Who listens to radio anyway?

boy tuning transistor radio

Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pexels.com

TOPIC: intro to reading listener surveys – commercial and public radio

Australian radio uses two key listener surveys: commercial and public radio (run by GfK), and community radio (run by McNair).

Reading the GfK Radio Ratings for commercial and public stations

Let’s look at the Sydney market, and start with three important ideas that you need to understand: Cumes, TSL and Share %.

Cumes: short for cumulative audience. This is the total number of people who listen – an important factor, but there’s more to radio ratings that just total numbers.

TSL: stands for Time Spent Listening. This is an estimate of how long the cumulative audience listens to a station. For some stations (eg FM music station with a young audience) the TSL is likely to be much shorter than others (eg AM talk station with an older audience).

Share %: This is the percentage of the total radio listening audience that’s listening to that station in that time period.

(Want more detail? Go to the Radio Ratings Glossary in the GfK Ratings Tool Kit. It’s likely to have the answer to any question that you might want to ask.)

So now let’s look at one of the survey results:


(Too small and can’t zoom in for some reason? Go to the original here – you’re looking for Sydney Survey 2 – 2019. If it’s not the most recent survey, then look in the archives here.)

The top box is Share % by age groups. The bottom box is Share % by daypart.
In each little section, you’ll see three columns: the first is this survey’s Share %, the second is last survey’s Share %, and the third is the change in Share %.


If you look up 2GB, you can see that this survey they had a Share % of 14.5 of People 10+. This means that – on average for the survey period – 14.5% of people who were listening to the radio at any time, were listening to 2GB*. This is up from the previous result by 1.1, so you’d expect that 2GB would be quite happy with the result.

* This is a good moment to re-read those definitions (cumes, TSL and Share %). 

You can also see that, of audience aged 10-17, only 2% were listening to 2GB. Meanwhile, Nova has a much higher 19.7%. That said, if you go to the column for People aged 65+, 2GB gets the quite staggering result of 33.9%.

Activity: What other results do you find interesting or surprising in this survey? Which stations would be happy with this result? Which stations wouldn’t be?

Now let’s look at Cumes for this same period.


(Again, if it’s too small and you can’t zoom, go to the original here – you’re looking for Sydney Survey 2 – 2019. Page 2. If it’s not the most recent survey, then archives here.)

The key difference between these two is that one measures Share % (the orange one), whereas this one (blue) measures Cumes.


For this one, you can see that 2GB had a total audience of 598,000 (of people 10+).

What you might find interesting is the results for some of the other stations. Check out the result for Kiis (1,048,000). Compare it to the Kiis Share % result (9.1).

Have a think… why would Kiis have so many more listeners than 2GB, but rate lower than them in Share %?











Did you work it out?








The answer is TSL. On average, a 2GB listener will spend a lot more time tuned in than a Kiis listener.

Now TSL isn’t a separate report that’s made public, but you can get a sense of it by comparing the Share % and Cumes reports. (It’s also important to know that stations get far more information from these surveys than what’s publicly available.)

More info please

Sydney surveys are published 8 times per year.
You can see the schedule of when they are measuring audiences, and when they release the survey results here.

If you’re interested in the methodology for the survey, including how many people they ask, where they get them from, how they make sure they get a representative sample… have a look at the GfK Tool Kit. You’ll notice that they definitely don’t just use polling to landlines.

Surveys are a critical tool for commercial radio to sell advertising. It makes sense that advertisers want to know who listens to stations and for how long. It also makes sense that they want to know how many people heard their ad.

There’s a lot more to it, but having an idea of these basic concepts will let you make sense of the summary reports.

I want to work in radio. I should pay attention to surveys, hey?

Yep. (Also, it can be quite interesting.)
Read the surveys, look for who is doing well, who is struggling, think about why.

GfK publishes the results here.

There’s almost always analysis. Radioinfo and RadioToday are two good places to keep up with it.

And you can always find someone to chat about it in the #teamTAFE Facebook group.

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