4 Things Personalities Can Do To Bring Listeners Back To Radio

4 Things Personalities Can Do To Bring Listeners Back To Radio

by Tracy Johnson

It makes some broadcasters feel good to read a story based on manipulated research reports that claim radio listening is as strong as ever. I’ve even seen some that claim radio listening is higher than before the pandemic. Radio has a problem. You feel it. You know it. But nobody is talking about steps to bring listeners back to radio.

This isn’t Chicken Little “sky is falling” chatter. Listening declines are real. Yes, AQH has grown since most cities shut down and most of the audience worked from home. But listening is down as much as 30-40% compared to the same period a year ago at most stations in most markets.

That’s a huge drop.

How Personalities Can Bring Listeners Back To The Radio

So what can we do, other than cross our fingers and hope commuters will tune back in? And specifically, what can personalities do to capture and hold attention that doesn’t cost money, marketing, or in-person marketing at appearances and events?

Oh yeah, public stunts are probably not a good idea, either.

There aren’t any easy answers. But here are four things every personality can do right now to improve the audience experience and get in a position to recover from the decline.

Make it Easier To Listen

I see this in virtually every research project. Many shows are simply hard to follow. As you know, listeners don’t listen much, nor do they pay that much attention to the radio. It’s primarily a background medium.

When listeners are unable to follow a conversation, they become confused. Confusion causes stress. Stress must be relieved. Relief comes from removing the stress. So they simply tune out.

The confusion comes from several sources, including:

  • Talking over one another is a huge problem. Here’s a direct quote from a listener in a focus group for a client: “Wow. What was that? There’s so much happening, and it just doesn’t make any sense.  No way I’m listening to that.”
  • Over-Production. A music bed played too loud competes for attention with what is being said. Too many audio drops or sound bites make it difficult to understand the story.
  • Missing Context. Personalities should never assume the audience understands the background of a story or that they heard a previous segment. Explain every break as if telling a third grader for the first time.
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For personalities, this is tedious, redundant, and requires patience and discipline. But it’s critical to recapturing listener attention when they land on your show.

Poor Topic/Story Focus

Many shows react to a distracted world by rapidly changing topics and moving from one story to another. They miss the point. Listeners can’t keep up!

Other shows simply present a topic, make a comment, and hope something good happens spontaneously. That’s poor show prep.

Try to develop a storyline in every segment, but only one story.

For example:

The best part of a newscast or entertainment report is often the dialogue or discussion inside the information. However, if every story is discussed, the storyline becomes confusing. The audience has a hard time following the discussion. Pick one featured story and give extra emphasis to that story.

And when transitioning from one element to the next, use vocal skills to transition (vocal tone, tempo, pace, etc.).

Do Something Significant

Listeners have high expectations. The bar has been raised for creating great entertainment. Shows can’t afford to just go through the motions…ever.

Plan and perform every show to create at least one moment that causes listeners to talk about what you did on the radio today. That starts with preparation and brainstorming.

Just choosing relevant topics is meaningless. In a focus group, a listener actually said this:

They sound like they just get topics from Yahoo. It’s random, shallow crap that nobody really cares about.

Lists, facts, human interest stories, and rehashing yesterday’s game is no payoff.

Plan every show to deliver a series of One Thing:

  • One thing per quarter-hour good enough to be actually heard.
  • Do one thing per hour that causes some sort of reaction.
  • One thing per day listeners might tell someone about it.

There’s more detail on the One Thing here.

To be important enough to attract listeners back to the radio, we have to create reasons to actively seek us.

Where’s The Surprise?

Many shows have been taught to be consistent. Every show sounds like the one before.

Some shows sound as predictable as interviews with athletes after a big game. They say, “We played hard, and have to take it one game at a time and I’ll do what I can to help the team win.”

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We have to provide surprises.

Another listener says:

It’s refreshing when a personality comes out and says it like it is, and says what they think, whether I agree with them or not. They’re not afraid to be politically incorrect. (Personality) is an a-hole 97% of the time, but speaks from the heart. He’s stimulating. He’s never boring.

In other words, be big, bold, and colorful. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate. Stay out of the zone of mediocrity.


A microphone is just a tool, and you are a craftsman. Use it to create can’t-miss, must-listen moments on the air each day.

A mic doesn’t entertain. It’s a worthless piece of electronics. Without adding life to it, the microphone is like a plane without a pilot.

The radio industry faces many challenges. There are big problems. You can’t solve the problem alone. But it’s very possible to attract and hold listeners, which is a good step to bring listeners back to radio.


Marketing at Appearances And Events


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