Radio ratings: The Beat, Virgin, TSN 690 all falter during pandemic

Numeris released its summer 2020 ratings this week, and combined with the ratings from the spring, we see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as fewer people tune in.

The Beat 92.5 saw the most noticeable drop in terms of raw audience numbers, going from an average of 10,000 anglophone listeners a minute down to 6,800 and 6,600. But it maintained its second-place rank among English-language stations. Virgin also saw a drop, continuing a long decline that has seen it lose more than half its audience in three years.

Conversely, CHOM managed to grow its audience slightly, which gave it its best audience share in years as its competitors declined. And Énergie 94,3, which has refocused itself on rock music and away from talk, saw a jump in audience that put it ahead of sister station Rouge FM 107,3 for the first time since at least 2011, and claiming the adults 25-54 demographic over Rythme FM (though Rythme has much higher ratings overall).

In Toronto, Corus’s Q107 also had a big jump in ratings, making it the #1 station among adults 25-54, a status it didn’t hesitate to crow about.

So does this mean rock music stations did well during the pandemic?

Well, no. I crunched the numbers for this story for and it turns out these three stations are the exception. Across Canada, rock and alternative stations were flat, and most lost audience.

One format that unquestionably suffered from the pandemic is sports talk, with the eight stations in Canada’s five metered markets dropping more than half as all professional leagues suspended play. There was a rebound in the summer as leagues came back, but stations are still well below normal.

Canada’s two traffic stations in Vancouver and Montreal (both at 730 AM) saw a huge dip in the spring and a stronger recovery in the summer as people started going back to work.

News talk overall didn’t change much, which could indicate that habits didn’t change or that an overall drop as fewer people listened to radio going to work was offset by increased interest in news about the pandemic.

On Montreal’s franco side, 98,5fm remained the #1 station even though it had its B-teams running during the summer.

After a three-year absence, CJPX-FM has returned to Numeris ratings measurement under new owner Leclerc Communication. The station, which launched under the WKND brand, registered an average minute audience of 1,500, much lower than Radio Classique before it, but it didn’t launch regular programming until the fall and it’ll be a while before it has a chance to build up a brand and get pop music listeners into the habit of checking it out as they scan between the stations.

Leaving the chart is CHRF 980 AM, as owner Evanov Radio pulled the plug on it in June.


18 thoughts on “Radio ratings: The Beat, Virgin, TSN 690 all falter during pandemic

    1. Marc

      It’s possible. But they didn’t actually work for Bell Media. They were with Canadian Traffic Services which has its studio and office on Alexis Nihon blvd in St Laurent.

  1. Ian Howarth

    Lots going on here despite the obvious distraction. I feel for sports radio as they tried to deal with what was really almost two months of dead air. Soon the NHL will be awarding the Stanley Cup and after that the league’s plans for another season are vague. Which means less hockey talk which is a good portion of TSN690 morning and afternoon time slots.

    1. Gazoo

      The one on air personality on 690 worth listening to on a regular basis, with or without sports, is Mitch Melnick. A veteran, who can talk about other topics other than sports.
      The morning show has never been the same since they let Elliot Price go. Another veteran who could talk sports or other.

    2. Josh

      The NFL and baseball playoffs will provide plenty of grist for the mill while the NHL is in a two-month break. (It returns on December 1st.)

  2. Dilbert

    I think that this report continues the trends seen last time, something that is truly important to note. As you said, rock and alternative stations are about flat across the country with some losses. A few are doing very well, including the format changing 94.3. There may be plenty of reasons, but I think it’s easier to determine than most people would like to think.

    The meter system is using a microphone to identify when a music station is heard. It’s automatic. It means that if you tune into a station, it will catch it and you will be marked as a listener. That is how it should work. However, if you go into a business such as a coffee shop or dep or whatever that has a radio station playing, you are ALSO marked as a listener. I call this incidental or unintended listening, and I suspect most people block it out and really don’t hear the stuff.

    There is also the “at work” music angle. Many people work in offices, shops, or warehouses where music is played or permitted, but there is one common radio. Generally you don’t get to pick what you listen to. Adult contemporary hit stations tend to be what ends up getting played. You may not like it, but you are a listener.

    COVID has had a huge impact on the restaurant, coffee shop, and pretty much every other store type you can imagine. There are fewer people out, fewer of these shops open, many of them that are open do not allow seating or discourage it. Also people are working less, may be working from home, may not have a job at this point. They are not being subect to the incidental or unintentional listening they would otherwise be metered as doing.

    Left are the people who control their own dial, who make their own choices. Those people seem to be good with talk radio, they seem to be good with rock radio, but fewer are actually picking any of the Hot-AC style stations.

    The implication that a significant part of the listeners for the various forms of Hot-AC may not be attentive listeners could have a long term implication for advertising rates and desire for the major players to keep going in those formats.

  3. Mike C

    Any thoughts on why CBC Radio One performs so poorly in Montreal compared to Toronto and other major major cities in Canada where it continually ranks at or near the top of the ratings?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Any thoughts on why CBC Radio One performs so poorly in Montreal compared to Toronto and other major major cities in Canada where it continually ranks at or near the top of the ratings?

      If you look at the market shares, Montreal is among the lowest in the country:

      CBC Radio One shares:
      St. John’s 12.1%
      Sydney 16.4%
      Halifax 18.5%
      Moncton 12.8%
      Saint John 21.1%
      Fredericton 15.4%
      Montreal anglo 6.9%
      Ottawa anglo 21.8%
      Toronto 16.6%
      Brantford 5.8%
      Kitchener 9.8%
      London 10.7%
      Windsor 8.2%
      Sudbury 14.1%
      Thunder Bay 20.7%
      Winnipeg 13.9%
      Regina 12.4%
      Saskatoon 7.5%
      Calgary 9.3%
      Edmonton 8%
      Kamloops 17.2%
      Kelowna 19.1%
      Vancouver 16.5%
      Prince George 23.6%
      Victoria 20.4%

      ICI Première shares
      Montreal 12.6%
      Saguenay 13.9%
      Quebec City 16.9%
      Sherbrooke 13%
      Trois-Rivières 10%
      Ottawa-Gatineau franco 16.2%

      The issue is amplified by the fact that other large markets generally have much more commercial radio stations splitting the audience, so it’s not uncommon to see a station with a 10% or 15% market share be top-rated, while in Montreal CJAD has shares between 25% and 30%.

      I’m not sure if it’s the audience or the programming that makes CBC Radio One less attractive to anglo Montrealers. But it’s a long-term trend.

      1. Eamon Hoey

        A community’s educational attainment may influence CBC audience %. Note that CBC Ottawa, Victoria, and Toronto have a high % of CBC listeners. Yet Toronto BTW is a highly competitive market. Ottawa and Victoria have high educational attainment. But then how do you explain Prince George 23.6% and Thunder Bay 20.7%? In some instances, CBC might enjoy a high % of listeners, but it might be because there are not many alternatives.

        Look at Edmonton with 8% penetration, which debatably is one of our most lefty cities in Canada, yet it does not subscribe to CBC to the same extent that does Ottawa. Calgary, by contrast, bent towards financial achievement garners a slightly larger 9.3% vs Edmonton’s 8%. Perhaps CKAU, the Community radio station that serves almost all of Alberta, maybe a significant competitor to CBC? It manages to raise annually $5Million from its audience. Its average donation is $25 – do the math that is a broad audience. It receives almost zero in government grants vs CBC Radio’s annual Federal funding of $125M

        Some communities, the market might be rigged by CRTC rules, which limits entry in favour of incumbents and CBC. CBC St John’s radiated power provides service well beyond St John’s. It serves communities that have none or few alternatives to CBC. That might be influencing audience %.

        It just not all that clear why CBC does well in Ottawa and not so well in Montreal. Perhaps it is because Anglos, many who are bilingual, will listen to CJAD as their first choice but default to a French station rather than CBC.

  4. Albert Musco

    I am a former Torontonian and I listen to TSN Toronto daily . The afternoon show with Bryan Hayes is exceptional and hilarious . They had quiz challenges with other TSN on air personalities , and numerous listener polls as to where the Blue Jays would play to whether anyone would break the NHL bubble in Toronto. Bryan is very clever and very entertaining . Even with the exit of the Leafs in the play in round , their long suffering fans , Bryan said, all is good .as long as we see another season after this COVID season .

  5. S. Santos

    Do you know about the Ottawa radio ratings, what stations are in t top 5 or top 10? Do you know if Majic, Jump, Chez, Rebel or Hot are in the top 5? Did 1310News get higher ratings than CFRA. CFRA hosts sound more neutral not too right wing. Do you know about Ottawa Ratings?
    I saw on Global News 50 radio stations could shut down by next year and 200 could shut down in two years.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Do you know about the Ottawa radio ratings

      Ottawa is not measured using Numeris’s PPM system, and so its ratings don’t come out on the same schedule. In the spring release, the top-rated stations overall among anglophones in Ottawa-Gatineau were CBC Radio One, CFRA, Hot 89.9 and Majic (tied), CHEZ, CBC Music, Live 88.5, Boom 99.7, Country 101, Jewel and Kiss (tied), Jump, TSN and Pure Country, in that order.

      1. S. Santos

        I noticed Country 101.1 Smiths Falls-Ottawa got higher ratings than Pure Country 94 (93.9). I believe because Country is not popular in the urban Ottawa Gatineau area. Or they do not realize that FM 94 is 93.9 on the digital tuner. I guess Rebel 101’s ratings were low?

    2. Dilbert

      I think this is the story you are referring to, which is a global story about a CAB report.

      While the story is interesting, the reality is you could replace radio with restaurant, hotel, airline, or any number of other things and the story would be the same. Companies that were weak or borderline before COVID are now really behind the 8 ball.

      Radio was already facing a fairly noticeable decline. You can go back to the September 2019 post here about radio ratings where I point out a huge problem in lost listener minutes. Not a shift from one station to another but rather just less total listened minutes. The decline was already on long before lockdown. What COVID has done is perhaps to accelerate an already existing trend, as people have cocooned themselves and have shifted away from OTA stuff towards their own music collections, streaming, and other sources. They could also very well just not be consuming music or talking head radio in the same manner that they were.

      It’s unlikely that the future will be a return to the past. The CAB wants the government to penalize online streamers and other entertainment sources not to make radio better, rather to make it so that consumers have few alternatives. That either isn’t going to happen, or will happen and consumers will react.

  6. Mario D.

    I guess all sport radio will get a muligan on this one although money does not grow in trees…But both stations in MTL have a very weak lineup on air and eventually if they want to survive they will need to make moves. Funny thing though is that their survival relies on one team s successes or failiures and after a while there is only so much you can say about a single game thus having hosts that know what they are talking about……

    Radio-Canada getting their best summer ratings ever tells a lot about the regular hosts in prime season. As for it’ s anglophone sister station sad to say but overnight shows are more interesting than the rest being produced from all over the world but from Canada.


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