The 6 Biggest Causes of Listener Tune Out

The 6 Biggest Causes of Listener Tune Out

by Tracy Johnson

If a radio station could reduce listener erosion, that station could sustain ratings without marketing, promotion or increased costs. Keeping your existing listeners tuned in is the most dependable way of creasing share. The problem is listeners do tune out. Nothing can be done to eliminate it. Plenty can be done to reduce it.

We explain it in more detail in he seminar on demand Avoiding Tune Out 101 here.

Reducing tune out is the fastest way to grow ratings. The same applies to increasing business for a retail store. Businesses usually have enough shoppers. If they could convince current customers already in the store to buy more, then get them to come back more often, their sales would skyrocket.

The most important thing a program director or radio personality can do to improve ratings is maximize existing customers. This is at the heart of my Double Your Ratings strategy.

And research shows us there are clear steps we can take to improve in this area.

There are six things that contribute most to lost listening. The list is not a generic list like “stop playing commercials, shut up the jocks and play bigger hits.” It’s things broadcasters can actually work on to improve a radio show.

6 Things That Cause Listener Tune Out

The list is in no particular order. They’re all critical. They all cost lost ratings. And they all need to be addressed.

Lack of Attention

Radio is often a passive listening experience. It’s on in the background, acting as a soundtrack to other activities. When anything disrupts the current listening experience, it’s an invitation to exit.

Simply, tune out happens when real tune in never occurs. When personalities fail to earn listener engagement quickly, at the beginning of a break, they perceptually tune out. And mental tune out is nearly as dangerous as physically tuning out.

The audience tells us, “Get to the point”. That’s good advice, and it happens with a fast and powerful hook. And there’s only 7 seconds available for that hook to resonate. That’s right. Capture listeners attention in the first 7 seconds or they are gone.

So get the hook in quickly, then advance the storyline to keep them wondering what will happen next.

Content Out of Context

The audience listens very little. In fact, even the best listeners miss 92.5% of your radio show.

As a result, the audience simply doesn’t understand nearly as much as we like to think. They don’t know your spouse’s name. And they don’t understand how to play that game that’s so common for you. Nor do they remember (or didn’t hear) that break setup 20 minutes ago.

Most haven’t heard this game or that feature. Or if they did hear it, they have forgotten it. That TV show or movie you’re talking about? Most haven’t seen it, even if it is #1 this week. Talking about it as if your audience has seen it causes tune out.

A joke with a punchline that is a line from a famous movie? Some of the audience will get it, but many will not. That’s why personalities must go out of their way to be inclusive, not exclusive.

You might also like:  Avoiding Tune Out 101 Seminar on Demand

Game shows like Wheel of Fortune still clearly explain the rules and how to play the game, even after decades of being on the air. It provides a context for the audience so they’re included.

Listeners are not going to work hard to figure out what you’re talking about. It’s easier to tune out and find something else.

It’s our job to make it clear, plain and simple. That’s annoying and repetitive. It’s also important.


Breaks that don’t move forward lose attention quickly. And lost attention is very difficult to regain. It’s almost as difficult as winning the attention in the first place.

Understand that pace has nothing to do with how long a personality speaks, or how fast you talk. A music bed doesn’t add momentum.

It has everything to do with moving a storyline forward. Breaks that evolve and keep moving forward are exciting. Breaks that stay in the same place are redundant and soon become boring. As a result, attention is lost. Then tune out happens.

Listeners get bored easily, and quickly. When they do, they tune out. Sometimes the tune out is physical, pushing the button. But it also can be that they just aren’t hearing you. They keep the radio on, but aren’t paying attention. You’re relegated to the background. Physical tune out is a killer, but mental tune out is also deadly.

Each host must develop a keen sense of the listener’s conscience and perform accordingly.

Not Enough Payoffs

Hopefully, you’ve planned a destination (Pay Off) for each break. But knowing where you’re going is not enough if it takes too long to get there and your audience has no rewards along the way.

Our studies prove that listeners constantly evaluate entertainment (every 30-40 seconds), making subconscious decisions as to whether it’s worth their time and attention. That sounds heavy, doesn’t it? It is.

A comedian performing an 8-minute set can’t rely on one great joke at the end. He or she would lose the audience before getting to that amazing punchline.

It’s the same on the air. You need to plan mini-payoffs, dropping audio bread crumbs to keep them engaged at least every 30-40 seconds.

Confusion Causes Listener Tune Out

When listeners are confused, they bail out. And they’re easily confused.

One of the most common things that causes tune out is too many voices on the air. This is especially true if the voices are unfamiliar. And, regardless of how long you’ve been on the air, most of your audience is unfamiliar with all of the cast members.

That’s why name-tagging is an important skill. It helps listeners follow conversations by connecting names with voices and, over time, building familiarity with individual players.

When personalities talk on top of one another, it drives listeners crazy. This shows up in dial tests and in focus groups all the time. Don’t believe it? Check out the evidence presented in the Content Superhero eBook.

You might also like:  Avoiding Tune Out 101 Seminar on Demand

And when we quickly change direction or topics, they can’t follow along. And you pay the price.

The psychological impact of confusion is logical. When confused, human beings become frustrated. Frustration causes stress. And we’re all conditioned to avoid or relieve stress. When the radio station playing on the air is the source of stress, what happens? Yep. Listener tune out.

They Don’t Care

Listeners are greedy, selfish little piggies. They actually tune in to get something from you. It’s not so you can give them. How dare they?

There’s an important difference.

When we perform from our own perspective, listeners can’t relate. And when they don’t relate, they tune out. Sorry. They’re not going to work hard to get into your world any more than you’re going to get emotionally invested in looking at a friend’s vacation photos.

So be externally relevant. Inside references are one of the biggest offenders in this area.

The audience counts on radio personalities to make them feel good. That’s one of the biggest causes of tune in. Personalities win when they validate the choice listeners have made at this time and on this day. Violate that expectation, and they’ll quickly look for another source of entertainment.


How much is listener tune out costing you in ratings? A lot.

You see, there’s a cost of listening to the radio. Nobody pays with cash, but with time and attention.

When personalities violate the six main causes of listener tune out, the cost of tuning in goes up. When the cost is too high, it’s common to see erosion of 40-50% during a short, 3-5 minute break.

Can you afford to lose half your audience?

The Fastest Way To Reduce Ratings is Avoiding Tune Out

The 7-Second Challenge

Avoiding Tune Out 101 Seminar on Demand

The 6 Biggest Causes of Listener Tune Out

Every Break Matters: Maybe Your Radio Show Should Start Earlier!

The Power of Attention: Why Other Stations Are NOT Your Real Competition

The High Risk Zone of Every Radio Break

It’s All About the Hook Seminar on Demand

Radio and the Cost of Listening



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