If you spend anytime listening to KNBR, I am sure you’ve heard the boasts that they are “The Sports Leader” and that they are “America’s No. 1 sports station.” It has always been confusing as to what this really means and it made me wonder if there was some measurement out there that backed it up.

If you read the radio wars posts at all you already know that KNBR dominates the Bay Area. But again, the boast isn’t simply that they’re No. 1 in the Bay Area … but that they’re No. 1 across the entire country. So, with the beauty of the internet and the availability of Arbitron numbers it provides, I decided to take a look at where KNBR actually falls among its Sports Radio brethren nationwide (all ratings and listener information via Radio-Info.com from the May to July period).

First, let’s take a look at the rankings based on a pure number of listeners. San Francisco is the fourth-largest radio market so this should help KNBR against the smaller market rivals. Among the top 50 markets, KNBR comes in third place in average listeners over the last three months with 916,800. The only stations listened to by more people were WFAN-AM (1.6 million) and WEPN-FM (1.2 million) in New York.

That’s a pretty impressive showing, considering that the size of the New York market is 2.6 times larger than the San Francisco market.

Now we will look at things from a radio share perspective. This should allow some of the stations in smaller markets a fighting chance against the big boys. It should also paint a clearer picture of how thoroughly each station dominates its market.

Among the top 50 markets, KNBR ranks third over the last three months, with an average rating of 4.8. KNBR was beat by WXYT-FM (6.9) in Detroit and WGFX-FM (4.9) in Nashville.

Taking a look at these two measures, KNBR measures out at third place. Taking a simple average of rankings they move into second place behind WXYT (which was first in ratings and fourth in total listeners). Often it is best to look at the simplest measure, but this time I want to dig a little deeper and try to take into account the amount that each station was better than average, a RATING+ along the lines of an OPS+ to get a better idea of where everyone stands.

To do this I looked at the average ratings and listeners for each station in the sample, then I compared each station to that average to see where they ranked. KNBR’s ratings were 3.0 times the average and their average listeners were 3.8 times the sample average.

The next thing to look at was how to properly combine the two. I didn’t want to take a simple average, because to me ratings tell a bigger part of the story than simple number of listeners when comparing across markets. However, I don’t want to ignore the total listeners because that tells us something important as well. So in the end I decided to weight ratings at twice as important as listeners. This may be incorrect — if you feel so, let me know in the comments and I can maybe tell you what it would be with your preferred method.

Here are the top 10 sports radio stations in America according to my RATING+ method over the last three months:



If you are interested, “The Game” posted a RATING+ of 57, and KNBR 1050 posted a RATING+ of 53, ranking 42nd and 47th respectively among the 75 stations in the sample.

This is far from a definitive study; from looking at the ratings over the last year I am fairly certain that we are looking at the ratings peak of KNBR while I am unsure about the stations I am comparing it to. Perhaps they are more football dependent or are able to maintain very consistent ratings through out the year.

Regardless, when it comes to America’s No. 1 station, KNBR is in the conversation … but it falls short of the top spot by each measure, at least during the summer months at the height of baseball.