Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 3
Research findings about time use on radio

6. There's no seasonal effect in radio listening.

Some people think that radio audiences must be smaller in summer than winter (or vice versa) but I've never seen consistent evidence to justify this - either in temperate or tropical climates.

TV is different, at least in temperate climates: TV audiences have large seasonal effects, being much larger in winter than in midsummer. The only seasonal change I've found in radio audiences occurs at holiday periods, when many people who normally listen to radio during the day don't do so. But they are counterbalanced by the workers on holiday, who then listen more to radio during normal working hours.

» Implications: (1) There's no audience-related reason why advertising charges should change seasonally (as some do).

(2) Because of the changeover in daytime audiences, this is a good opportunity to repeat some daytime program highlights. Regular listeners, who will have heard the programs already, won't be listening, and holidaying workers will be able to hear the programs for the first time.

7. Audiences decline throughout the day.

In general the total radio audience declines slowly between 6 am and midnight.

The exception is areas where most people don't have TV at home: there, the radio audience often has a late peak till about 10 pm.

» Implication: Charge less for advertising in the afternoon than in the morning, and less still at night.

8. Audiences are largest around mealtimes.

In most countries, radio audiences are largest at mealtimes: around sunrise, midday, and sunset. If you have no audience research data, it's reasonable to assume that your largest audiences occur around those times.

» Implication: Charge higher advertising rates around these times - often 6-8am, 12 noon-2pm, and 5-7pm.

9. Direct switching between stations is uncommon.

Many people listen to two or more stations, but by using different radios, in different settings. Most switching is to and from "off," not between stations.

» Implication: Your biggest competitor may not be another radio station, but another type of activity, specially if it requires full concentration.

10. The Drive Time myth.

Commercial radio stations in rich countries often have a late afternoon program that they call "Drive Time." To judge from the announcers' comments, you'd think all the listeners are in their cars, driving around faithfully during the whole program. There's some truth in this idea, but it's often exaggerated.

I did some research on this in Australia for a Drive Time program that run from 4pm to 7pm on weekdays. I found that the peak "drive time" - when the highest numbers and highest proportion of listeners were in vehicles, was around 3pm to 3.30pm on weekday afternoons. At that time, between a quarter and a third of listeners were in cars - either as drivers or as passengers. But in fact, the proportion was much the same between 7 in the morning and 6 at night.

» Implication: don't assume that everybody spends the late afternoon driving around. But, as in-car listening averages only 15 minutes, make sure you broadcast plenty of station IDs during the real "drive time" - from about 7am to 6pm.

11. Weekend audiences are more constant in size.

This is true in areas where most people work away from home, and there's a morning audience peak. On weekends and holidays, when people aren't preparing to go to work, they don't get up so early, and don't listen to radio. This reduces the average audience for that whole day. Though audience peaks at weekends are smaller than on weekdays, they continue for longer.

» Implication: You could charge lower advertising rates at breakfast time on weekends, but higher rates later in the morning.

12. Few people listen to one station all day.

About half the listeners listen to radio once a day. The other half mostly tune in 2 or 3 times, but often to different stations. Very few people listen for more than about 6 hours continuously to one station.

» Implication: If you repeat a program about 6 hours after the first broadcast, almost no listeners will hear it twice.

13. Listeners won't read program schedules.

People don't remember complex schedules, and don't look them up either - even when most of them have a printed radio guide in their home.

In group discussions about radio, people often complain that "the station I listen to should produce a detailed program guide." Once, in Melbourne (Australia) I asked a group of radio listeners how many of them read The Age, Melbourne's high-quality newspaper.

Almost all of them did (this was a middle-class audience). And how many, I asked, get the Green Guide each Thursday? This is The Age's radio and TV supplement.

Again, almost all of them did. And how many of them kept the Green Guide near their TV set, open at the current day's programs?

Most of them did.

I pointed out that at the foot of every page, below the TV programs, is a listing of radio programs. How many of them looked at that?

Just one of them. Some other had never even  noticed the radio listings. These people, who were all keen radio listeners, had so little interest in program details that they didn't take the trouble to study a page which was already open.

» Implication: Try to keep your program schedule as simple as possible, so that listeners can carry it around in their heads. If you can't do that, distribute printed schedules to as many listeners as possible. A week's regular schedule should fit on a single page. If it doesn't, it's too complex and needs to be simplified.

14. Listeners' behaviour doesn't always follow their self-perceived habits.

Though radio listening is a habit for most listeners, many people think their habits are more regular than they really are. People who say "I listen to your program every day" may really mean "I listen most days."

» Implication: If you are running a program - such as a fiction serial - for which listeners need to know what has been broadcast previously, always begin with a summary: "the story so far."

» Another implication: a survey question that asks "which stations have you listened to in the last seven days?" will produce a more accurate answer than "which stations do you listen to in an average week?"

15. People's habits are slow to change.

You introduce a great new program, and expect your audience to rise (assuming you receive regular survey data - otherwise you won't know this). But you wait three months, and the audience doesn't go up. In fact, it seems to go down a bit - but you can never quite tell, with the sampling variation you always find in surveys. So what do you do? Panic? Sack the presenter?

No. Just keep waiting. What happens is that audiences often fall before they rise. Some people who used to like the previous program switch off at that time (if the new program is very different), and the people who'd like the new program don't know about it yet. Even if you think you've promoted it a lot, that probably wasn't enough.

» Implication: Don't panic; be patient. After a year or so, if the new program is popular, the audience may begin to rise.

The exception to the slow rise in audience for a new program is when you introduce interactive programs, with audience participation. Talk back programs, request programs, and the like. For these programs, audiences often rise within a month.


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