What Listeners Want

Through a glass darkly…


“Spend less time listening to so-called experts on business conditions and more time with your customers.” ~ Tony Featherstone

That’s good advice.

I’m just back from a couple of weeks spent meeting with, and listening to, radio listeners, on different sides of the country.

Even if you don’t have the budget to do one-on-one interviews, or actual focus groups, I encourage you to conduct listener panels every quarter. They’re always interesting, and while I’m not sure I’d ever make any big change based on what I’ve heard in these panels, you may hear something significant enough to warrant more scientific study.

One of the surprises I heard last week is that almost all of those in our panels who listen to their local station online think the streamed version of the station is better than the broadcast version.


Because they perceive the “spots” that run in streamed breaks as better fitting the mood and style of the station compared to the “loud,” “obnoxious,” “repetitive,” “offensive” ads on the broadcast station.

You and I know listening to our stream is generally an horrific experience because the interface between live content and streamed is clumsy, at best, and most streamed sets are filled with PSAs or bonus spots to our biggest advertisers, neither of which is exactly high quality and which seem endlessly repetitive.

But listeners, at least the ones I heard last week, don’t share that perception.

There are some generalities I’ve noticed in listener panels around the country, and in various formats, from Country to AC this year:

  • Your listeners still look to you to help introduce them to new songs and artists they may love, and they are forgiving of the occasional misstep in that process. New music is still important to them, even the oldest of them.
  • Most of the listeners over 40 I’ve heard from this year are aware of Pandora and Sirius and other listening options but feel no compelling reason — yet — to make that switch.
  • Not one of these older listeners had configured their car sound systems to access the music on their iPods. Ease of use is a definite advantage for broadcast radio.
  • Your listeners are hurting financially! Shouldn’t be news, but have you adjusted promotionally to meet their needs? Over and over, I’ve heard listeners express a preference for opportunities to win dinner and a movie, free gas, free groceries, free utitilies, mortgage payments — anything that helps with the necessities of life.

As one woman put it last week, “If I won $100, I’d use it to pay bills, but if you gave me dinner and a movie, it would let my husband and I have a date night for the first time this year.”

Most stations in the US no longer have the budget to do their own perceptual research on a regular basis, so THIS STUDY by Richard Harker, presented at the NAB Radio Show in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, is a gift.

I’ve known Richard since I programmed the original KIMN and he did work for us. He’s really smart, really candid, and really good. You should talk to him if you’re in the market for a research partner.

If not, take a night or two next month and spend some time listening to your listeners.

They love being asked their opinions, they’re excited to meet people from their favorite station, and while you’re not apt to hear many negative comments from people who love your act the most, your time won’t be wasted.


If you’d like some help setting up your panels the first time, call me.