Radio started the year with modest growth, according to the latest figures from the Radio Advertising Bureau, which said total radio advertising revenue increased 1% to $3.81 billion in the first quarter of 2012. This growth was powered by increases in digital revenues, network radio, and off-air. Spot radio (often called local) was stagnant.
Total digital revenues for radio increased 10% to $165 million, while network rose 8% to $282 million, and off-air climbed 3% to $320 million. Spot advertising, long the mainstay of the radio business, was flat at just under $3.05 billion.
In terms of categories, big increases were seen in home furnishings and floor coverings, up 30% to $113.6 million; grocery and convenience stores, up 11% to $192.5 million; and casinos and lottery, up 7% to $122.5 million.
More modest growth was seen in automotive, up 1% to $353 million, and department and discount stores, also up 1% to $75 million.
As expected, radio is also benefiting from increased political ad spending in a hotly contested election year, although in the first quarter, this revenue was just beginning to ramp up with a total $6.9 million spent by candidates, issue advocates, PACs, according to Miller Kaplan. Significantly more spending is predicted in subsequent quarters ahead of the November elections.
The RAB has teamed with analysts at PQ Media to study political ad spending.
The latest results represent the fourth straight year-over-year increase in radio revenues in the first quarter, up from $3.43 billion in the first quarter of 2009, $3.69 billion in the first quarter of 2010, and $3.78 billion in the first quarter of 2011. However, radio remains well below its historical peak in the middle years of the last decade. In the first quarter of 2007, total revenues came to $4.73 billion. The 2012 figures are off 19.5% from this level. Meanwhile, digital radio remains a fairly small part of the overall business, representing just 4.3% of total radio revenues.