Yesterday's post shared one of my gut feelings about how the audio landscape is changing – and how most radio researchers may be missing what may end up being a tectonic shift. In that post, I talked about much of the research stations commission often fails to measure the scope of true audio usage in our markets. When we force listeners to name their favorite radio station – or P1, as we refer to it – we may be missing the bigger picture.
In spite of the audio revolution that has permeated the media world, most radio broadcasters are still fixated on the war with a “small w” where stations do battle with each other, while every year, more listeners gravitate to digital media and satellite radio.
Let me share another one with you. Once again, it involves P1 listeners. I've conducted scores of Zoom focus groups since the opening weeks of COVID. And I've noticed something odd about the conversation flow during many of these virtual get-togethers. We have always recruited them from station databases. So by definition, they tend to be comprised of core fans.
But historically, in these Listener Advisory Board Groups – or L.A.B.s – we often have a lively conversation about a competitor – or two. In non-pandemic times, most participants cume other key stations, making for a lively conversation about what “the enemy” is up to – their personalities, promotions, contests, and strategic changes.
But these exercises have become rarer since COVID forced millions of Americans out of their workplaces, and in particular, the cars they used to commute to and from them. It seems the more people listen at home, the fewer occasions they have to change the station. While some have listened to less radio since working at home because they're driving less, others tell us they're inclined to turn on a radio at home – and leave it on. And often, that means listening to the same station for hours at a time.
Now some listen to “regular radios” while they're home. But many others access a station's content on computers, smartphones, and smart speakers. And in that setting, it's often convenient to “stay tuned” – through commercials, burned-out songs, and DJ talk – rather than fiddle around to switch stations.
The most convenient environment for changing stations is the car – and it's been that way since the pushbutton radio was first invented by Motorola during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Even today in pretty much whatever you're driving, the ability to change stations while you're driving is easy peasy. That's why it's been a decades-long goal among PDs in every market of the country to ensure their station is one of a driver's presets.
That pretty much guarantees you're in the game – in contention to become a person's P1 radio station – the one they listen to most. But if not, even a P3 or P4 can aspire to move up in rank toward that top position, like horses jockeying for position in a long race.
Assuming of course, the masses eventually get back in their cars and start returning to their respective workplace in force. And maybe that also assumes that they actually go back to work.
The Labor Department reported yesterday that old Johnny Paycheck was something of a futurist. Quitting your job has become the new national pastime. A record 4.3 million Americans told their employers “to take this job and shove it” in August – or words to that effect.
This rate they call Quits is the highest it's been in two decades. And that doesn't portend morning and afternoon traffic jams coming anytime soon.
So, that's the setup for my COVID-inspired theory that your P1s aren't just your most important listeners – they are the most important people in your universe. As radio listening slowly but surely declines, courting – much less counting on – those P2s and P3s may no longer be a very productive way to deploy your human and financial resources.
The radio business I grew up in suggested that over time, with great programming, strong personalities, and consistent marketing, you could convert your P3s into P2s, and your P2s into P1s.
But if consumers are listening to fewer radio stations these days, and if perhaps they're just not as committed to radio as their P1 medium, that suggests a renewed focus on your P1s isn't just playing the radio game tactically, it may be the only way strategically to remain in the upper tier of stations in your market.
The consultants of the past used to warn about the myopia of super-serving your P1s at the expense of your “fringe” listeners – your P2s and P3s.
This consultant is warning you that if you don't focus your efforts on maintaining, reinforcing, and embracing your P1s, you might find them dropping out of your ranks, just like people are bidding adieu to their jobs.
Don't believe me? I think many of you can actually see it in the Nielsen numbers. And with an assist from your ratings rep, you might want to ask the question about how many stations the average listener actually spends time with each week – and track it back to before COVID.
My antennae suggest that since the pandemic, many are now listening to fewer stations than before – a number that isn't likely to turn around anytime soon.
Over the years, I've had many people comment on the makeup of our Techsurveys – whether it's the version for commercial, public, or Christian music radio. As they remind me, our sample is mostly comprised of station P1s (and some that have lapsed) – in other words, core fans. And somehow, that suggests the data is limited because it doesn't really include the “fringe.”
To that I say, perhaps a window into what your biggest fans are thinking, doing, and feeling is precisely where your focus should be, given the givens. (This might even be more applicable in public and Christian radio where there's less direct competition and greater listener loyalty. In every Techsurvey we've ever conducted Net Promoter Score are always considerably more robust for these format platforms, suggesting embracing P1s is an even smarter strategy.)
Circling the wagons around your biggest fans – those who brung you, as they say – has always been a part of a PD's arsenal. Perhaps these days, for many brands, it's the smartest, most direct strategy.
To put the findings of a research study like Techsurvey into action, you have your email database, an asset that you own. Unlike us programmers from another era, you have a direct pipeline to reach out to your biggest fans where they spend most of their time – their computers, phones, and tablets. There's nothing like that virtual hug to thank them for sticking with you, through thick and thin.
The disruptive impact of these crazy times in which we live – the tech and audio revolutions, coupled with a global pandemic that has rocked our worlds now for more for 19 months and counting – suggests that when you're deeply ensconced in a traditional medium like radio, you'd be wise to think differently.
There is no entertainment and information medium I can think of whose success has been rooted in consumer habit more than radio. We have thrived on the reliability and consistency of people's routines.
They say that old habits die hard.
If we've learned anything from this disruptive experience, it's that the old standbys won't be around forever.
As much as it pains me to say it…
Welcome to the “new normal.”
Yesterday's post – “What If I Don't Have A Favorite Station?” – is here.
- The Power of Music Passion - October 21, 2021
- Addressing My Car Radio Paranoia 3: Let's Fix It - October 20, 2021
- Radio's Car Radio Paranoia 2:What If Eric Rhoads Was Right? - October 19, 2021