Radio ratings: COVID-19 causes sports radio audiences to plummet

I had an idea for a blog post with a cool analysis showing the changes in radio listening because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It would show, through a bunch of number-crunching, that Canadians turned away from music radio stations as they stopped going to work, but kept in touch with news-talk stations.

Unfortunately, the data didn’t have my back here. I compared average minute audience measured by Numeris from this spring (March to May) versus last spring, and looked at the relative change in audience. While some news-talkers did well (98.5 and CJAD in Montreal), others did badly (CBC Radio One here and in some other cities).

There were some undeniable trends, though, and they aren’t terribly surprising:

Sports radio: Without sports, there’s much less interest in hearing it or talking about it. Every sports-talk station in Canada’s five largest markets lost audience, between 50% to 72%. Hardest hit was Montreal’s 91,9 Sports.

All-traffic stations were also hit, but because there are only two of them in Canada and they have very low audience, it’s hard to really quantify that.

Less listening overall: Montreal’s total average-minute audience was 202,600 a year ago, and 167,400 this spring, the lowest level since Numeris began publishing overall AMA numbers in 2015. Across Canada, the same deal, with each of the five major markets losing between 10 and 18% of its average audience.

So with that out of the way, here’s how the ratings break down by city:


Total average minute audience, spring 2020 (vs. spring 2019):

  1. 98,5fm: 38,900 (up from 32,000)
  2. Rythme FM; 20,200 (down from 22,000)
  3. ICI Radio-Canada Première: 18,700 (down from 21,800)
  4. CJAD: 14,500 (up from 14,100)
  5. CKOI: 12,300 (down from 19,000)
  6. CHOM 97.7: 12,100 (down from 15,900)
  7. The Beat 92.5: 11,600 (down from 17,200)
  8. Rouge: 11,100 (down from 19,700)
  9. Énergie 94,3: 8,300 (down from 11,700)
  10. Virgin Radio 95.9: 6,700 (down from 9,700)
  11. ICI Musique: 4,100 (down from 5,100)
  12. CBC Radio One: 3,900 (down from 6,100)
  13. CBC Music: 1,400 (down from 1,700)
  14. CHRF AM 980: 1,400 (up from 500)
  15. TSN Radio 690: 1,200 (down from 2,500)
  16. 91,9 Sports: 900 (down from 3,300)
  17. Radio Circulation 730: 100 (down from 300)

Of the 17 measured stations, only three (which I’ve bolded here) saw ratings increases from a year ago. One is CHRF, which has since shut down. The other two are commercial talk stations.

Anglo average minute audience:

  1. CJAD: 13,500
  2. The Beat: 6,800
  3. CHOM: 5,600
  4. CBC Radio One: 3,600
  5. Virgin: 3,100
  6. CBC Music: 1,200
  7. TSN 690: 1,100
  8. 98,5fm: 900
  9. ICI Première: 700
  10. Rythme: 600
  11. Énergie: 600

Things got so bad for TSN Radio it dropped below CBC Music in terms of audience share, both among anglos and overall. Meanwhile, Virgin Radio is still behind CBC Radio One and less than half the audience of The Beat. “Montreal’s #1 Hit Music Station” is going to have to do more than replace its morning team to fix this disparity.



Biggest gains:

  1. Jazz.FM91: 28%*
  2. Q107: 22%
  3. CHFI: 17%
  4. CBC Radio One: 14%

Biggest losses:

  1. TSN Radio 1050: 67%
  2. Sportsnet 590: 67%
  3. G98.7: 53%*
  4. Virgin Radio: 48%
  5. Jewel 88.5: 48%
  6. Energy 95.3: 43%*
  7. Zoomer AM740: 41%

*Station-specific issues probably had a bigger role in these changes: Internal turmoil at Jazz FM and G98.7, and a format change at Energy (formerly Fresh 95.3).


Biggest gains:

  1. CBC Music: 38%
  2. 101.5 Today: 32%
  3. Funny 1060: 25%

Biggest losses:

  1. Sportsnet 960: 50%
  2. 90.3 AMP: 50%
  3. Virgin Radio: 36%


Biggest gains:

  1. 840 CFCW: 39%
  2. CBC Radio One: 10%

Biggest losses:

  1. TSN 1260: 61%
  2. Kiss 91.7: 37%
  3. CISN Country: 35%
  4. 95.7 Cruz FM: 34%
  5. 102.3 Now!: 32%


Biggest gains:

  1. CBC Music: 57%
  2. Peak 102.7: 48%
  3. JRfm: 37%
  4. Global News Radio: 37%
  5. BNN Bloomberg: 33%*

Biggest losses:

  1. Sportsnet 650: 71%
  2. AM730 (Traffic): 70%*
  3. Rock 101: 34%
  4. CBC Radio One: 33%
  5. TSN 1040: 23%

*Stations with very low audience will see exaggerated relative changes.

11 thoughts on “Radio ratings: COVID-19 causes sports radio audiences to plummet

  1. Dan Shields

    I realize that sports radio is way down in Canada. Here are the shares for all sports stations in the five ppm markets in Our Home And Native Land: Cgy 1.9 Ed 1.6 Van 2.3 Tor 0.9 MTL 3.2. Here are five randomly selected markets in the USA and the shares for all sports stations in those towns: BUF 4.4 PITTS 6.4 SEA 3.5 Boston 7.4 Chic 3.3. In markets that have more radio stations sports radio does so much better than it does in Canada. KDKA FM in Pitts [The Fan] and WBZ FM Boston [The Sports Hub] are often the overall market leader. Here is why I think sports radio in the USA does better than it does in Canada. It doesn’t suck. It is listenable and relatable for the sports fans listening to sports radio in the States. In Canada, not so much. I live in Ottawa and I have access to 2.5 all sports radio stations. 690 from Montreal; TSN 1200 Ottawa and; 1310 News which has random hockey, the Jays and an American feed overnight. I am a big sports fan, excepting hockey, and I work nights and weekends so I love the fact that any empty spaces on the Canuckistanian stations are filled by ESPN, CBS or FOX Sports. Seriously for the average guy in our country, well they aren’t really interested in the point guard controversy in West Virginia or what bowl Wyoming will play in. For 20 bucks an hour the Canadian stations could hire someone to talk about hockey instead of putting ESPN et al on during this dead over night and weekend and evening spots. The numbers are so much better in a more competitive market because the product is so much better. I would be willing to wager that in Toronto WGR55 from Buf has more Canadian listeners than Sportsnet 590 and 1050 CHUM combined. That is sad.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Here is why I think sports radio in the USA does better than it does in Canada. It doesn’t suck.

      That might be one reason. Another might be that there are more major sports teams to cover in markets like Buffalo (NHL, NFL), Pittsburgh (NHL, NFL, MLB), Seattle (NFL, MLB), Boston (NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA) and Chicago (NHL, NFL, MLBx2, NBA).

  2. Lorne

    If 91.9 had a congratulatory headline it would be, “Despite no sports, we are still in existence”.

  3. Dilbert

    Traffic stations are easy enough to understand, without a real rush hour or real traffic, who cares? They have never been significant in the whole deal anyway.

    The effects on radio listening time overall is more significant I think, and shows that a good chunk of radio listening time is related to working, studying, and commuting. It also makes you think that some significant part of the minutes generated are not voluntary but instead music played at work, in commercial locations, and such.

    What I think is interesting is that in the Montreal Anglo market in particular, the pain is mostly for music stations in the Adult Contemporary area. Comparing to last spring, The Beat 9100 to 5600, Virgin 4500 to 3100 and Rythme 1100 to 600. Yet, CHOM actually increased, 5000 to 5600, which is an impressive gain against a significantly decreasing market size, where CHOM should have landed at about 4100 or so. That increase to 5600 is 11% over last year same time, and more than 33% above where they should have been in a decreasing marketplace.

    I think this in no small part reflects a musical taste question. The AC stations are common at work music, the lowest common denominator of sound. It’s what you hear in shops, in cafes, or perhaps even in your shared ride to work. It may be less what individuals will choose to listen to given control over the tuner.

    When you look at even the results you posted for various cities, you see the trend. Rock stations tended to do well, AC and lite-rock style stations tended to lose out.

    If I was in the radio industry, I would be worried about this. The question of voluntary versus incidental / forced listening is very important to the level of attention someone might pay to what they are hearing. If someone sits in a cafe for 20 minutes enjoying a bagel and a coffee and Virgin just happens to be on, is that person truly a listener, or are they zoned out reading stuff off their phone? Is someone who has to listen to a certain station at work truly a listener or are they blocking it out (or perhaps listening to something else on headphones, which the PPM would not be able to handle).

    If I was an advertiser, I would start to wonder if I am getting value for money, if I am paying big ratings prices for people who aren’t really listening.

  4. LaCon

    There is absolutely no question to me as to why CJAD shot right back up. It was certainly not due to their innovative programming – far from it. It is because of listeners’ thirst for news and information because of COVID-19. Before that CJAD was significantly down.

    It would have been a very good time if another English News Talk station would get into the ring and really put CJAD to the test as they would be forced to up their game and utilize more resources. This would benefit the market, and improve CJAD. Unfortunately, the Montreal Anglophone market does not have that competition that our French counterparts have. This does not mean that listenership is radically different than the Montreal Anglophone radio ratings.

    There is also no argument that the music stations listeners have gone down either. As far as Virgin Radio is concerned, it is the musical programming itself that needs to be changed not just the personnel. There is no flow to music songs thanks to the so-called “AM-ish” format; whereby there are either produced splitters or live splitters practically between each song. Even most of the songs as they are being programmed, is not also done properly. Even lessening the splitters and having one song being mixed from one to the other is not programmed to actually have song endings to mix properly the next song. In other words, having a song that fades out, to go into the next song which would fade in or a song that ends cold to a song that starts strong. By the music programmers using 90% or more of splitters, there is no need to create music programming of songs that would actually have a smooth flow.

    The Beat is significantly better however, they are similar to Virgin and CHOM in that context. Music Radio in general has to have a nice flow while respecting the CRTC’S guidelines in having a certain number of station identifiers – not after every song – it is obnoxious and it also drives people away and it is over saturated.

    Radio has to reinvent themselves and be imaginative no matter what their formats are. Radio is an important part of everyobes’ lives. In many cases, Radio is a lifeline and programmers as well as the people who make the decisions in the ivory towers, there are ways to make profits while not insulting your own markets and treating all employees past, present, and future with respect and allow them to be passionate and remain loyal. That is what Radio used to be and can still be again!

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Music Radio in general has to have a nice flow while respecting the CRTC’S guidelines in having a certain number of station identifiers

      The CRTC does not have guidelines in regard to station identification. Rather, it’s ISED that sets those rules, which require broadcasting callsign and city of licence every hour. Unfortunately, those rules aren’t enforced, so few stations actually comply with the letter of the rules, and most don’t broadcast their callsign at all.

      1. Dilbert

        If I remember correctly, 102.1 in Toronto got caught out on that and now is religious in their hourly identification with full call sign.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      CJPX-FM stopped subscribing to Numeris ratings in 2017 as a cost-saving measure. The station has since been sold to Leclerc Communication, which will probably re-subscribe.

  5. Scott Fybush

    I had heard anecdotally that CKAC had dropped full-time traffic once the shutdowns started and had reverted to at least a partial simulcast of 98,5. Do you know if that’s indeed the case.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      That is correct. It switched to a de facto 98,5 rebroadcaster in late March, shortly after the pandemic began, and has since switched back to all-traffic.


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