Monday, April 7, 2008


"We can never know about the days to come
but we think about them anyway.
I was thinkin' about how right tonight might be.
Anticipation, anticipation
Is keepin' me waitin'."

Carly Simon's lyrics from her hit song speak about a strong sense the best radio personalities create in their listeners. Anticipation drives their listeners to tune in and keep listenin'. They turn on the radio with an expectation of experiencing at least one magical life enriching moment.

I was reminded of the powerful effect anticipation has on radio listening when I read a just-released study, "The PPM DNA of Rush Limbaugh", prepared by radio researcher Jon Coleman. The stated goal of the study was to "learn as much as possible from Arbitron's measurement of radio audiences via its Portable People Meter (PPM) service and understand what it can teach us about how consumers use radio."

The major finding of this study is that anticipation drives Rush's listeners to tune in and keep listening to his program no matter what content is presented. The PPM data reveals the show's average audience share changes very little when Rush switches subjects or when he is interrupted by commercials. The clear implication here is that Rush's listeners, like the subject of Carly Simon's song, keep "waitin'" and listenin' for that magical moment or moments they know will come.

The study makes a big deal about commercial breaks at the top and bottom of each hour that appear to generate slightly higher audience shares (5-8% higher) than the Rush content that follows. The study should make a big deal about the anticipation that drives the tune in for these commercials. To be fair the study speculates, "what is likely happening is that many people are tuning in to hear what Rush has to say, with some of them then electing not to stay" after they find out what Rush is talking about. Unfortunately, this insight is buried in the text of the study.

Think about this finding. Anticipation drives Rush's listeners to tune in early, during commercial breaks at the top and bottom of each hour, so they won't miss the first words out of his mouth as he begins each half-hour of his program. They tune in early rather than taking a chance of missing that magic moment they expect from Rush each day.

Anticipation is a wonderful thing for Rush and his advertisers. Anticipation ensures continued listening and high-level attention for all kinds of content, including commercials. Audience shares for Rush's program vary little no matter what kind of content it presents.

So what is this anticipation that drives listeners to tune in and keep listening? It's the expectation of experiencing magical moments that make life more interesting, meaningful, and fun. It’s the expectation of laughing out loud, crying, marveling, or understanding something for the very first time. It's the expectation of a unique and often emotional experience that can only be had in the presence of a beloved friend or true character. It's the expectation of meaningful and remarkable experiences that really are life enriching. It's the expectation of things that would be sorely missed if they were taken away. This is the anticipation successful radio personalities create in their listeners.

If you're a radio personality, ask yourself what your listeners anticipate from you and your show? Do your listeners truly expect you to make their lives more interesting, meaningful, and fun? Do they expect you to create magical moments they can't experience anywhere else? Would your listeners be saddened if they turned on the radio one day and found you were gone? What would they miss the most? How important, how strong, and how distinctive is the sense of anticipation you've created in your listeners?

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