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(RATINGS) When Does TSL Really Happen?


This article addresses the paper Arbitron diary, still used in about 85 percent of Arbitron markets. PPM measurement is a different animal, but many of the observations on how people use radio apply to both.

Time spent listening is often thought of as someone listening to your station and documenting their listening as it happens. Not true! Sweeping music across the quarter-hour and other games do not lengthen TSL.

The average person listens to radio approximately two hours per day and samples three different stations within a day of listening. Take that two hours and divide it by the three stations theyve sampled, and youll find you have someone using your station for about 45-60 minutes a day, and not all in a row. Listeners take snapshots of your programming throughout the day: a little bit in morning drive, a bit during the workday, then some more in the afternoon.

After 7 p.m., the bell shaped curve drops significantly with the 25-plus demo as they move on to TV, family, etc. You must win the 6 a.m.-7p.m. ratings to be successful. And that gets down to what benchmarks or triggers you have built in to your programming to make your station memorable. Are you making hourly appointments with your listeners to solidify your features and benchmarks?

Why should someone remember they spent more time with your station than the other two stations they also listened to that day? What makes you different? Is your product compelling, fun, interesting? Are your commercials well-written and -produced, to keep people tuned in? Are your jocks making appointments with the listeners for specific times throughout the day for events, features, bits? You have to get listeners used to returning to your store to shop, every day.

The biggest mistake in radio programming today is overestimating product knowledge on the part of the listener. We tend to assume they know everything we do on the air that they know about every promo, contest, etc. That is not even close to reality! Radio is an appliance to the average listener. It is a toaster, a toilet, a microwave oven. Period. The scary thing is that people can (and some do) live their daily lives without using radio! Radio is free; you dont have to pay $10 for Station A and $20 for Station B. So why should listeners remember what station they listened to?

Music is not a strong enough benchmark to make you No. 1. Dont get me wrong: Music is important, but to reach your full ratings potential, there must be more to your station than just a music image or 18 in a row.

If we as an industry dont start getting back to localism, fun, personality, local news and traffic the basics that listeners tell us over and over again they want from their favorite radio station we are doomed to more declines in ratings and revenue.

Broadcasters tend to say, To hell with what they want! We know what we should be doing. Thats the quickest route to the bottom of the ratings. When someone tunes in to your station, they have certain expectations. If you dont meet their expectations, they will go somewhere else. If you go to McDonalds and ask for a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke, and they say, Sorry, all we have is beer, ribs and sushi, what would you do? You probably wouldnt buy anything, and youd probably never go back to that McDonalds. Consistency is the key to success. Meet the listeners expectations, and be what you say you are. Never make them guess what is on your menu.

There are any number of little things that make up a No. 1 radio station: fun (in presentation and sound), community reflection and involvement, personality from jocks, localism, news and information, lifestyle information (that your P1 wants and needs to know about), contests and promotions that fit your stations image and the listeners lifestyle. The list goes on and on.

So heres the answer to the question When does TSL really happen? More than 75 percent of people who fill out an Arbitron diary do so between 7 and 11 p.m. When a person sits down, pen in hand, and fills out the diary, that is when TSL is really happening. In that magical moment, they are un-aided in recalling what they perceive they listened to over the past 12, 24, or 48 hours. What station comes to mind first, and why does that station command top-of-mind awareness?

Ask yourself this: What did you have for lunch last Thursday? Cant remember? Of course not. It wasnt all that important. Right? But eating to stay alive is an important human function. If you cant remember what you had for lunch last Thursday, why should you remember what radio station you listened to in the past 24 to 48 hours?

There is no such thing as quarter-hour maintenance. Never has been, never will be. That term means someone is filling out a diary every 15 minutes, all day. No one does that. Look at your station and your product as a listener, not as a radio person. Dont try to program your station to impress other radio people, corporate PDs, etc. Program your radio station for the diarykeepers in your market. Period.

Tom Watson is president of A.C.C. Consulting & Marketing International with clients in major U.S. markets as well as in Europe and Asia. Reach him at or 310.498.5990.

(3/14/2013 1:08:53 PM)
This is a great piece Tom. The fundamentals are so key, and yet so many want to ignore them. Understanding how people use radio and programming to that, is key.

- Joanne McCall
(3/14/2013 1:00:28 PM)
Tom: Yes, Yes and another Yes. This is especially critical if you are one of two, three or more in a format. Lucky you, if you are the only format in the market, otherwise branding becomes critical,branding means involvement, relevance,and consistency.

- Daniel P. Mitchell
(3/14/2013 12:44:02 PM)
You're right as usual, Tom. It's actually simple: For a competitive product to be successful, consumers must first remember it. And without meaningful differences, why would one station stand out above another? It better be more than just music.

- Dave Anthony
(3/14/2013 9:20:27 AM)
Excellent piece, Tom! Branding and marketing are paramount.

- Toney Brooks
(3/13/2013 12:41:14 PM)
Tom has been telling us about this for more than a decade. Thing is, it's still absolutely true. But, it's not just about getting great ratings--it's about serving our communities. And more than that, it's proof positive that radio needs to be more than a "brand" needs to "breathe" a real human being!

- John Hendricks

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