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

I’ll tell you the story, but here’s a spoiler alert: The complaints never stopped. But it did change how we responded to them.

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 creating good feelings.

The Jeff & Jer show was the engine that pulled the train. Our philosophy was to be Disneyland: 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 the edgiest, the station was PG13. We were far safer than most radio stations, and even more family-friendly than 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. Here’s what it sounded like. Maybe it’s a little edgy to say “boobs” on the air, but in context, it’s not something that would qualify as “dirty”.

So 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. OAR stands for Observe, Ask, and Research.

What We Learned

As we gathered data, we developed a clear profile of the life of a target listener. We learned:

  • They worked full time because they had to, not because they wanted to. Their family needed two incomes to pay the mortgage in San Diego’s expensive housing market.
  • Kids were very involved in activities at school and in the community.
  • They felt guilty for not spending more time with their family.
  • They felt they had little time for themselves.
  • A major concern was the feeling that 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.

Suddenly, I understood. When our audience was rushing out the door, loading kids in the SUV, and going over homework on the way to school, we were trusted friends. So no matter how funny the “boobs” feature was, alarms sounded in the listener’s heads. It was like a serial killer on the loose at Disneyland.

It wasn’t dirty, but it wasn’t as safe. Now I understood the complaint.

The 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 wasn’t their fault!
  • On-Air Sensitivity.  Jeff and Jer 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” warning:

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 need to turn the radio to another station in about 3 minutes, because Jerry is at it again…and some of you won’t want your kids to hear what he’s 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.”

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


The adjustments didn’t stop the complaints but they did help us understand why they complained. Knowing that allowed us to respond appropriately.

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

It’s important to understand your audience and your show. Success is at the intersection of being aligned with their values. If you need help, let me know and we can guide you through the process.

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