Flirting With Radio Listener Implosion

You know the radio industry really has it wrong when it doesn't even know what time it is -- that is to say, what time it gets its largest audience.

It appears new People Meter results show that 3-4 pm is actually radio’s most listened to time of the day.

Of course, morning drive is still big. But as it turns out the second and third strongest listening times are 4 to 5 pm and 7 to 8 am. In other words, two of the most listened to hours are in afternoon drive. This information comes from Research Director, Inc.

As many of us predicted the big bad People Meter that lots of radio CEOs were previously fighting seems to bring more good news than bad to radio every month.

The excellent Research Director analysis shows hourly radio listening consistently strong as it pertains to audience. We are speaking of radio’s actual available audience here – not declining levels of listening based on rival new media competition -- that is another issue.

The reason radio has a problem with all of this is because the consolidators barely invest in good morning programming when all of a sudden they find out they’ve got a bonanza of potential listeners in afternoon drive -- perhaps larger than they expected.

Holy Ryan Seacrest!

I guess we’ll soon find out that cost-conscious consolidators can't get away with committing these two cardinal sins: gutting morning drive and eliminating afternoon drive.

Back when radio was a national addiction, listeners were treated to talented morning show personalities or teams with full-service programming regardless of format.

Then, on their way home from work or school, they had a different breed of cat known as an afternoon personality. (For context, one of the last great one’s was the late CBS/WOGL, Philadelphia PM drive jock Big Ron O’Brien. God, he was so good in an era of so much watered down radio. An old Drake jock).

Program directors know how important dayparts are -- even afternoons.

It’s their bosses who turn a deaf ear to programming for large and loyal audiences in different time periods. Today, the corporate strategy is to use filler feeds, regional radio, national syndication and stuff in exactly the place where they can save the most money by cutting back local salaries.

May I take it further?

Nighttime used to be a very different offering on many stations because smart PDs knew that things changed in their cities. Format-by-format they made adaptations to listener preferences and availability by time of day. A CHR station may be going whole hog wild and crazy in the evening but an AC station might be doing love songs or Quiet Storm.

Same with all-nights.

Far from the waste management of voice tracking that programming midnight to 5 am has become, stations turned their sleepy-time hours into bastions of listener loyalty. I don’t have to mention names here. My readers will do it with loving recollections of WBZ, WOR, WKBW and on and on.

All this latest data suggests is that consolidators are suicidal.

They have so backed themselves against the wall of debt that worrying about maximizing daypart listening is so alien to them.

Hell, they just want to dodge the next breach of loan covenant.

Are you nuts?

But seen in context, this realization that listeners prefer certain dayparts – thank you People Meter – emphasizes the missed chances the radio industry had to build loyalty and brand viability.

Instead, non-local, voiced tracked, bland radio is now the strategy of the day. Listeners may be underwhelmed.

Young people have escaped to their cell phones and Internet streams -- can you really blame them? If I were their age, I wouldn't find anything compelling to keep me addicted to radio. They listen when they want and how they want -- to what they want.

Which brings me to my anecdotal observations that terrestrial radio had better wake up and smell the Starbucks latte in the afternoon.

The next generation has no morning drive.

It’s show time when they want it to be show time.

They stop it. Start it. Explore. Share. Delete – all at will.

What you’re witnessing here is the very last example of a medium that was able to get listeners to listen on radio's time schedule.

Don’t get used to it – those days are over.

That’s why it is a sin to hasten the loss of appointment listening especially in an era that is going to lose audience as rapidly as it lost sales.

I think it’s fair to say that radio’s programmers didn’t take their non-AM drive listeners for granted.

Their owners did and we are worse off as we search for a meaningful place in the digital future.

With NAB CEO David Rehr welcoming convention-goers to the NAB in Las Vegas with stickers that say "I Matter ...when it matters most" you can see the disconnect between reality and fantasy.

Fantasy -- radio matters to a lot fewer people than it used to and it would matter more if stations provided local music, news, weather and community service. Saying it doesn't makes it so.

What matters is that listeners are attracted to local personalities -- they don't have to have expensive contracts, either. The disconnect here is your lobby group sloganeering again while the opposite is true.

Radio Heard Here -- the industry's multi-million dollar embarrassment being offered to stations to play for their existing listeners should be retitled "Radio Herd Here" like in a herd of elephants stampeding to advertise to the converted. The disconnect is that in reality "Less Radio Heard Here" would be the truth.

When the NAB CEO tells the assembled multitude that the Internet is the next frontier for terrestrial radio, he's either dumb (which I doubt) or a well paid spinmeister (which I -- well, never mind).

The Internet is a delivery system for new content -- it's not radio's bitch.

One of my readers wrote yesterday to request more on how Internet radio can be local. That man is the one I want to hire. Delude yourself into thinking the world wide web is at radio's beckon call, but it's the other way around.

The Internet is like a low cost transmitter that never has to be signed off the air because it's too expensive to fix (hint/hint to Citadel's WARM, Scranton, PA).

It works best when it's local.

No national Internet operation has become a dominant radio station - even Pandora -- because the secret is in being local.

So for the many who already understand that local begins in the morning, peaks in the afternoon (according to PPM) and has special niche listening opportunities at other times of the day -- you get it.

For the cost-cutters and debt holders they call broadcasters today, continue to believe your own spin.

The next generation has moved on and in the next few years watch what happens to your so-called loyal available adult listeners when they don't have the great local personalities and uniquely programmed dayparts you're methodically eliminating in the name of the economy.

It's called listener implosion.

And it's coming soon to the fools who cry poor mouth while their listeners cry foul.

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