Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 3
Research findings about radio in general

This chapter presents some research data about radio audiences: 34 findings that seem to apply in a wide range of different countries and radio markets. Though these generalizations may not be true everywhere, all the time, each of them is worth considering: it probably applies to your own situation.

If you have no audience research data, these findings may serve as a temporary substitute, or as questions which you can verify in future research.

Each statement concludes with some implications for marketing. I've divided them into four groups:
Radio in general,
Time use on radio,
Findings about stations, and
Findings about programs.

Findings about radio in general

1. More stations don't cause more listening.

You might think "The more stations there are in a market, the more time people spend listening." That sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Surely, if there's more choice of stations, you'd expect people to listen for longer.

Strangely, that doesn't happen. If a market has more about 3 stations, the listening time actually falls slightly, as more stations are added.

How can this be true? Probably because a market with more radio stations also has more alternative activities than people can do.

» Implication: If a new radio station starts in your area, people will spend less time listening to your station.

2. Listeners avoid shortwave.

Shortwave stations seem to be everybody's last choice. Shortwave sounds terrible, it keeps fading, receivers are expensive, stations are difficult to find, and you keep having to retune.

» Implication: Avoid using shortwave if at all possible. If you are an international shortwave broadcaster, offer community stations in other countries the chance to rebroadcast your programs at no cost (as do the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and some others). This creates an audience for you, and reduces programming costs for the repeating stations.

This may change in a few years. Around 2005, digital shortwave will arrive. If it sounds clear, and is easy to tune in, and receivers aren't too expensive, shortwave may become very popular again. This could do for radio what the Worldwide Web did for computer networking.

3. Most listeners are doing something else.

In many countries, the average person spends about 2 to 3 hours a day listening to radio - but usually doing something else at the same time. Surveys of radio listening in Australia show that the average person listens about 3 hours a day. But when the Australian Bureau of Statistics surveyed the public's use of time, they found the average time spent listening to radio was about 5 minutes a day.

Radio managers were worried. With such a big difference, one set of figures must be wrong. But no, both surveys were both right (as is often the case). The 5 minutes was for radio listening as the main activity. The other 2 hours 55 minutes, people were doing something else, while listening to radio as a secondary activity.

» Implication: Don't be upset about this, because to many listeners, this is the great advantage of radio: something you can listen to while doing something else. Though the other activity may be more important, is obviously not so interesting. This is radio's big advantage over TV and print media.

4. When people are alone, they often listen to radio.

The later it is at night, the more likely they are to be listening alone - unless they're young.

» Implication: Aim for a more intimate sound late at night, with the announcer talking to the listeners, not at them (but you should aim for that all the time, anyway)

5. Radio is not very important to most listeners.

This is a terrible thing to tell broadcasters, I know, but you'd better face it: radio is not at the top of the list of things that interest most people. Even if radio is something they use every day, they don't spend much time thinking about it. Radio fills a similar role to bread or rice. Though nearly everybody listens to radio, a lot of people hardly notice it. If your station went off air permanently, would anybody care much? Or would they just switch to the next most similar station?

» Implication: Here's a challenge for any radio station: try to increase the number of listeners who value the station very highly. This is not achieved by trying to sound the same as the most popular station, but by offering programs that are both unique in your area, and very important for some people.


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