Benchmarks are an essential component for a successful radio show or podcast. Packaged features like “Carpool Karaoke” on The Late Show with James Cordon or “Can’t Beat Kelly” on Fresh FM’s The Tommy Show in Washington, D.C., get listeners familiar with content and characters fast.
Familiarity is a good thing. When the audience becomes familiar with your show, they are more likely to form a relationship with you and to become a fan of your show. However, while you want to be familiar, you do not want to be predictable. Conventional thinking in radio is that benchmarks must air at the same time every day or every week to be effective. This can be true, however fixed benchmarks are not a smart long-term strategy. We regularly see ratings rise when heritage shows begin floating features that they have previously aired on the same day or at the same time.
Here is why: Most people commute to work or school at the same time every day, so most of your listeners hear your show at the same time every day. That also means that your listener does not hear all of the other parts of your show that aired outside of their commuting window. We call that commute time a “listener silo.” The average morning commute time in the U.S. is 24.5 minutes. Your loyal listeners might get in the car at 7 a.m. and listen until they get to work at 7:25 a.m. After that, they’re probably done with your show. Of in-car listeners, 83 percent will not listen to the radio at work, and won’t listen again until they get back in the car in the afternoon. And they never hear anything you air before they get in the car at 7.
So if you air your popular prank phone call segment every morning at 7:10, your listener in that “silo” is happy and enjoying the feature – for a while. Eventually, predictability leads to boredom and boredom leads to tune-outs.
In the meantime, your other loyal listeners who drive to work at times outside of that “silo” have never heard your prank phone call segment. And people burn out more quickly when features run at the same time.
By floating benchmarks, a higher percent of your audience is going to be exposed to a greater percent of your features and benchmarks.
Podcasters will benefit from changing up benchmarks occasionally. The popular Hidden Brain podcast with Shankar Vedantam floats their “Stopwatch Science” feature, running it sometimes in the beginning of the show, sometimes at the end. Some episodes don’t include it at all. The feature is familiar, but not predictable. Informational segments like news and celebrity reports have stories that change daily, so keeping them fixed may be OK. Although it is not as important for newer shows to change benchmark air times, once a show becomes established we recommend floating features regularly. Contests, commercial sets, topic features, and song categories will perform better if you keep them fresh by rotating them around the many “silos” within your show.
Check out this link from the Radio Advertising Bureau for data that supports this article.
If you have questions about fixed or floating benchmarks, please email me.
Jeff McHugh is a media talent coach for The Randy Lane Company, collaborating with radio, television, video and podcast personalities in the US, Canada and Mexico. He can be reached at email@example.com