Why Do Radio Contests Work? Because Ratings Respondents Play

Why Do Radio Contests Work? Because Ratings Respondents Play

by Tracy Johnson

As long as the radio industry allows ratings services to hold us hostage to their insanely outdated methods of gathering ratings data, programmers should at least know how to play the game, and that means playing to ratings respondents. And ratings respondents react positively to incentives. That’s why radio contests work.

Why do radio stations offer promotions and on-air contests? After all, the vast majority of listeners come for the entertainment elements, don’t they? It’s about the music, or the information or the personality. True. But radio contests work.

Maybe it’s not the best strategy for the entire audience. After all, some listeners become fatigued hearing about contests over and over. They even complain about the hype.

But radio contests capture attention from the most important type of listener: ratings respondents.

Contests play into the mindset of ratings respondents in several ways.

Research Proves Radio Contests Work

Alan Burns conducted a study brilliant study of 15 to 54-year-old radio listeners that proves incentives influence listening.

Burns found a large percentage of listeners interested in contests. This is even more important. A majority of ratings participants are interested in contests.

He comments:

31% have tried to win a radio station contest in the past year. But diary-keepers and meter carriers are 55% more likely to have done so. Almost half of the actual ratings respondents had tried to win in the past year.

Wow. That’s impressive and should get your attention immediately. It’s clear evidence that radio contests work with the right people. But wait, there’s more.

Researcher Mark Kasoff’s study confirmed the Burns report. He also found that 15% of all ratings respondents are willing to engage with a radio station they don’t even like for the right incentive.

His article, Listeners Surprisingly Positive on Contests points to the growing power of interactive promotions. He says:

I’ve never pushed contesting as a panacea for (radio) stations. A good contest can’t make a bad station successful… Yes, contests can be a real edge for a station, and for traditional radio in general.

Radio Contests Drive Behavior

Kasoff’s survey of 18 to 64-year-old radio listeners supports the conclusion that contesting can drive behavior. It’s another reason for broadcasters to increase attention on this traditional advantage.

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Radio choice isn’t made in a laboratory. It’s a spontaneous, emotional decision, and you can impact those choices.

Why is there such a direct connection between ratings respondents and contest players? Think about how the ratings system recruits. A research company (Nielsen, Numeris, etc.) asks consumers to carry a device or fill out a diary to measure listening. Now, why would anyone do this? They earn points that can be converted to prizes or cash. They participate for a reward. The ratings respondent pool is filled with contest players.

The Power of Radio Contests

Kasoff’s survey also shows that contests make a station more interesting to listen to. He concludes that contests cause at least 1/3 of the audience to listen more. And with almost no downside risk. Kasoff says:

I’m blown away by these numbers. Even if we toss in the requisite “grain of salt,” there’s no conclusion other than contesting can be a very good thing!

He continues:

It’s true that contests have no impact on the majority of listeners’ interest in a station, or how much they listen to it. But a substantial percentage are impacted by contests, and in an overwhelmingly positive way. Plus, those that are affected are precisely the ones you want and need to reach.

Traditionally, radio has been a leader in contests and promotions. Imaginative contests are a strength, leveraging the power of incentive to drive active response.

But over the years, radio’s contesting effectiveness has declined, leading broadcasters to question their value. the data from Burns and Kasoff should change that thinking.

Contests on the Radio Work: How Will You Respond?

So respondents will play. But what does that mean to you? Start by adjusting your approach.

Ratings respondents should be in your sites for all contesting. Period.  Just as politicians seek likely voters, you’re looking for high-value respondents. Invest your time and energy into finding those who are willing to participate in the ratings process. These are special people, and they’re not like the average person. And it’s proven that they’re far more receptive to contests than anyone else.

You might also like:  8 Ways to Bulletproof Radio Contests

But those ratings respondents are also more likely to be loyal to contests more than to stations. They’re an audience that is highly likely to scan for the latest, newest and best incentive to win.

That’s why it’s important to find those folks, and stay in touch with them regularly. In fact, you can expand your demographic appeal far beyond your target audience by recruiting those contest players.


The ratings panel is a painfully small sample size. That makes each ratings respondent even more valuable. And it’s another reason contest response delivers ratings.

Just a handful of really special people control your fate. You’re looking for a valuable needle in a haystack. You can find them and influence them in your favor. 

Because contests work… if you do it right.

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It’s Time To Rethink Traditional Radio Contests

This Research on Contests Should Scare You To Death

8 Ways to Bulletproof Radio Contests

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