IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – The Case For Shorter Stopsets


(By Andy Meadows) When discussing the length of radio station stopsets there are two studies from earlier this decade that people regularly reference. Those studies are somewhat at odds. One is from the RAB and found that radio retains 93% of its lead in audience during commercial breaks, and the other came via Edison Research and revealed that 54% of listeners wanted shorter and more frequent breaks.

The RAB study is used to justify longer stopsets even though it did find that short breaks had a slightly higher audience retention rate. The Edison Research is quoted by people like me who are arguing the benefits of shorter breaks. Keep in mind though that one of these was published five years ago and the other is more than eight years old.

Studies aside, we need to wake up and realize that we’re currently raising a generation of people who are accustomed to on-demand content that’s delivered after a single, short ad. Those 18 and under listeners, who aren’t used to long ad breaks, make up 22.4% of the U.S. population. That’s over 73 million people and it doesn’t even take into account the 19 to 30 year-olds who’ve spent over half of their life adjusting to this form of ad delivery.

It’s foolish to think that this huge segment of the audience will happily sit through four minutes that contain upwards of eight or more units on the radio, a medium they’re already biased against. Don’t believe me? Have a conversation with a teenager about radio, it’s pretty depressing.

Instead of ignoring this fact and sticking our heads in the sand, what if we embraced it and programmed for it. It’s time for terrestrial radio stations to give in and run shorter, more frequent commercial breaks.

Yes, I know it’s painful and very hard to do on established stations where this could mean cutting upwards of 30 to 40 percent of your hourly inventory. But, there are advertisers out there who will pay more to be in those shorter stopsets. Especially if they’re buying a 60-second spot in a 60-second break, thereby having exclusivity and being surrounded by entertainment elements instead of other commercials.

Plus, some of that lost commercial inventory can be offset by selling sponsored imaging pieces running into songs or other entertainment elements. I helped a station launch in a small, but crowded, market using my minute model, and even as a new entrant they were able to charge more for their spots and, at the same time, quickly dominate in the ratings. It’s a CHR format and the pacing is incredible, so much so that even the commercials start to feel like entertainment elements.

Shorter stopsets also benefit the production department since the reduced spotload allows for stations to focus more on the creative and deliver unique, effective ads.

From a sales standpoint, imagine being able to include this in your sales pitch:

  • We run up to 80% fewer spots per commercial break than our average competitor.
  • We run 40% fewer spots per hour than our average competitor.
  • Our commercial breaks are 3 minutes shorter than our average competitor.
  • We don’t bury our advertisers in long, crowded commercial breaks.
  • Instead we feature them and surround them with music and fun content on either side.
  • Our goal is to do everything in our power to make sure our listeners stay tuned in and listen to your entire ad.

The best candidates for this are new market entrants, format flips, or any under-performing station with significant unsold inventory. I know that not everyone can make the drastic move toward a minute model, but everyone can prepare themselves for the changing habits of young listeners by transitioning toward shorter stopsets.

Andy Meadows is a radio consultant with, and a talent coach with Tracy Johnson Media Group. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


  1. There is a tribute site on the Internet that features WMCA (New York) in its Top 40 glory days in the 1960s. The jocks were fun to listen to and the commercials were sprinkled throughout the programming so that listeners didn’t have to sit through eight or ten minute clots of spots to get back to music. Well produced and creative commercials are also a big help…unlike those obnoxious screaming car dealer ads that invite people to change the station. Many years ago, I worked at WJLK-AM/FM in Asbury Park, NJ. A local fast food chain, the Windmill Drive-In, ran a catchy jingle spot that stuck in the listeners’ minds. We were actually getting REQUESTS for that spot! The spots themselves don’t necessarily need to be elaborate…just creative. In the South, where fire ants have been a noxious pest for decades, the deadpan dry read spots for Orthene Ant Stop Fire Ant Killer have elicited listener requests. In these spots, the tone of the announcer and the content of the copy project an almost sadistic pleasure in killing fire ants…and anyone who has ever been stung by them could tell you why. Consultants, over-researching, liner card programming, and the like have sucked all the fun out of radio listening. Keep your listeners engaged and they will pay attention to your spots.

  2. I almost drove off of the road today when I heard two ads for competing window companies back to back. Multiple autos in a set, I begrudgingly get, albeit disagree, but you couldn’t put the two window companies in separate breaks, much less back to back. Give ME a break.

  3. I agree 100% with this article! BUT, isn’t it true that most stations program with fewer & longer stop-sets because of the Nielsen ratings method of measurement? Aren’t we all slaves to Nielsen? Pandora and Spotify are not. And until we free ourselves from this, I’m afraid no one will want to make the necessary changes.

  4. We should have “woken up” to this about ten years ago. Sorry, that ship has sailed.
    But there’s always AM radio to introduce the next generation of media consumers to…

  5. When I was first hired into small-town radio 53 years ago, it was as dj and copywriter. At the desk beside me sat the traffic girl (Try using that job title today!) who had total responsibility to make sure no commercial break advertised competing businesses or products. More than once, I saw her get bawled out by a salesman or even the G. M. for a real or perceived violation of this rule. The salesmen would flop the orders on her desk and the “copy facts” on mine. She had to be a lot more creative than I did.

    But don’t blame it all on the commercials. Commercial radio is very boring. There is no personality. Read the liner and shut up unless you are the star of the morning crew or zoo, in which case your sidekick and your news reader will be compelled to guffaw in the background at your witty repartee. If AM and FM had no ads, it would still be boring.

    I haven’t had a radio or TV in the house for over twenty years. My computer entertains and informs me at home. My smartphone and bluetooth do the same in the car.

    I gave up on radio in my sixties when I found something better. I feel sorry for you who weren’t around when listening to the radio was so much fun, we laughed out loud.

    Thank you.

    Dick Ellingson

  6. For decades, radio’s locked-in position could be articulated this way: “We understand that phusterclucks of spots is annoying and a disservice to advertisers, and an annoyance and a disservice to audiences. Oh well, we’re going to keep on doing that anyway.”

    Plus, and this references radio’s particular set of blinders: The idea that 15, 20 or 30-minute Music Marathons, or something similar, flies in the face of the understanding that average listeners drop in for less than 15 minutes at a time. So the lengthy music sweeps become irrelevant – depending on when a listener tunes in. Many of them get to miss some ads altogether – a good thing?

    An upside (sorta) is that by breaking up the spot sets as well as the music sweeps, there are more opportunities for “Live” performers to do good work in real time. I realize this is mostly a personal fantasy of mine, so there really ain’t no need to pay no mind.

    By doing so, by the way, an hourly spot-load would have to be adjusted – but only slightly.

  7. We discovered this in “1977” at Greater Media in Detroit (and Philly). 8 units per hour. 2 min max stop sets 4 times per hour. It worked. It’s really simple. As the previous commenter said, feature those ads. Creative production, thoughtful content limitations based on your audience. This isn’t rocket science. Most importantly, touch and engage your listeners with Meaningful content. We’ve devalued the product by treating it as a wasteland for advertising. The spot content has to be curated just like the programming.

  8. Lots of merit in your commentary re “Making the case for shorter stop sets”. 40+ years ago…or less, it was the normal with stops sets averaging 90 to 120 seconds with promo placed at the back end and or jingle returning to music . We also had a policy of not having the same product placement in the break compared to today with same clients saturating breaks. In 2019, it’s not unusual to hear 3 to 4 car dealers inside a 5 minute ad break or similar with white goods dealers, if not next to each other. Mind, you can view the same on TV. Gone are the days of programming a break as much as programming the remainder of the station with value for money. Yes I’m old schooled at 61 and retired, but the younger generations are the listeners that are tuning out for similar crap. Just ask them why?

    Kind regards,

    Don Dawkins (in Oz)


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