You Won’t Believe How Little Listeners Listen

You Won’t Believe How Little Listeners Listen

by Tracy Johnson

Every morning you bust their hump to create great content and bring your “A” game to entertain fans and attract new ones. You’re grinding it out, day after day. You obsess about each and every quarter-hour. Teases and features are delivered with precision. Your heart and soul go into the show every day. But step back and analyze audience behavior. It’s amazing how little listeners listen.

It’s disheartening. Or at least annoying. Personalities put so much into every show, and what’s the reward? Those greedy, self-absorbed, me-first listeners tune out. They actually turn on other stations, including arch-rivals.

How dare they? Don’t they know how hard this is? And how important it is to us?

But the amount of tune in isn’t the worst part.

The Distracted Listener

Most listening takes place in the background, with the audience focusing their attention on something else. Like talking to their spouse or kids. The radio may be on, but it’s in the background. They never hear the best moments.

It’s just rude.

Then the phone rings or a text comes in and they take a call from the boss. They turn down the radio to make plans for lunch with a friend instead of paying attention to the 7:10 feature.

Come on, today’s episode is awesome. What’s wrong with these people?

Then they stop for an errand or pop into a convenience store for coffee. There goes another quarter-hour. They’re not even available to listen. And when they come back in, they may forget all about what was or is on the radio.

Back on the highway, they’re stuck in traffic. So they tune out to get a report from the station that gives traffic every 8 minutes. Will they remember to come back?

At work, everything changes. Will they tune in for the feature or contest promoted all morning? Maybe. But then an email comes in with a link to a cute video on YouTube. So that comes first. And then another video. And another. Soon, they forget about that appointment with the radio.

How Little Listeners Listen

This pattern repeats day after day, hour after hour. It’s not just causal comers that tune out. It’s also fans. Even passionate P1’s aren’t listening as much as we hope.

Analyzing how much or how little listeners listen is shocking. Then sobering. Then hopefully, it’ll prompt action.

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The Math (Sorry)

Here are the facts:

  • Assume a radio show is on the air 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. That’s 20 hours or 1,200 minutes per week.
  • Listeners tune in their most-listened-to radio show an average of 3 times per day.
  • Each occasion is less than 10 minutes. It’s drifting closer to just 7 minutes.
  • And they tune in an average of just over two days a week.

That means radio shows receive about 30 minutes of tune-in per day for about 2 days per week. 30 x 2 = 60 minutes per week. 

Remember, the show is on for about 1,200 minutes per week. So here’s how much they actually hear:

  • 60/1200 = 5%
  • 100%-5%=95%

The average P1—the biggest fans—miss 95% of your show.

The infographic breaks it down in a little more detail. But that’s how little listeners listen.

Wow. Ouch. That hurts, doesn’t it? Oh, I forgot to mention that this is just the amount of time your radio show registers on their meter. It doesn’t take into account whether or not they’re hearing anything you say. They’re usually listening in the background.

Double ouch.

Relax. Step back.

Download “How Little Listeners Listen Infographic” How-Much-Do-They-Listen-infographic.png – Downloaded 113 times – 445 KB

What To Do About It

Listeners aren’t going to change listening habits.

The only way to respond to this data is to find more ways to fit into their lifestyle and become more important when they are available to listen.

What does that mean for a radio station or show?

Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Radio shows don’t start when personalities first go on-air. They start when a listener first tunes in. Every time the mic is turned on will be the first break of the day for a large percentage of listeners. Forget about that first break when you’re just warming up. Launch with “A” material that attracts and engages the audience immediately. Every break is prime time to those tuned in at that moment.
  2. The same is true for the end of a show. The show ends when listeners tune out. Don’t waste it!
  3. Talk about today’s hot topic multiple times in a show. Saving a topic for 7:40 because “more people are listening” means the 6:15 and 8:50 audience thinks you’re out of touch. To them, you didn’t even reference it.
  4. Stop saving the best topics. Learn the art of repeating, repurposing, and re-performing truly great content with a recycling strategy.
  5. Listeners tune out, and there is nothing you can do about it. Instead, embrace the art of teasing and pre-promotion. It won’t prevent button-punch, but it will increase the chance to earn a return. This is one of the most valuable weapons in the battle for attention.
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And perhaps most importantly:

The average commute in the United States is 26.6 minutes. In Canada, it’s 24 minutes. That’s likely the only impression listeners will have of you today. Make sure they get the snapshot you want.


Are you surprised at how little listeners listen? Isn’t it amazing how much they actually (don’t) hear?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Maybe it’s to time to rethink how programming and performing a radio show. Put some urgency into making the show stand out with truly great material that fits into how radio is being heard.

Is your show optimized to appeal to your audience based on how much they actually hear? Let us help. We can redesign the show and put you on the path to success. Contact us.

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