?

    I’m still not sure what this article is telling me.

  • John P.

    I was too terse in my last comment, I think.

    Does the “Heat Index” refer to a head count of listeners, a percentage of people listening to a radio at that time,a percentage of hours for an average person who is listening? I just don’t quite understand what it is measuring.

    I still don’t know what an ADI is, though.

  • Bob Collins

    ADI = Area of Dominant Influence.

    It’s the geographic definition of a media market.

  • Tyler

    So this study combined News (MPR) with Talk (Rush Limbaugh) ?

    No wonder these maps are useless and counter-intuitive.

  • Bob Collins

    No, it’s a study of public radio. Rush Limbaugh has nothing to do with it.

    News/Talk is the name of a format. If you listen to MPR’s news service, you’re listening to a News/Talk public radio station.

    If you listen to the classical music service, you’re listening to a Classical format.

    Before the FM band station was purchased combined classical with news in many markets, i believe, which fits the Classical/News format.