How Many People Listen to Top 40?
Alex Cosper (7/23/13)

Top 40 radio is somewhat of a misnomer because it usually isn't the top station or even top music station in a market. It still can be, but leading formats in most markets tend to have more adult followings. top 40 is aimed primarily at the 12-34 age demographic, with a stong emphasis on the 18-34 cell. Teens are important to Top 40 stations in the sense that they are usually the first the identify new trends and generate the most word of mouth excitement for this format. Arbitron is the ratings service that measures radio audience and there really is no competing service for studying radio listening patterns.

The top selling singles that are played in high rotation on top 40 stations tend to sell less than a million units in the 21st century. That's less than one percent of the American population. But the number of people familiar with these hits is in the multi-millions, perhaps are high as 50 million, but more likely a lower figure. In 2013 out of about 16,000 radio stations, there were 610 top 40 radio stations in the United States, according to M Street Corp, as reported by Inside Radio. The format was actually tied for 10th place among all radio formats. The most widespread radio music format, by far, was country with over 2,000 stations.

For a song to make it to the top of the national airplay charts it takes about 15,000 spins per week, which is an average around 25 spins per station. Top 40 stations in major markets have up to a few million listeners, but only a handful of markets have audiences of this size. Most listeners of any given format spend an average of 20 minutes per day listening to the radio. The midsize markets listenership of top 40 stations is closer to 250,000 people per week. In small markets, the number may be as high as 100,000.

So is top 40 the most popular music in America in the 21st century? Not even close. Is it the most widely heard music? Not even close. Is it popular? Yes, if you consider between 3 and 10 percent of the nation a big number. Why is it called top 40? Mainly because it reflects the 40 most mass marketed singles at any given time. Because of its super high rotations, the format does help sell recordings, but not nearly on the level it did from the 1960s through the 1990s.

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