Most radio stations are not aggressive enough. Attracting listeners to become loyal fans of a station or radio show demands a creative approach to recruiting fans. It’s not a simple matter of eliminating things listeners dislike. That’s programming to avoid loss. Shows have to find things the audience craves to cause tune in.

Radio Needs More Reasons To Tune In

Two ways to increase ratings are to reduce tune-out to keep the audience listening longer and create enough top-of-mind awareness to increase tune-in. Most programmers obsess over the first part of that equation. The fastest way to improve current ratings is to eliminate things that send listeners to the exits.

The problem is that tune-out happens, and you can do nothing about it. Growth will stall unless there are good reasons to return, and ratings could likely decline.

Coleman Research President Jon Coleman puts an exclamation point on that point:

what really builds ratings is not eliminating every possible tune out, but rather offering emotion-evoking reasons people can love the station…When we reduce tune outs all we do is save a quarter-hour. We don’t build loyalty. People don’t come back to a station tomorrow because of reduced tune out today.

Coleman is right on target.

6 Things That Cause Tune In

Strategic Solutions Research evaluated hundreds of audio segments from radio personalities in multiple formats and markets. Six things were proven to cause listeners to tune in.

Established Features: Listener attention is complex to earn and more challenging to keep, which is why specific branded features should be on most shows. Establishing key features as mini-brands attract repeat listening. James Corden used the popular Carpool Karaoke to become an international celebrity. A named feature can drive a show to #1. Follow the guidelines for building strong features here.

Surprise! Each listener comes to a station for specific reasons, usually to be put into a particular mood. Deliver those expectations consistently, but don’t become predictable. To get tune-in, we must find ways to surprise and delight the audience. This can happen in small (within a branded feature) or more significant events (a theme week or special weekend).

Games: Play-along games have never been more popular, whether or not listeners are contestants. A game can be as simple as asking a multiple-choice question in a commercial set and delivering the answer at the end. Games like $1,000 Minute are popular because they’re fun to play along with.

Personality Drives Tune-In

A Fast Start: With so much competition for attention, we can’t afford to waste the audience’s time. Listeners will tune out quickly unless you capture their attention. Studies prove that attention is at a peak when content changes. Imagine a listener singing along with their favorite song. You turn on the microphone and change the environment. This is the greatest risk of tune-out and the reason a strong setup is so important.

Authenticity: Humans don’t make rational, reasonable decisions. They make emotional choices. Authentic personalities who show their hearts make connections that cause people to tune in and attract loyal fans. Emotional connections happen in large and small ways, but they start with personalities willing to be vulnerable. Perhaps it’s showing a heart for animals or sharing intimate details from a personal relationship. This is how listeners get to know you, and only then can they become fans.

Funny: The most important thing that causes tune-in is being funny. Nothing beats the ability to make listeners laugh. Generally, the audience uses the radio as an escape from everyday life. Make them laugh, and they’ll come back over and over. Being funny is hard and not everyone is naturally funny, but everyone can learn to be funnier.


There you have it. Become a dynamic radio show with six elements that cause tune in:

Develop at least one branded feature. Program and promote it consistently.

Deliver audience expectations, but surprise listeners regularly inside those expectations.

Engage them with interactive, play-along games.

Execute each talk segment with a well-prepared fast start.

Learn to demonstrate authentic character traits so listeners can get to know you.

Make them laugh.

These six elements are the key to making amazing things happen for your radio show.


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