Ask a radio station how many listeners they have and they’ll quote their past seven day listenership. The problem is … hearing is not listening. Most radio ‘listening’ is just utility. It’s not foreground. It’s not emotive. Utilities, by their nature, get taken for granted.
We know that radio is mainly an accompaniment to other activities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of quarter hours come from the “soft diary” where the radio is playing in the background in the store, the home, or the office.
Time spent listening (TSL) is an important metric, albeit a misnomer and a blunt instrument. But, in the absence of anything more accurate, it’s what we’re stuck with for now.
It’s important, not because it’s an indicator of engagement, it isn’t. But, it has a direct bearing on opportunities to hear (OTH) the advertising and entails quarter hour maintenance.
Radio works on frequency of impact, or repetition, which is, after all, the key to learning. Obviously, advertisers want reach and frequency, but if one had to choose, I would opt for frequency in a particular daypart to reach a targeted market segment.
Because radio, particularly music radio, is a background medium, unless an advertiser spends enough money to cut through the clutter, the money they do spend risks getting wasted. This is compounded by boring, irrelevant, or irritating spots.
A radio station strives to sell every spot, every day at the highest possible rate, which obviously varies from day to day and requires astute inventory management in order to maximise the station’s yield from available inventory. If the sales manager’s main function is inventory control, then the programme manager’s reason for being is to eliminate, as far as possible, tune-out factors, the biggest culprit of which is advertising.
People don’t inherently dislike advertising, A great ad cuts through the clutter to stand out as it informs, entertains and, hopefully, persuades.
When last did you hear a great ad? The absence of which is another reason for increasing time spent HEARING. With a bit of luck and sufficient spaced repetition, the advertising message will be absorbed through a process of mental osmosis.
Radio is well suited to creating top of mind awareness (TOMA), another reason for encouraging time spent hearing. Compelling content might just convert some hearing to listening.
In conclusion, until we can measure it, let’s not confuse time spent hearing with time spent listening.
Stan Katz is an acclaimed radio practitioner and a sales trainer/consultant. He is the author of the best-selling book: Radio Sales. A Sound Investment. 10 Key Principles For Maximising Returns.
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