NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Nielsen may not be able to solve one of radio's biggest revenue problems -- the collapse of the auto industry, its biggest advertising category -- but it can help fix the industry's other big problem: measurement.
Results from the leading media-measurement company's first U.S. pilot study of radio listening, in Lexington, Ky., indicate a potential reversal of a trend that has been working against radio for the past decade: a supposed decline in radio listening among adults 18 to 34.
People in homes that use cellphones as their sole source of phone communication made up more than 20% of Nielsen's sample and skewed toward 18- to 34-year-olds, significantly younger than landline-only homes. Nielsen found that cellphone-only homes listened to radio an average 23 hours per week, while the total sample spent just more than 19 hours listening to radio. Those younger households also tuned in to an average of 3.5 stations vs. less than three for landline homes.
In total, Nielsen found that radio reached 93% of people in the market over the age of 12, 90% of people who do not read newspapers, 96% of light or non-broadcast TV viewers and 96% of those who go to the movies.
Lorraine Hadfield, Nielsen's managing director for global radio audience measurement, cautioned that it was a single-market study, and "one swallow doesn't make a summer." But, she said, "we're really comfortable with the results from a statistical perspective. The indication in Lexington is that these young folk are listening to radio more and listening to more stations."
The next test of Nielsen's radio measurement will be an eight-week spring survey that begins this week in 51 small to midsize markets at participating Clear Channel and Cumulus stations.
Jess Hanson, Clear Channel Radio's senior VP-research, declared the Lexington findings a confirmation of what the radio company has been struggling to prove to advertisers about its young audience. One problem has been that studies done by phone don't measure listeners without landlines. "We've known it's harder to reach certain groups, and the random, digital-dial telephone sample doesn't pull in certain groups, one of the biggest being cell-only households. Now radio is going to be able to say that younger group is still very radio-friendly, and probably in greater numbers."
The results of Nielsen's eight-week survey won't be available until August, however, by which point radio will be well into what is shaping up to be its biggest year of revenue declines yet. Radio ad revenue was down 9% in 2008 to $19.5 billion, with an 11% loss in fourth quarter alone, at $4.6 billion.