The Phone Isn’t Ringing. Should I Panic?
by Tracy Johnson
It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging impact by volume of phone calls. The phone isn’t ringing nearly as much. But more and more, I hear this complaint:
Hey, Tracy. The phones are dead. Nobody’s calling. What should I do?
It’s comforting to see a full bank of blinking lines. It’s instant assurance that the audience is there. Whew!
But you also know that a lot of phone calls (or emails, or Facebook posts, or text messages) isn’t a good indicator of show quality, either. If it were, you could just schedule a segment about a controversial topic like free health care each day and start cashing ratings bonus checks.
Still, given the choice of a lot of great phone calls lined up to participate, and crickets on the line, give me the callers. They can add a lot to a segment.
And, if you’re a solo show, audience input can play the role of a valuable cohost.
If you’re noticing a steady decline in audience response, it may mean nothing. Or it could be a problem.
Here’s how to analyze the situation:
Reasons For Declining Phone Calls
There are legitimate reasons for fewer incoming calls. All of these are factors:
When life changes, listening patterns are disrupted. There are certain times of the year when large numbers of listeners are on vacation at the same time.
When school is out or there’s a major holiday, the audience just isn’t as available. Their life is disrupted, and even if they’d like to listen and call in, it’s not convenient.
These life disruptions can impact phone call volume for multiple days. Try to track when it’s likely to happen and bank some calls in the days just before the audience pool is likely to dry up. This will help keep the show more consistent.
Hands Free Laws
Most radio listening takes place in the car, and it’s increasingly more difficult to call from the car due to local hands-free laws that prevent drivers from using the phone.
This is also why texting and emailing may be down. Focus group respondents have told me they would like to call more but are afraid of being ticketed or fined.
There are more ways for the public to express an opinion than ever before.
They have their own platforms to sound off. In the past, the public used radio shows as a soap box. It was a big deal to call in and get on the air. But it’s no longer the only way they get their “15 minute of fame”.
They can post on social media, get on message boards or record a YouTube video anytime. Why should they go through the hassle of trying to get on the radio?
Texting & Social Media
Perhaps most importantly, communication is happening much more by text and social media. As a society, we don’t call and talk like we used to. Many callers don’t even leave voicemail.
Texting is the communication method of choice because it’s faster and easier.
What Can Radio Do?
It’s easy to take these explanations and just go about our lives with a shrug and a “that’s the way it is” attitude.
But there is much you an do to fix this problem.
Don’t Freak Out. First, don’t assume that there’s nothing wrong. Shows get into trouble when they disregard symptoms. On the other hand, don’t freak out! Your success isn’t based on how many phone calls come in.
Perform for the audience, not phone calls. If planning a break that depends on phone calls for success, there’s a preparation problem.
Phone reaction should add to the fun, not provide it.
Answer The Phone. Many listeners have given up calling radio stations because nobody answers or they et endless busy signals. How many times would you dial a phone and not get through before deciding it’s not worth it?
Put Calls On. The fastest way to engage the audience to call is to demonstrate they’re welcome. So put callers on. That’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg thing, but there are subtle techniques to get callers on the air.
Be Provocative. Enticing audience response is an art. The more exciting and dramatic the invitation, the more the audience will respond.
Maybe your angle on that topic isn’t interesting enough to cause a response. How can it be more dramatic?
Dumb it Down. Sometimes, phone calls don’t happen because the break is too complicated or listeners don’t understand what you want. Maybe the audience is expected to work too hard. Nobody likes homework, so make it easy to participate by focusing on a specific question and invitation. Make it clear!
An easy adjustment is rephrasing the question as a fill-in-the-blank.
Leave Something Out. A neat trick to virtually guarantee callers is to leave something out or get something wrong. Listeners love to correct personalities when they’re wrong or fill in missing gaps. This gets them involved.
Invite Them. Maybe listeners don’t feel invited because they don’t hear the invitation at the right time or they don’t feel welcome to participate.
Remember, they haven’t memorized the station’s phone number. They can’t call unless they hear the number and invitation clearly and slowly.
Stop Reading To Them. This may be the biggest cause of fewer phone calls. Personalities tend to gravitate to the easiest path, and it’s much easier to ready posts on social media or text messages than taking callers. And when the public is more likely to text than call, it snowballs.
The problem is, radio is an audio medium and callers sound much better than listening to a personality read responses. But when we read, the audience gets the message that this is how we prefer to communicate. So they don’t call.
These are just a few reasons for fewer callers. It’s true that we all use the phone less. But that’s not an excuse for having fewer callers on the air.
What tricks have you used to keep the phones active? Share your ideas at [email protected]