Ratings Terms Every Programmer Should Know

Ratings Terms Every Programmer Should Know

by Tracy Johnson

Ratings are an odd and mysterious thing. The more you know, the more confounding and frustrating it gets. But to play and win The Ratings Game, it’s important that programmers understand ratings terms and what they mean.

Use this as a reference point. It can help when trying to find an explanation for results.

Ratings Terms for Radio Programmers: Cume

Cume is the short version of cumulative audience. Cume is the estimated number of different persons who tuned to a station or the radio for at least one quarter hour within a specified time period.

Advertisers also called it Reach, for the total number of people reached by a station.

Each person is counted only once. The unduplicated number of people tuned one or more times to a station in a given time frame (i.e. Potential coverage or circulation of a station).

It’s one of the prime components of the ratings process. Cume is the number of different persons who listen to a radio station for at least five minutes during any time period.

Think of it as the total number of listeners to a radio station. It is expressed in raw numbers.

A few key points about cume:

  • Cume may not be added across Dayparts or Stations. Each person counts only once, no matter how much or little they listen.
  • Cume may be added across discrete demographic cells within a time period.
  • It is usually expressed as a Daily Cume (unique listeners in a day) or Weekly Cume (unique listeners in a week).

Time Spent Listening (TSL)

The other prime component of ratings math is Time Spent Listening. TSL is the number of quarter hours an average Cume listener spends listening during a specified time period.

To qualify for a quarter hour, a minimum amount of listening is required within a single quarter hour. Some ratings services require more than others. Nielsen’s standard is five minutes.

For example, an individual one quarter hour of ratings credit is issued for listening from 7:56am-8:19am even though there was 23 minutes of listening. There was only one five minute session within the same quarter hour. On the other hand, one quarter hour is awarded for listening from 8:06-8:11am, even though only five minutes of listening took place.

TSL is impacted by the number of tune in occasions and the length of time tuned in.

Audience Turnover

Hanging onto the existing audience is a key goal for program directors. Preventing tune out is a defensive programming measure, but it’s a worthwhile goal.

Turnover is the number of times the audience changes during a time period. It explains the relationship between AQH and cume. A low turnover factor indicates a better frequency builder and a high turnover factor indicates faster cume growth.

Therefore, turnover is a key metric for programmers. The more the audience stays with a station, the more quarter hours that can be accumulated.

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Results of the Math: AQH

The next important ratings term is AQH.

Nielsen defines Average Quarter-Hour Persons (AQH) as the average number of persons listening to a station for at least five minutes during a 15- minute period. This is where it gets a little confusing.

The easiest way to understand it is by comparing Cume and AQH to another business. Let’s say you own a coffee shop. During a typical week, you serve 5,000 different people. This is the coffee shop’s Cume, the total number of unique customers.

However, in a typical 15-minute period, 50 people are having coffee. That’s AQH.

One customer could return three times in a day for more coffee. The Cume remains the same, but AQH increases.

For radio, AQH is fairly simple math.

Start with the total number of quarter hours listened in a period of time. Divide by the number of quarter hours in that time slot. For example:

  • Radio Station A has 10 listeners (Cume) tuned in at some point in an hour. The Cume is 10.
  • Those 10 listeners listen a total of 24 quarter hours in that hour.
  • There are 4 quarter hour available to listen.
  • Therefore AQH in this hour is 24/4 = 6.

Ratings Terms: Cume Rating & AQH Rating

Rating is an often misunderstood ratings term, but it’s actually quite simple.

It’s an audience estimate expressed as a percentage of the total population.

Rating can either be a Cume Rating or an AQH Rating.

Imagine our radio station has a Cume of 5,000. The total population in the market is 25,000. The station’s Cume Rating is 20%, which is 5,000 as a percentage of 25,000. An accurate use of the term would be:

WSXX reaches 20% of the city’s total audience.

AQH Rating is the same calculation, but a little more complex. If the station’s total AQH is 1,500, the AQH Rating would be 0.6%, which is 1,500 as a percentage of the population of 25,000.

AQH Rating usually drives reach (and rates) for an advertising campaign. This expresses the average quarter hour audience as a percentage of the population in the geographically defined area. Ad agencies often call it a Rating Point.

For example:

  • Advertisers buys 10 commercials in a week.
  • The AQH is 0.6
  • The weekly delivery of the advertising campaign is 6 gross ratings points (0.6 x 10)

Ratings Terms: Share

Share is the most familiar term for programmers because it’s easy to understand and shows how one station performs against others.

Share is a station’s AQH audience shown as a percentage of all Persons Using Radio (or “PUR”) in a specific time period.

Think of share as a radio listening pie. It always adds up to 100%. The variable is how large each slice is.

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In the working example, our AQH is 1,500. During that period, the total listening to all radio is 30,000. Our station’s share is 1,500/30,000 or 5.0. Not bad.

Listener Choice

This is an important statistic. Becoming first choice of the audience is a way to segment a station’s listeners by how much they listen to a station compared to other stations.

Here are the specific terms to know:

Exclusive Cume is the listeners who listen only to your station. This is much more common in diary markets than PPM.

First Preference Cume (P1) listens to your station more than they listen to any other station. This includes Exclusive Cume, of course.

Second Preference Cume (P2) are listeners who spend the second most time listening to your station.

Paying attention to Listener Choice over time will show how well a station is satisfying listeners.

However, it’s important to understand how this works.

  • If most of the audience are Exclusive and/or, First Choice, they like what is on the air. But if the Cume is small, and the bulk of the audience
    from Exclusive Cume or P1 listeners, the station may be too narrowly targeted.
  • If most listening is P2 or below, the station is probably too broad.


Sorting through ratings terms and definitions isn’t fun. But it’s important to understand how the ratings are being calculated. Do you have questions? We’re here to help. Reach out anytime via email at [email protected]

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