How To Deal With A Listener Complaint [audio]

How To Deal With A Listener Complaint [audio]

by Tracy Johnson

It seemed like a never-ending battle with our audience. Our morning show was the legendary Jeff & Jer, who were pretty good at what they did as evidenced by their induction into the Radio Hall of Fame. But we had at least one listener complaint every single day.

I’ll tell you the story, but if you expect a happy ending that complaints stopped, you’ll be disappointed. The complaints never stopped. However, it did change how we responded to each.

On Star 100.7/San Diego, our station’s values were to be a bright, fun, positive choice for adult women to escape from the real world. We did it with a sense of humor, larger-than-life personalities, high profile promotions, and overall goodness.

Jeff & Jer were the engines that pulled the train. Our philosophy was to be Disneyland on the radio: a happy, safe place. There are no bad days at Disneyland, and moms don’t have to worry about kids being exposed to something that would embarrass them.

That didn’t mean we were prudes, but at it’s edgiest, the station was PG13. We were far safer than most radio stations, and even more family-friendly than popular prime time sitcoms like Friends or Seinfeld.

Overcoming a Listener Complaint

So when I got an email, letter, or phone call that said something like, “I can’t listen to your station with my kids in the car”, it drove me nuts.

At first, I engaged the listener, challenging their position. That’s always a mistake, by the way. The customer (listener) won’t change their opinion.

Most of the time, the beef would be over something we considered silly. For instance, the show had a recurring feature where they’d pick a letter from the alphabet, and Jerry would list names for boobs that start with that letter.

Maybe it’s a little edgy to say “boobs” on the air, but in context, it’s not something that would qualify as “dirty” or salacious.

So using sound programming judgment, we learned to tolerate complaints. But we didn’t take them seriously.

Then everything changed after a research project using the OAR method to understand listeners. This is a fundamental step in identifying traits when building an audience persona.

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What We Learned

As we gathered data using OAR (Observe, Ask, Research), we developed a clear profile on the life of a target listener.

Among the deeper things we learned in the project:

  • They worked full time because they had to, not because they wanted to.
  • Their family needed income to pay the mortgage in San Diego’s expensive housing market.
  • Kids were very involved in activities around the school and the community.
  • They felt guilty for not spending enough time with their family.
  • Most felt they had little time for themselves.
  • They had a nagging feeling someone else was raising their children and life was spinning out of control.
  • Their #1 worry was for kids to grow up with a strong moral background.
  • They trusted Jeff & Jer as a safe place for their kids-like Disneyland.

It became much clearer. When they’re rushing out the door, loading kids in the SUV, and going over homework on the way to school, we were a trusted friend.

So no matter how fun or funny the “boobs” feature was, alarms sounded in the listener’s heads. It was like a serial killer on the loose at Disneyland.

Even if it wasn’t “dirty”, it wasn’t as safe. We understood the complaint.

Our Station’s Response

Armed with insight, we didn’t change programming or eliminate that feature. However, we were sensitive to audience values. We changed in two ways

Responding to a Complaint. I stopped arguing with listeners because it was clear what inspired those comments. It wasn’t their fault!

On-Air Sensitivity.  Jeff and Jer did not stop doing things like that.

But they framed edgier segments differently, and it was brilliant.

Instead of just presenting “Names for Boobs”, they set it up with an audio version of a “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” tease:

Jeff: “Okay, we know you’re probably on your way to work or driving your kids to school, so if you have young kids in the car…you probably will need to turn the radio to another station in about 3 minutes, because Jerry is at it again…and some of you probably don’t want your kids to hear what he’s going to be doing.”

In the background, Jerry’s saying, “Come on, it’s not that bad. It’s nothing. It’s fun. They love it when we do this.”

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The effect? Tune in. Suspense. Expectation. Mystery. Who’s going to tune out with a tease like this? They have to hear what’s coming up.

The Lesson to Transform a Radio Brand

This is an example of how to use an audience persona. The information doesn’t always lead to an immediate change, but the understanding that comes from the process has a profound impact.

The program director may even alter how they relate to a complaint.

By the way, adjustments didn’t stop or even reduce, the complaints. It did help us understand why they complained, though, and knowing that allowed us to respond appropriately.

And it provided courage to stay out of the Zone of Mediocrity.


If you haven’t built an audience persona yet, get started by watching the webinar on-demand and downloading the free template to help build a persona profile.

If you need help, let me know and we can arrange to guide you through the process.


OAR method of market research

Build an Audience Persona Seminar on Demand

Zone of Mediocrity

Do You Get Enough Complaints? Probably Not. Here’s How To Fix It

Personality Profile: Jeff & Jer And the Hall of Fame


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