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What are you?

May 15, 2020

Former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green once uttered one of the classic sports quotes: “They are what we thought they were …” In the era of coronavirus-impacted listening, this applies to just about every radio station.

For the March and April surveys, we have noticed some interesting trends for different formats. The most telling is how this has affected listening for the News/Talk format – both the traditional flavor and the NPR variety.

For the most part, we saw News/Talk and Talk-oriented stations experience large increases in P6+ shares. This is not surprising during a time when people are hungry for information.

However, not every market saw this kind of increase.

In “normal” times, information stations will achieve a certain base line level of listening. People get their information from a variety of sources and radio is just one of them. In times of greater need, more listeners tune into radio for the kind of timely information a pandemic requires.

What does that tell us?

Stations that have done a good job of branding themselves effectively as a trusted information source will reap a benefit when the need for their product sees increased demand. COVID-19 is just the latest example of this phenomenon. Weather emergencies like hurricanes, floods, and blizzards will also greatly increase listening levels to information stations. These stations have trained their markets to know where to go in times like these.

That means these stations have an established brand in their markets. People know where to turn in an emergency. On the flip side, we have seen many markets where information stations did not see any kind of boost. Could that be because they have not effectively branded themselves as a trusted or needed news source?

This lesson applies to every type of radio station.

For example, in many markets, the AC leader – which is generally branded as the “at-work” choice – has seen significant share loss. That makes sense since so many are not currently “at-work” (or, sadly, even working). Those that are working have a new location that does not fit with their preexisting listening habits.

Similarly, we have seen some dramatic increases in shares for Classic Hits and Classic Rock stations. This could be due to a couple of factors. Older audiences are more ravenous radio consumers. And, the familiar music these stations play could be a safe haven in times of great stress.

The pandemic is providing us with real world research. No need for questionnaires or call-outs here. People are voting with their ears based on what need they feel a station will fill.

Now would be a great time to re-examine your brand. Make sure they believe what you say.

More importantly, make sure you are what you want them to think you are.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant