Next to newspapers there is perhaps no other medium so closely watched, scrutinized and debated as radio. This, despite the fact that radio remains among the most successful and far-reaching of them all (to the tune of 91% of all adults 18+ every week, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau). Yet, can this trend continue, many ask, as generational tastes, consumption and alternatives for attention evolve.
Doug Spero, Professor of Mass Communication at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, opines on that very topic this week in a guest blog on Huffingtonpost.com. In particular, he examines the dynamic of the commercial “stop set” where programming stops and a series of ads are run. How intrusive to the masses are they, he asks, as many “breaks” have steadily grown to anywhere from 9-12 minutes – especially to younger demographics as comfortable with spot-less streaming and MP3s?
I know when I was an on-air rookie back in the day, radio mentors instructed me away from calling attention to a coming commercial break. Why say, “We’ll be right back?” After all, where was I going? I was still there pushing the buttons. And I certainly didn’t want my listeners to leave. Similarly, “More after these messages” was nothing more than a signal that ads were forthcoming and, at least temporarily, more music was not. I also worked very hard at every radio stop to offer value to my listeners, giving them every reason to come to my show and stay.
Everyone has at least some tolerance for airwave interruption – but not a lot. In Spero’s blog, he details a study of approximately 160 students (ages 18-24) demonstrating 50% of the small sample, unsurprisingly, preferred 1-2 minute breaks; 36% 2-3 minutes. Interestingly, KNDD-FM, a Seattle alternative station, earlier this year instituted the “2-minute” promise of no more than 120 seconds of commercials per break. Of course, shorter stop sets mean more of them. After all, something has to give in money making enterprise.
When all is said and done, every media outlet seeks to attract and retain a significant audience as consistently and for as long a period of time as possible. To that end, content is king. You’ll sit through commercials when you know the quality programming you are really there to hear can be found nowhere else and is coming back post haste. That includes, in very large part, the on-air personalities behind the microphone – those that generate the listeners and ratings through which advertisers and their dollars are ultimately attracted.