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If programs are too predictable, the listeners get bored, and switch off. But if programs are too unpredictable, the listeners get confused, and switch off. Many commercial stations, playing the same type of music most of the time, are too predictable. Many stations with a wide variety of spoken programs (often government-funded networks) are too unpredictable.
» Implication: Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, try to make the content of your programs a little more unpredictable than now - but make the starting times as predictable as possible.
People listen longer than they intend to, then switch off at a change in sound - such as when music stops and a commercial comes on.
» Implication: Avoid sudden changes in the station sound, specially at times when the audience is falling - particularly after meal times.
Even if all listeners know about a change in programming (and many don't, no matter how often you mention it on air), it takes time for them to change their habits, specially when a program moves to a different timeslot.
» Implication: If you move a program to a different time slot, mention this fact at the previous broadcast timeslot for at least 6 months.
According to some studies, the average person has an attention span of 10 minutes, maximum. A Swedish study found it was only 7 minutes. And that's the maximum - when people have plenty of time, and no distractions.
Of course there will always be a few people who listen for a long time. With some program types, such as radio plays, documentaries, operas, or symphonies, only a few listeners will be paying attention throughout.
» Implication: Avoid having program items that take longer than about 10 minutes. This 10 (or 7) minute limit need not limit the length of whatever you call a "program" - it applies to one item, where listeners need to hear it all to understand it fully.
Swedish audience researchers used to play nasty tricks like ringing up listeners a few minutes after a news broadcast and asking "Which was the most interesting item on that bulletin you just heard?" Most people didn't have a clue - some couldn't remember any item in detail. So maybe people use news not to find out what's happening, but to reassure them that nothing important has happened.
» Implication: Avoid broadcasting long lists of items, specially with numbers, such as forecast temperatures for 20 places. Other media do this much better than radio can. As chapter 11 explains, a website makes an excellent complement for a radio station.
Most listeners have probably listened for more years than most staff have worked there - unless your audience is mostly under 20, or your station is new.
» Implication: Be careful when you announce "This station is doing something we've never done before." Some listener is sure to ring up and say "you did that back in 1983." To avoid this, keep a record of past program changes. If you don't know where you've been, you can't know where you're going.
This is because staff are much more aware of a new program, and spend more time thinking about it. Often a year passes before a new program becomes known to most listeners - specially if the program is broadcast at an off-peak time
» Implication: Be patient when a new program doesn't seem to produce a reaction from the audience. Wait a year or two - or take unusual steps to make people aware of the program.
...but a 100/0 or 50/50 mixture gets a smaller audience than either. The most successful stations can be described as "mostly talk" or "mostly music" - but not "all talk" or "all music" or "equal mixture."
» Implication: To maximize your audience, try to average either less than 20 minutes or more than 40 minutes music per hour. If you are in an area with a lot of radio stations available (10 or more) this applies even more strongly.
Other old people prefer music, but of course a different type of music.
» Implication: Your talk/music mix will determine your target audience - and vice versa. If you mix a high proportion of spoken programming with music that only young people like, this will usually result in a small audience.
People want to know how their local area fits in with the world, it seems: stations that have only local news gain small audiences. The less populated and more isolated the local area, the more strongly this applies.
» Implication: to avoid losing your audience to network stations, provide them with national news and/or world news every few hours. Also consider your local "community of interest." If your station is based in a small town which is fairly near a large city, a lot of your listeners will often visit that city, or know people there. Therefore, include some coverage of that city in your local news.
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