Why Radio Should Focus On Winning Fans, Not P1s

Why Radio Should Focus On Winning Fans, Not P1s

by Tracy Johnson

The ratings report is in. Your cume is strong but your P1’s are down. Oh no! You have a ratings problem, because everyone knows that P1’s are the lifeblood of your brand. Your general manage demands an answer to the question: “What is happening to our fanbase?”. You’re panicked. But wait a minute. P1’s are not fans, and fans are not P1’s.Radio doesn’t have a problem with reach, or generating more P1s (first preference listeners). It has a problem winning fans.

In spite of increased distractions and competition, most consumers continue to check out over-the-air radio stations. The problem, as you already know, is time spent listening (TSL). Most stations understand this to some degree. They believe they need to recruit more P1 listening to drive TSL. But that’s a mistake.

But TSL is driven by fans, not P1s. Winning fans one at a time is the key to sustained success.

How can that be? We’ve always thought of P1’s as being first preference listeners. Doesn’t that mean they prefer us more than the others? And doesn’t that make them fans?

No. Not at all. In fact, many stations have a large number of P1’s but very few fans.

Being a P1 listener only means that they spend more time listening to your station than any other station.

P1’s Are Not Fans

To qualify as a P1 listener, a ratings panelist must spend at least one quarter hour more with your station than any other. There are many explanations for P1’s and fans being out of step.

It could be that:

They’re an accidental P1.

They’re a P1 listener this week or month, but only at this particular moment in time. In other words, they may not be loyal to your station-or any station. They’re button punchers who happen to give you slightly more credit in this reporting period. The difference in actual quarter-hours a listener spends with their top 3-4 stations is often very small. they may be a P1 today, and a P4 tomorrow.

They’re a radio prisoner.

Maybe someone else controls the radio in their workplace, or they’re exposed to a signal they would never choose as their favorite. However, the exposure turns them into a P1 for ratings purposes. Their actual preference could be quite different. They may hate your station, but are forced to listen.

They’re an unimportant P1.

Many P1’s are light radio users overall. They listen to one station more than another, which qualifies them as P1 to that station. They may even consistently tune to your station more than others. But if overall listening is small, their quarter-hour contribution is insignificant. They still count as a P1, but it’s not as valuable as having a station fan.

Fans Are Not P1’s

On the other hand, many fans don’t show up as P1’s, for some of the same reasons described above. Just because they love what you do doesn’t mean they actually listen more. These folks are valuable, and can be converted to much higher quarter-hour tune in with effective promotion and marketing.

When the percentage of P1’s grows, programmers often make the assumption that the station is delivering a better product. And that may be the case, but it’s dangerous to assume that this means you’re converting cume into fans. It’s probably just because those folks wearing meters happened to be exposed to your signal.

This demonstrates just a few of the many problems when using ratings as a research tool for programming or positioning your radio station brand. The bottom line is that if you want to measure how you’re really doing with fans, you need a strategic research project to measure it.

Go For Fans, Not P1’s

Fans are passionate, loyal listeners who love your brand are the lifeblood of your station. When a true fan becomes a ratings respondent, you feel an immediate and meaningful lift. The opposite is also true: When one leaves the panel, you feel it immediately.

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The key is to nurture the audience with a strategy to lead that fan into becoming a more frequent user. The larger your fanbase, the greater your influence and higher the ratings.

Why Listeners Become Fans

The problem for most stations is that building a fan base is rarely because the music format is just right or that you provide service elements (traffic, news, weather, etc.) at predictable times. It’s not even the amount of money you give away in contests and promotions.

They become fans because of an emotional connection. The bond could be a common worldview, such as we see in the Contemporary Christian format. But it’s usually because of compelling air talent that lead communities of listeners through personality.

That’s why air talent holds the key to unlock radio’s future success. Stop trying to increase your P1 base and worry about building your fan base.

Are you developing meaningful personalities for your brand? Want to? That’s what we do. Contact us.

In business, loyal listeners (fans) drive results. You probably know of the 80/20 rule, which claims 80% of revenues are driven by 20% of customers. Radio has become even more extreme. It’s now closer to just 10% of a station’s cumulative audience accounting for up to 90% of listening.

That’s a problem. But if programmers can figure out how to push this percentage higher, you’d have tremendous ratings growth.

Winning Fans One At A Time

Converting an individual from a casual relationship with a brand to being a loyal supporter is hard.

How many restaurants do you visit in the course of a year? A lot. It’s fun to try new places. You probably even return to a few on occasion.

But how often does a restaurant you’ve tried (a casual user) become a favorite, causing you return over and over, several times a month?

Not often. And most of us are more passionate about where and what we eat than what radio button they push. After all, they’re paying for a dining experience with hard earned money. Radio only costs their attention.

Yet most broadcasters continue wringing their hands about television ad budgets, billboards and marketing campaigns that have been slashed in the latest round of cuts.

I’m all for marketing and advertising. But as you can see, most stations don’t need more listeners. They need to convert those already tuning in.

Scale The Audience By Winning Fans

Here’s some math on how valuable fan conversation can be.

  • Let’s say a station’s total audience reach is 100,000 people.
  • Combined, the cume listens to 400,000 quarter-hours per week.
  • 10% of that audience (10,000 fans) account for 90% of the TSL (quarter hours). That’s 360,000 quarter hours.
  • That means fans listen an average of 36 quarter hours per week, or about 9 hours.
  • The other 90% of your audience (90,000) accounts for just 40,000 quarter hours.

Note: Yes, I know the math is flawed. It’s impossible for the 90,000 people to listen for less than 1/2 a quarter hour per week, since ratings register either a full quarter hour or none. I’m showing this for demonstration purposes with the actual amount of listening, not measured listening (quarter hours).By the way, Nielsen reports that nearly 1/2 of all non-P1 listeners tune into stations for just 2.5 minutes.

What would happen to a station’s ratings if it could increase the fan base from 10% to just 15%?

  • 15,000 listeners spending an average of 36 quarter hours per week would result in 540,000 quarter hours.
  • The other 85% chip in at their same rate, adding 38,000 QH.
  • That’s a total of 578,000.
  • Total quarter hour increase is 44%.
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Imagine the explosion in ratings by driving the fan percentage to 20%.

How To Create a Strategy For Winning Fans

Converting casual customers to loyal fans takes time, and can be costly. It’s also where marketing, advertising and contesting budgets should be invested.

Let’s assume you already have a healthy cume. Also assume the majority of the audience is not unhappy with the station brand.

That means growth will come from converting casual listeners and further feeding the reach with referrals from fans.

How do you do that?

A Simple Example of Great Fan Marketing

Contemporary Christian station Life 102.5 in Madison does a great job winning fans in three notable ways.

First, they regularly demonstrate to fans how they make a difference, changing lives and enriching the audience. Watch this video that shares a listener’s story:


Second, they go out of their way to show appreciation to their most loyal listeners, especially donors to their non-commercial station.

In addition to acknowledgement and frequent communication, the station showers fans with high quality gifts as a reward and “thank you”.

These gifts aren’t just stickers, key chains, pens and trinkets from the prize closet. Instead, they invest in classy, useful items like Yeti travel mugs. Each gift points back to the station, reinforcing reasons they are fans in the first place.

Check out this coffee mug that promotes the morning show’s (Dave & Candice) daily feature “The Impossible Question”.

At first, it looks like the gift is a high quality, heavy, plain black mug.

But fill it with a hot drink, and a clever pattern appears, promoting the feature.

Sure, it costs more than a cheap plastic mug. The budget won’t buy quite as many. But that’s okay. It has fan value.

And third, the station reaches the audience in multiple aspects of their lives. Candice (mornings) and Summer Shepard (Afternoon host) have started a book club, powered by a website, weekly podcast and closed Facebook Group.

It’s exploding because they’ve made it fun and easy to participate.

Life 102.5 knows their audience, primarily 35-plus women are looking for companionship, community and belonging.


Winning fans isn’t a tactic that can be thrown together today. It’s not a short-term campaign to spike ratings this quarter.

It’s a strategy for nurturing relationships that takes time. Invest time and resources in planning your future for recruiting a more loyal audience base.

Build a Community of Fans By Being the Underdog

Here’s the Math That Shows The Value of Fans to a Radio Station

How Chaos Theory Can Help Convert Cume to Fans

The Truth About Radio P1’s and Fans

The Incredible Power of Fans and Super Listeners


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