Three Ways Audio Impacts Ratings

(By Randy Lane) When I asked Brian Phillips (President, CMT Networks and previous award-winning radio programmer) his perception of radio after being in television for several years, his response surprised me: “Radio is an audio medium that generally does a poor job with audio.”
A Microsoft study shows that attention spans and patience are shrinking. The latest study revealed that our average attention span is now eight seconds, while a goldfish can focus for nine seconds! We even get antsy waiting the five seconds before we can skip the ad on YouTube.
Audio will help your radio show or podcast immediately engage the audience’s attention and maintain it. Here are three ways audio will increase ratings and downloads.
1. Pattern Disruptions: Audio helps you regain the audience’s attention by disrupting monologue and dialogue in content segments. Use it to help tell a story in newscasts and other story features, such as entertainment news. Additional ways to use audio to maintain attention include:

— Start some content segments with attention-getting audio to instantly engage listeners.

— When you reference a movie or TV show, play a clip of audio to illustrate your point and to give context to listeners who are not familiar with it.

2. Learn from serial podcasts: I can’t wait to get back to NPR’s S-Town podcast. I’m not only captivated by the story’s unfolding mysteries, I’m wowed by how well it’s produced. (S-Town, Chapter 3)

— S-Town holds your attention by breaking up the narrative with music beds that change and match the nature of the content. It uses foreground music beds not only as a transition to a new topic, but to swell suspense for what will happen next.

— S-Town uses the actual voices of characters from a true story to create dialogue with host Brian Reed. Sound effects are woven into the story to paint a picture in the listener’s mind.

3. Staging and branding features with audio: Produced intros with music, effects, and voiceover get the listener’s attention. Even a simple signature music bed can serve as a trigger that a familiar feature is imminent.

— A stager can also assist as a pattern disruption to re-engage attention when you shift gears to a new topic. A produced “close” that time-stamps regular daily and weekly features helps to generate more appointment tune-ins (e.g. “The Hollywood Buzz, weekday mornings at 6:20 and 7:20″).

— “Tease stagers” at the end of content segments going into commercials and music serve to regain the audience’s attention, hold listeners through commercials or a song they don’t like, and give them a reason to keep listening. Listen to this example from Chaz and AJ, WPLR New Haven.

Successful videos maintain viewer attention by changing the pattern with straight-to-camera shots, B-rolls, music beds, and voiceovers. Radio and podcasts accomplish this best by incorporating audio into content to help tell a story, give context, and add dynamics.

Building an audience for radio shows and podcasts comes down to engaging the audience within seconds and re-engaging their attention throughout every content segment.

Radio without captivating production elements is like television without pictures.


  1. By the way, Randy, I take exception to the conclusion that our attention spans are around 8 seconds.
    Wait a sec… Oh, Look! An eagle!


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