The 93% Solution

Featuring guest blogger…

Steve Allan
Like you, I was amazed by the findings of the Arbitron/Coleman study that said 93% of radio listeners endure commercial stop sets. This is a statistic that should be shouted from the roof tops, turned into one-sheeters and carved into the foreheads of every radio account executive.

See, we should be saying, “Not only don’t they mind commercials on the radio, they actually listen to them!” Yes, Mr. Advertiser, even though your spot may be number seven in an 8-unit set, it is making an impression. This is the kind of statistic Radio desperately needs.

Except for one teensy detail…


As Bill Rose analogized, this is like comparing the number of passengers on the subway at the beginning and end of the line. It does not take into account who gets on or off in between. That makes this study a bit of fool’s gold.

We do not know — really know — how people are reacting to commercial sets. We only know that they do drift back to the station at some point, for reasons that remain a mystery.

Worse, it sends a false positive to those inside the radio industry. Taken at face value, this 93% Holy Grail justifies the status quo. It “proves” that interminable spot sets are just fine with the listener.


Doesn’t this sound counter-intuitive?

Haven’t we all seen reams of perceptual research that tells us the Number One thing people HATE on radio is commercials? Are we to infer that while their lips say no-no, their ears say yes-yes?

There’s an easy way to answer this question.

Arbitron has the granular data on every PPM user in America. They can look at each individual listener and determine the exact moment they turn away from your radio station.

This study needs to be re-done and focus this time on the exact movements of every listener as it relates to commercials. We need to know what the rate of drop-out is with spot one, spot two, etc.

This is the kind of actionable information that can actually make radio better.

Wouldn’t you love to know where the exact tipping point is when it comes to commercials sets? If you knew, for a fact, that spot #3 is the cliff, wouldn’t you review your format clocks accordingly?

We can all probably agree that a complete study of listener behavior as outlined above would yield vastly different results. I’m reaching here, but my guess is that the numbers would not be quite as glowing. That’s fine. Arbitron can do the study and only share it with client stations. They don’t have to make it public.

How great would it be to track something like this over time? As Charlie Sislen, of the Research Director, points out, many stations knee jerk reacted to the “bow tie” spot scheduling, to the point where everyone is doing it.

How’s that working out?

Oh, right…

it gave us the 93% solution.

If we could track listener behavior at this level, we could actually influence how they use radio. We could use this real data to make radio better for both the listeners and our clients.

The Arbitron/Coleman study was a good first step. They now need to kick it up a notch.


Steve Allan is a former Marconi Award winning Program Director of WBIG and WODS, among other stations. He is now President of SMTHREE, a Social Media management company based in the Washington, DC metro area. You can reach him at 248-808-4132.