Radio personalities and programmers often receive perceptual research reports that provide insights into listener preferences. While some comments may indicate a lack of connection to radio personalities, others highlight a deeper issue but there are three comments that strike fear into broadcasters. We usually know what to do about two of them, but one specific listener reaction should terrify personalities and programmers.

The first two are:

  1. I don’t like you and don’t listen.
  2. I don’t know you and don’t care.

Both are signs of trouble, but programmers and managers can deal with each. The third reaction is the scariest.

The Comment That Should Terrify Personalities

The terrifying comment is:

I love the personality but I don’t listen.

When listeners express love for a radio personality but don’t actually listen to the show, it reveals a gap between an emotional connection and behavior. This issue is particularly prevalent among legacy radio shows with familiar personalities who have a long history in the market. Although these personalities elicit strong feelings from their audience, ratings don’t reflect the same level of enthusiasm.

This is a growing trend when analyzing perceptual research. A report reveals strong positive feelings for a familiar personality, but management is frustrated that ratings don’t reflect the apparent strength.

I’ve been thinking about this problem for several weeks and have come to realize that it’s a common problem in many industries. For example:

Sports Teams: Fans claim to love the team but don’t attend games or buy tickets.

Movie Franchises: Dedicated fans lose excitement for new releases.

Musicians and Bands: Fans love a legacy band but lose interest in attending concerts or buying new albums.

Restaurants: Everyone has a favorite restaurant they haven’t visited in years.

The key to bridging the gap between perceived love and behavior is to understand the barriers preventing fans or customers from taking action. By addressing these barriers, it’s possible to convert passive admirers into active supporters. But it can be difficult.

The Problem For Legacy Shows

There’s an expiration date on even the most loved and admired radio personality. This realization is often enough to terrify personalities, but we instinctively know it. Audiences age and a new generation of potential listeners mature into a station’s target demographic, causing three potential problems:

  • Older personalities remain a favorite among fans who have aged out of the target demographic.
  • Younger audiences are familiar with a personality but haven’t developed a bond with them.
  • Both groups of listeners are drawn to fresh and exciting options compared to “older and reliable” legacy shows.

Perceptions remain strong, but there’s little motivation to take action because the show is not as Top Of Mind or exciting as it once was. I call it the Leaky Bucket.¬†Imagine a radio show as a bucket filled with water, where listeners represent the water. Over time, holes appear in the bucket, causing the water to leak. To maintain a healthy level of water in the bucket, you must patch the holes and continually add new water. If you fail to do so, the water level will eventually fall below the lowest hole, resulting in a dwindling listenership.

This is common. A sports team with little chance of making the playoffs still has fan support, but competing for a championship excites the fanbase and drives attendance. So how can a radio show excite the fanbase?

Action Steps for Radio

There are many ways to leverage a favorable perception and prolong relevance by activating the audience to spark ratings:

Innovate: Continuously add fresh ideas and approaches. Regularly conduct a Zero-Based analysis to replace stale content with exciting new features. Disney has remained a favorite for generations of fans with a Worst Ride Out approach at their theme parks.

Update: Stay up-to-date with current trends, news, and pop culture. Be objective when evaluating current content and remove everything that sounds dated. Make sure all content is relevant to today’s target audience. At the very least, learn to identify anything that might cause the show to sound out of touch.

Prepare: Most problems are cured with better preparation. Great shows don’t just happen. Dedicate time to preparing for each show, researching topics, planning transitions, and visualizing how the conversation will flow.


By focusing on innovation, a contemporary presentation, and rededicated effort to deeper and better show prep, personalities can bridge the gap between love and listenership, and hopefully, comments that terrify personalities will become a thing of the past.

As radio shows adapt and evolve, they must work harder than ever to maintain relevance, attract new listeners, and grow ratings, but it is critical to take some difficult steps to reactivate a passive fanbase.

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