Squeezing out that last little bit of productivity and efficiently using the resources at your dis- posal is now the new norm for most radio sta- tions. This is most often applied to the production side of the business: how to use synergies in program production, syndication, near to live production of shows or full on pre-production, and combined music and sales departments for station groups, monitoring of sales revenue, and so on.
Seems like a day hardly goes by without some new idea on how to more effectively use what we have, or find a new way to get something out of the station or the market. Rarely do we look at the listeners, and how their actual listening patterns can be catered to with more efficiency. Since the advent of format radio over half a century ago, not very much has changed about what we think we know about listening behavior. A large part of that is simply the imprecise nature with which we measure that listening.
Neil de Grasse Tyson once said: “You can nevermeasure anything with absolute precision. Your meas-urement is only as precise as your measuring tool”. Withdigital listening on the rise, and the opportunity to measure actual listening behavior, instead of remem-bered listening habits, maybe it’s time to revisit what wethink we know about the traditional listening curve.
Rocking the Paradigm Boat
Listeners tune out after drive, right? Right! …or maybe not? A lot of what we do here at RadioAnalyzer can be described as “challenging conventional radio wisdom”. Often, we find a valid reason for the way things are done and programmers have been reacting. Sometimes instinctively, sometimes by trial and error, sometimes based on other forms of data collection.
For many of our tried and true practices however, we find that the premise is either false, or has simply changed over time – along with the lifestyle changes that our listeners have experienced. Evening listening patterns and automation of programming is one of those unexpected, but very interesting changes.
What We Think We Know
As radio professionals, we all learned the classic AC-Listening curve. There is a “bump” during the early morning breakfast and commute, and a bump during the drive time afternoon. It usually looks a lot like the illustration on this page.
While we find this is true for FM listening, or, more accurately, what listeners say about their FM listening, their actual usage patterns can be and are a bit more diverse, and almost every station has a “hidden cume” that hasn’t been noticed or utilized up until now.
Digital Ease-of-use Pushes Traditional Media Offers
Steve Jobs and his iTunes – the death knell for radio. Everybody working in radio over the last 20 years has heard the prophecies: “soon, listeners can make their own playlists with their favorite songs, and nobody will listen to radio anymore”. Well, thankfully, it turns out there is a lot more to successful radio than just music (but that is a discussion for a future FoRB).
The shift in media consumption habits brought on by the rise of smartphones and tablets has actually done something very beneficial for radio. It has made multitasking media and information consumption not only possible and easy to use, it has made it very, very portable. The technology that some thought would kill us, has actually made us more readily available. And listeners are using that availability.
The Third “Prime-Time”
A wide-spread analysis of hundreds of thousands of listening patterns over dozens of stations has shown that they all have something in common: during the traditional FM downtime, listeners are teching-up and us- ing their mobile devices to listen to traditional, simulcast radio. When looking exclusively at mobile device listening streaming connections, almost every station surveyed showed the same thing: a third prime time. For most, it appears in the early evening and lasts until traditional TV time at 8 PM.
We found that listeners were tuning back into the station, causing a rise in the listening curve after 5 PM as seen on the illustration on this page. Mobile device listening isn’t always out of home – many media consumers have their mobile device on them, even when at home. This shows in their listening patterns. The shape and duration of this extra prime time can differ from station to station.
Some niche music formats get a large bump in mobile listening on weekends, because office workers that usually listen on their office computer aren’t in the office on Saturday and Sunday, but still want to hear their favorite music. Find out where this extra traffic is coming in and utilize it to your advantage.
What’s On Offer Outside the Traditional Prime?
Sure, we aren’t talking about huge amounts oflistening, but it does add up. And it happens at a very useful and opportune time. So what are you offering your listeners here? I have seen stations go full automation with a standard playlist here. That’s ok for listenerswinding down just wanted to get some background music, but it isn’t really anything notable or memorable. I have seen other stations cram large amounts of news and talk into these spaces, because licensing laws re-quire them to fulfill a certain amount of “valuable information” minutes in their program, and they assume the after prime period is useless.
What we actually have here however, is an oppor- tunity to provide interesting and attractive content, combined with a tease/hook for the following day. Find out what your listeners are doing here and what they want from you, and then provide it. When are you going to start catering to your third prime?
You might say the poor guy never had a chance, being born to two radio-crazy ArmedForcesNetwork journalists that met in southeast Asia (think “Good Morning Vietnam” – and no, his dad is not Adrian Cronauer). Since discovering his love for music programming as a teenager, Bill has been obsessed with turning great ideas into numbers you can measure, and measured numbers into actionable programming strategies that make great radio. After touring Central Europe as a Music-Promotion-Programm- Director and a Research&Program Consultant for European and International Consulting firms, he has returned to the audio innovation trenches at RadioAnalyzer, and is loving every minute of it.