Radio Missed the Boat…and Some Hits Last Year

A 2018 and 2019 On-demand Music Streaming Analysis 

The year traditional radio missed 40% of the most-streamed music by their listeners.

Since 2014, Bridge Ratings Media Research has analyzed on-demand music streaming consumption and how that consumption can help radio deliver a better product.

We believe in on-demand music streaming as a reflection of true consumption and that radio is here to serve its listeners' tastes. Over 80% of Americans stream music in an average month. The behavior has reached the masses. Unlike historical methods of music research (call-out research, auditorium tests, etc), on-demand streaming research that mirrors radio station heavy users who also stream music, very reliably captures music tribes which are the key to radio's desire to attract listeners.

As a whole, the radio industry missed or underplayed 40% of the most-streamed songs in 2018 - and it’s not getting any better for. Urban and Rock in 2019 - Dave Van Dyke, President Bridge Ratings

This is an important point. Radio listeners who stream have different tastes than radio non-users or radio lite-users.

In our 2018 year-end analysis of streaming use by fans of the most popular music radio formats, each has missed or under-exposed songs heavily-streamed by radio listeners and were either not played on radio or did not achieve secondary or power spins. We analyzed songs which were heavily streamed in 2018.

For the purposes of this report, we are looking at the following four popular radio formats: Urban, Rock, Country and Top 40.

Of these formats, two (Country and Top 40) gave props to at least 65% of the format’s most-streamed songs. Urban and Rock fall below the 50% mark. The performance rating is based on how well the format delivered on the most-streamed songs over the course of 2018.

In our analysis* of these format stations in the Top 50 U.S. markets, we noted how many of the top 200 most-streamed songs received top 200 annual spin counts by those stations used in this report.

As a whole, the U.S. radio industry missed or underplayed 40% of the most streamed songs this year.


Of the top 200 most-streamed songs by heavy listeners of U.S. Urban radio station, on average those stations missed or underplayed nearly 50% of the songs on our chart. (49%) This is an increase from 2017 when the format missed 42%. Analysis of the first months of 2019 reveals this number has increased to 58% missed or underplayed hits songs.


Rock radio (Alternative and current-based Rock radio) missed 42% of the format’s top 200 most-streamed songs this year, this is an improvement over 2017. (45%). Thus far in 2019 Rock radio is approaching 50% (46%) of the top hit songs.

Top 40

Considering the variety of music styles typically aired on U.S. Top 40 radio, the format performed fairly well, missing 35% of the most-streamed songs this year. Top 40 and Country in 2019 are thus far improving with Top 40 Hit Radio falling from 35% to 32%.


Country radio performed best in this Bridge Ratings analysis, missing or underplaying 26% of the most-streamed songs. While this number may sound high, keep in mind how much music is out there. We believe the singular nature of the music Country radio plays contributed to this “best-of-class” performance. Nearly 75% of the top 200 most-streamed songs this year were well-represented on Country radio. Country radio continues to excel when exposing the songs most-streamed by its listeners with 25% missed.

This chart compares each format’s “hit-delivery” with its 2017 performance. How to read: Urban radio missed or underplayed nearly 50% of the songs that were most-streamed by the format’s P1 or heavy listeners. Country radio missed 26%.

While we at Bridge Ratings Media Research continue to see more stations using streaming research as a primary tool in 2019, the industry, in general is slow to adopt this technique of aligning their music playlists with true listener consumption.

And in a new analysis to be released to the public, we have found that over the five years our clients have been using our listener streaming information, station PASSION and DAILY TUNE-IN OCCASIONS have increased.

This updated chart of the four primary radio formats reflects an industry ignoring data that will help them compete. Our clients refer to this audience behavior “intelligence” as their secret weapon. The believe that having this information weekly gives them a competitive edge.

Radio Missed Hits Cont 2019.jpg

This chart compares each format’s “hit-delivery” for 2017-2019 YTD. How to read: Thus far in 2019 Urban radio missed or underplayed nearly 60% of the songs that were most-streamed by the format’s P1 or heavy listeners. Top 40 radio missed 32%.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Radio programmers who use streaming data...are generally stabilizing time-spent-listening and daily listening occasions.

We know from our own experience over the past four years, that an increasing number of commercial radio programmers are using on-demand streaming research in some form to better-align their music playlists and to properly reflect the tastes of their listeners. Yet, there are far more programmers who do not believe in the data and do not use it either on its own or in combination with other forms of research they may be comfortable with.

While radio continues to have the greatest reach of all audio entertainment, the industry continues to lose time-spent. In numerous studies fielded by Bridge Ratings and other reputable research firms, the reasons for this are many-fold, but one area we see in our studies is that radio listeners use on-demand streaming to complement their radio listening and vice-versa. Favorite songs they hear on the radio - or new songs they discover - are frequently added to playlists. And songs discovered on-demand are frequently requested of radio by these listeners.

We are also finding that our radio clients that use streaming data that reflects heavy-listener behavior are generally stabilizing time-spent-listening and daily listening occasions because their music programming is based on the most-listened to streamed songs.

Use of this approach has made a difference to station and listener alike and as more radio programmers utilize this tool and learn to interpret the data, the industry will be better prepared to compete in a world where audio consumption - and its delivery platforms - is expanding.

Analysis of the radio formats included in this report included data from FY2017 & 2018 and 2019YTD. The updated 2019 analysis was conducted between 01/01/2019 and 5/29/2019 utilizing millions of streaming data-points from 2018 and 2017 FY and 2019 YTD. 10 streaming platforms were data sources (including Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and Amazon Music). Stations in each format in the top 50 U.S. radio markets were selected for this analysis.