When TSL’s Declining

The curse of PPM…

Lots of program directors and air talent are getting beat up because of falling TSL.


PPM tends to show high cume and much lower time spenting listening. The way PPM works, I’m not sure “TSL” still describes what we’re trying to measure.

Perhaps TSVHSITB, Time Spent Vaguely Hearing Somewhere In The Background, works better.

Anyway, I have yet to speak to a GM or PD at a music station, no matter the music format, who isn’t being counseled by “PPM Experts” to cut jock talk and play more songs, even in Morning Drive.

The secret, they say, is playing songs back-to-back, and they produce data showing fewer PPM devices changing stations as long as the music drones on.

What say you?

Wait, before you answer, let me tell you this little story…

A young apprentice applied to a master carpenter for a job. The older man asked him, ‘Do you know your trade?’
‘Yes, sir!’ the young man replied proudly.
‘Have you ever made a mistake?’ the older man inquired.
‘No, sir!’ the young man answered, feeling certain he would get the job.
‘Then I’m not going to hire you,’ said the master carpenter, ‘because when you make one, you won’t know how to fix it.’ *

Radio’s got a lot of ‘experts’ who will tell you they’ve never made a big mistake. That’s because we live in a time when our industry punishes mistakes, when competition for work is more like hand-to-hand combat than an evaluation of strengths and weaknesses.

And so, when someone advises a different way to reach the goal, you’re understandably worried about making a big mistake. And so, everyone does what everyone else does.

Lemmings bunch together before they hurdle over the cliff…

Want to increase TSL on your music station, especially in Morning Drive?

1. Understand that information services cause tune-in, not tune-out, when you do them well..

That means well-written, well-delivered information at least twice an hour, with at least one story so compelling and unusual everyone who hears it feels the need to share it once they get to the office.
That means more, not fewer traffic reports, that focus more on helping commuters than selling that :15-second sponsorship. No one will wait 20 or 30 minutes to hear a traffic report.

That means a weather forecast that is helpful right now: how do I dress the kids, are the roads going to be icy later, is there any huge life-changing storm on the horizon I need to know about?

In Morning Drive, I need to know about this morning and this evening, and that’s all — unless Hurricane Sandy is bearing down. Stop with the 3-day forecasts already.

2. Play one song an hour I would not expect to hear on your station. I’m not talking about unfamiliar new songs, but great “Oh Wow!” stuff that research has gradually filtered out of your playlist over the past 20 years. Surprise my ears.

You’re looking for songs with high passion (LOVE) scores, even if their overall positives aren’t at your play threshold. Think of them as your Rush Limbaugh/Howard Stern songs: 30% Love but also 30% Hate. And move this slot through different quarter hours during morning drive so it doesn’t become predictable.

3. Three to four times an hour, your air talent needs to tell me something worth hearing that brings about a strong enough emotional response that I am compelled to share it, and can’t wait to hear what they will tell me next.

Put simply: Your shows need more sticky stuff, more unique content that cannot be replaced, that generates strong emotional responses when it’s heard, and that your own listeners want to share with friends and family.

What you are being advised to do, by folding up your tents and relying almost exclusively on music is a fool’s game. It’s a lot easier than what I am advising. It’s a lot cheaper. And it’s almost guaranteed to keep your TSL declining month after month (until you hit that lucky placement where Arbitron finds a family that listens to you 80 hours a week).

Spend your time finding content that will generate tune-IN and your TSL issues will begin to fix themselves.

I may be the only one telling you this, but it’s the truth, and if you shut off the lizard brain that’s screaming at you whenever you step away from the pack, you’ll intuitively know this is right.

Mistakes are only bad when we refuse to acknowledge and correct them.

*Fred Rogers, of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood fame