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. 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. 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.
This isn’t a problem for many multi-personality shows, but if you’re on by yourself, audience input can be a valuable co-host.
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. Are any of these happening that could explain it:
When life changes, listening patterns are disrupted. There are certain times of the year that many listeners are on vacation. When school is out or there’s a major holiday, the audience just isn’t as available. And, preparation for these life changes can impact phone call volume for multiple days.
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. This is also why texting and emailing may be down.
There are more ways for the public to express an opinion than ever before. They have their own platforms to sound off. Your show is no longer the only way they get their “15 minute of fame”.
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.
It’s easy to take these explanations and just go on with our lives. But what should you do about it? What can you do about it?
Respond, But 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 you get.
If you want the phone to ring or just want to check the pulse and make sure they’re out there, here are some things you can do:
Perform for the audience, not phone calls. If you’ve built a break planning that the phones will carry the entertainment value, you are unprepared. Phone reaction should add to the fun, not provide it.
Enticing audience response is an art. Maybe your angle on that topic isn’t interesting enough to cause a response. How can you make it more dramatic?
Dumb it Down
Sometimes, the phone calls don’t happen because the break is too complicated or they don’t understand what you want. Maybe you’re making the audience work too hard and they don’t get it.
One way to do that is leave something out. Listeners love to correct you when you’re wrong or fill in missing gaps. This gets them involved.
Maybe you’re not asking for calls at the right time or they don’t feel welcome to participate? They haven’t memorized your phone number. If you want them to call, you have to invite them clearly and specifically.
Use Social Media
Most any topic can be better with another point of view. For any topic, ask for responses by text message or social media. But don’t just read their responses! You’re on the radio!
This works as live phone screening in real-time. When you find a potentially great story, call them (you’ll have their number because they texted) or private message them to get their number and put them on the air!
Everyone is calling 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.