This is the first year-over-year increase in almost three years, holding out hope that one of the longest, steepest declines in the medium's history is finally over.
Local revenues, the traditional mainstay of radio advertising, increased a modest 2% to $2.45 billion in the first quarter. National revenues surged 19% to $568 million, and digital revenues jumped 18% to $123 million.
All these results reflect earlier revenue trends during the contraction, which saw the steepest losses in local ads, suggesting that local recovery will significantly lag behind national.
In geographic terms, the recovery was led by radio broadcasters in the East, where total revenues grew 12.7% -- followed by the Southwest, up 9.7%, and Central, up 6.7%. More modest gains were seen in the West, up 4.5%, and South, up 3.5%.
As far as advertising categories, major increases were seen in financial services, up 49%; automotive, up 39%; grocery, up 27%; TV and cable, up 23%; and communications, up 6%.
While the RAB report is good news, radio has a long way to go to recoup the losses incurred over the last few years. From the second quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009, the medium suffered 11 consecutive quarters of year-over-year revenue declines.
From a peak of about $21.7 billion in 2006, total ad revenues dropped 24% to $16 billion in 2009. Meanwhile, 2010's first quarter revenues are 21% lower than peak first-quarter revenues of $4.7 billion in 2007.