The Paradox Of Rank


(By Bob McCurdy) We’ve seen conventional wisdom in society falling hard by the wayside. Maybe it’s time for the conventional wisdom of automatically equating “audience rank” with “quality” and the ingrained habit of “top-down” buying to be kicked to the curb as well. A higher rank simply means that more people are listening, not that those individuals are any more “valuable” as consumers.

Top-down buying makes the buyer’s job easier, as they engage with and evaluate fewer stations but provide zero benefit to the advertiser. In fact, audience rank as the initial requirement for purchase consideration, could simply mean that an advertiser is paying an inflated rate to be reaching more consumers who have the identical likelihood, or in some cases less of a likelihood, of purchasing the advertised product than those on lower-ranked stations.

In over four decades I have never seen any research that indicated that:

– Listeners to stations with a larger audience and higher audience rank pay more attention to commercials than listeners to lower-ranked stations. With a tenth of a rating point separating #15 from #10 or #7, etc. in many markets, station rank isn’t bordering on being irrelevant. In 2019, it is irrelevant.

– Listeners to stations with a larger audience and higher audience rank are more engaged with and more responsive to commercials than listeners to lower-ranked stations.

– The commercial environment on a higher-ranked station with a larger audience is a better ad environment than the ad environment on a lower-ranked station. In fact, a case could be made that the ad environment on lower-rated stations might actually be a better ad environment.

How might this be possible?

Fewer advertisers: It has to do with something called the “paradox of the aggregate.” More advertisers airing more ads, competing for the same listener’s attention, can result in less attention being paid to any individual ad. There are more advertisers advertising on the higher-ranked stations due to the “rank mentality,” which results in dozens of advertisers all trying to out-shout and stand apart from the competition. The result can be that fewer actually stand out.

Price Flexibility: Lower-ranked stations, on the other hand, typically have less demand on their inventory, which means lower-rated stations are usually more flexible rate-wise, plus they typically air fewer commercials due to less demand, resulting in less clutter. Bottom line, there’s typically no “paradox of the aggregate” to contend with on lower-ranked stations.

Fewer direct competitors: Due to there being fewer overall advertisers on lower-ranked stations, there are likely fewer direct competitors battling for the listener’s mind and ears, resulting in a greater share-of-voice resulting in a highly positive ad environment. Fewer advertisers selling similar products with an “our brand is better” message is not a bad thing.

The upshot is that a lower-rated station could offer advertisers not only a more efficient, cleaner, less competitively intense ad environment, but what could also be considered to be a very effective and efficient microphone to tout their messaging.

There’s beauty and value in every radio station regardless of audience ratings/size. The average radio listener has no idea where or how their favorite station ranks, nor do they care. The only thing they know is that they like it and that’s good enough for them. Listeners to all radio stations regardless of audience size respond to what they hear, so audience rank should “rank” near the bottom of any list of reasons to purchase any station. Qualitative profile, demographic skew, audience consistency, and efficiency should easily transcend rank.

The bottom line is that while a lower-ranked station’s grass might initially appear to be less green than a higher-ranked station, a case could be made that it is also deserves purchase consideration as there are fewer sheep grazing on it.

Bob McCurdy is Vice President of Sales for the Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected].


  1. Great article Bob! Market driven forces have a way of leveling the playing field. For $1,000, what do you get from the #1 station? $1,000 of reach and frequency. What does $1,000 get you on the 10th rated station? A thousand dollars of reach and frequency. Every station can deliver the GRPs. Not every station can deliver the true GRP, Great Radio People.

  2. Any station that is paying closer and more intense attention to being of service to its audience AND its advertisers stands a much better chance of developing its very own prosperous niche – even if they are playing “All Celtic Funk – All The Time”.
    Plus, an insurmountable lead in generating results and revenues would also be one of the magnificent benefits.
    The news would hit the street with even more profound and ongoing impact.
    That’s the theory, anyway.


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