by Tracy Johnson
Remember the good old days? You know, 3-4 months ago? It seems like decades, doesn’t it? Yet in just the last 45 days or so, the radio world has turned upside down. It’s a whole new normal.
A couple of weeks ago, Ken Benson, Dave Denes and I hosted a free webinar that shared ideas, insight, and advice for programing and personalities during this trying time. You can watch the webinar on-demand (free) here. But in the two short weeks since that webinar, the story has continued to evolve:
So what have we learned? Plenty.
And what should stations do now? Adjust.
I won’t even wade into the quagmire of how to replace some of the revenue lost. But let’s examine what’s happening in programming and personality radio. Here are my early takeaways from 45 days of the new normal.
In spite of industry reports showing radio consumption higher in the first few weeks of stay-at-home, it’s not true. It’s not even logical. Think about it. Radio is most listened to in the car, followed by at work. At-home listening is a distant third. And a growing number of households have no traditional radios.
Yes, entertainment consumption is up. Nielsen released a media study that shows how consumers are spending their time now:
But that rising tide is not lifting all boats.
There’s no way radio listening is up, and we said as much in the New Normal webinar. It’s true that streaming AM & FM stations (online, apps, and smart speaker usage) has increased. But that’s a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to over-the-air listening that has been lost.
March ratings information has come in for PPM markets, and listening is down significantly. In some markets, AQH is off by nearly 40%. Here are some highlights:
While they try to put a happy face on it, research and anecdotal reports support the decline in listening. Nielsen’s study shows streaming higher, but look a little deeper. Here’s how the Public is spending their time at home:
Only 40% are relying on the radio as a source of entertainment at home.
This is supported by anecdotal conversations with about 20 radio stations and morning shows the past two weeks. Personality shows (mostly or all talk) tell me phone response is higher than usual. In a couple of cases, it’s much higher. Most music-oriented shows are starving for a reaction.
One show on a music-focused station in a Top 10 market said they had no calls in two days. Ouch.
However, social media engagement has remained consistent, and in many cases, is higher.
The pandemic has caused a chain reaction that can shake even the strongest programmers to the core. The disruption to listening is unavoidable. When external factors influence listening, smart programmers adjust. But this is anything but typical. There’s no model for responding to this disaster.
First, don’t freak out. And don’t make major changes to your station.
Many PDs see the ratings results and come to two conclusions:
But be very careful in reacting to these apparent trends.
Looking at the ratings, it appears the biggest fans are listening more, and that may be the case in some instances. But this apparent Time Spent Listening growth is misleading.
It appears station TSL is higher because heavier users make up a much larger percentage of the overall AQH than before. Real TSL from those remaining fans has likely increased a bit, but not much.
This metaphor explains it:
That’s what’s happening in the radio industry. Don’t buy into the false impression of increased TSL. It’s not real.
In the past two weeks, I’ve talked to many PD’s that are considering making significant changes to music rotations and features on the morning show because of this “evidence”.
But stations that change the sound of the station is likely to disrupt those heavier listeners that seek the station because they love what the station sounds like now. The change could put them in motion. The light cumers are gone. They’re not tuning in at home. Don’t run off the heavy listeners!
For all stations, most remaining listeners are the biggest fans. The more high profile the morning show, the more fans that station is likely to have. That’s why stations relying heavily on personality and talk shows have held up much better so far.
Fans love the station for a reason. Don’t change the essence of the station to try and attract more of the at-home audience.
Having said that, small adjustments are in order:
Nostalgia: Most of us are seeking an emotional connection, familiarity and comfort to relieve stress. That’s why research on streaming the past few weeks shows a major increase in nostalgic songs. This is supported in the Nielsen study as well:
In times of high anxiety, we tend to gravitate toward older, more familiar songs. Radio personalities become even more of an escape than usual.
For music stations, I recommend:
As much as the listening location has changed, without a morning commute, listening has time-shifted as well. Listeners are sleeping in a bit longer and not getting around to the radio as early as they were.
This leads to two logical questions:
The answer is no to both.
Since most of the remaining listening comes from our biggest fans, why would we disrupt that listening by making changes? Be consistent and ride it out.
A couple of PDs have even suggested reducing exposure of their most popular features. This is exactly the wrong time to remove key reasons that attract audiences!
There is merit to extending the morning show in some cases. Some stations relying on at-work listening are keeping the morning show on until 10. At Jack-FM/Calgary, Matt & Sarah are on until 9 am. At 8:55, they ask the audience if they want them to stay on awhile longer. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Occasionally, they’ll stay on for another hour, sometimes 20 minutes.
At some point, we’ll reach the other side of this unusual period. We all look forward to that, of course.
But there’s a good chance radio listening is affected forever. As listeners settle into a new normal, new habits are formed. When life resumes (whenever that is), don’t assume previous habits will return.
Here are three things to do now:
Finally, reflect on what matters to listeners in your town, on this day, and at this time. If you need some inspiration or ideas, check out the Personality Magnet Show Prep service for daily, updated, curated ideas.
Bottom line: I wouldn’t change much. But adjustments are in order.
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