There are plenty of good commercial-free strategies that enhance station brands and extend TSL (time spent listening). It’s not a cure-all, but used properly, clearing out spots can have a positive benefit when done properly. But why on earth would programmers insist on calling attention to it? It’s time to stop calling it commercial-free.

What? Has Tracy lost his mind? A valid programming strategy/tactic shouldn’t be promoted or even talked about on-air?

Yeah. That’s right.

Stop Calling In Commercial-Free? Really?

I know it sounds odd. Why would a station stop calling it commercial-free? Shouldn’t we get credit for a listener benefit? Especially when it’s so difficult to convince management to do it in the first place.

There are several reasons, but here are the three most important:

  • Being commercial-free does not attract new listeners (most of the time). It is a benefit for those already tuned in. Since commercials are the top cause for tune-out, the act of removing the irritant is sufficient for keeping current listeners. There’s no reason to air a promo (which they consider an ad) about not playing ads.
  • Saying we’re commercial-free is an advantage against other radio stations. And that’s not where today’s battleground is. The audience spends less and less audio time with AM/FM radio and more and more with streaming services. To many listeners, radio stations that promote blocks of programming without commercials sound ridiculous because it calls attention to the fact that radio stations actually play commercials at all. It’s not a strategic positioning advantage (usually).
  • Even those listeners that do care stop hearing the message. It becomes part of the background fairly quickly and they are numb to it.

When It Makes Sense To Promote (Maybe)

There are exceptions, of course. But not many.

For example, if the long-term strategy is to own a position around fewer commercials with a minimum of interruptions, removing commercials at key times could be an effective tactic to demonstrate the promise. But it should only be as part of a bigger strategy. It’s a great proof of performance for a broader claim.

It can also be effective as a short-term campaign. How about a campaign during Nurse’s Week? Clear out commercials at the times shifts change at the major hospitals in your town to honor them? Then mix in messages to and about nurses during the commercial-free sweep. This supports an image for playing fewer commercials and earns goodwill.


It makes sense to manage clocks and manipulate spot placement to increase the chances of winning more quarter hours at key times. Retaining listeners earns time spent listening.

But just do it and don’t talk about it, especially in markets measured by meters.

Stop calling it commercial-free. Talking about it does not create an advantage against other audio sources, fails to impact those already tuned in (and they’re the only ones that hear the message), and won’t cause anyone to tune in at a specific time just because there are no commercials.

It doesn’t make sense.

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