More core radio listeners start their media day with something other than radio

Do you know your audience? How are News/Talk listeners using radio and other media? You may be surprised. Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media, who is being honoured this year with the Conclave’s Rockwell Lifetime Achievement award for broadcasting, shares results from his company’s Techsurvey8 with Valerie Geller. More than 57,000 listeners participated, in 12 formats, including News/Talk. One of the essential findings, according to Jacobs is, “Radio needs to become more competitive in serving the first-thing-in-the-morning need.”

VG: How has Talk radio listening changed in the past few years?

FJ: The biggest change is the move to FM. For decades, this was the domain of public radio stations, but today, News and Talk stations are discovering new audience growth as the stereotypes about which formats belong on which band dissolve. The FM spoken word audience tends to be younger, which is necessary for the lifeblood of these stations

The other factor for Talk radio is the ability to engage socially and via mobile devices. With Facebook and Twitter, stations can now engage in dialogue beyond the confines of their signal, creating a two-way conversation. On mobile, consumers can access information, text the station, post on the station’s Facebook page, and of course, listen on the stream. Stations can also stir up conversation socially, and also test topics and find guests.

VG: Other than listening to traditional terrestrial Talk radio , where else are talk listeners getting their information and entertainment?

FJ: How about everywhere? The biggest impact of digital is that it has transformed time and space. No longer are listeners bound by program schedules. They’ve got total access to information. Their friends and family are publishers. The gloves are off.

Only Steve Jobs could have envisioned the impact of the iPad, as it has created a multi-dimensional, multi-media engagement platform where users read, watch, and connect in new ways with media outlets at their convenience. Blogs and article sharing have made it possible for a story to come out of nowhere and explode in minutes. Twitter broke the Osama Bin Laden story, as they were ahead of traditional media, and we know how Twitter was a factor in the Arab Spring and other uprisings. Information is everywhere.

VG: You presented some of this material at the World Wide Radio Summit in April and have an upcoming webinar. What’s been the reaction from broadcasters and what surprised you the most? 

FJ: The data points to the reality that every format has a unique digital footprint. This year’s Techsurvey8 is quite a bit different because we’ve expanded beyond our Rock and Classic Rock stations.

As for surprises, it’s that more core radio listeners start their media day with something other than radio.  TV has been the big winner, capturing the minds and hearts of many consumers first thing in the morning.  All those “Good Morning, Des Moines” shows, as well as Today, GMA, Morning Joe, and Fox & Friends, are doing a good job of homing in on what people want first thing. We’re calling this the “First Occasion” phenomenon, and it’s essential that radio become more competitive in serving the first-thing-of-the-morning need.

VG: In other surveys you’ve shown how shockingly little attention people pay to radio and how fragmented their attention spans are. And there are many more distractions…

FJ: Right. Part of it is attention span, but the other part has to do with the myriad of options available to consumers. They are becoming more skillful at manipulating their media to suit their needs at any given point in time. We have a new infographic in Techsurvey8 that illustrates the differences in behavior between “feature phone” owners and smartphone owners. The latter are engaged in a multitude of activities on their handheld devices, from tracking sports scores to checking email to boarding passes. Mobile is moving faster than we can imagine.

VG: Is there much cross-format tuning?

FJ: We did not track cross-format listening. However, by looking at the News/Talk “Media Usage Pyramid” in Techsurvey8, we can track the cross-tuning from these listeners to public radio. Interestingly, they are just slightly likelier to listen to public radio stations than other listeners. On the flip side, research that we’ve conducted for public radio – and we’ve done a great deal – indicates that consumers value those stations for what they provide (thoughtful, considerate programming) and also what they’re not (commercial, loud, confrontational, and argumentative).

It’s not just political, it’s stylistic. Public radio has a distinct set of core values that run counter to the styles of many commercial radio talk show hosts. The non-commercial aspect of public radio provides a different sensibility, so these two genres are less competitive and more distinctive.

VG: According to your survey, what are News/Talk listeners doing when they’re not listening to radio?

FJ: All sorts of stuff. They are more likely than average to own a tablet and also subscribe to satellite radio.  News/Talk fans are also very social – eight in 10 have a profile on a social media site. They are very engaged and comfortable with many different technologies and gadgets.

VG: How can News/Talk stations use this information to grow their audiences?

FJ: Be everywhere quickly. Create a social media plan that provides a new engagement channel with the audience, and has clear-cut goals designed to generate benefit for the “mothership.” Our social specialist, Lori Lewis, has been working with several clients on this very topic, and we’re seeing results. Social doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s a distinct strategy, and Talk Radio needs to embrace [it] in order to fulfill its promise. While there are challenges, there are great opportunities to enhance the relationships between hosts and brands and the listeners who embrace them.

Talk radio (and all formats) need to create a viable mobile strategy that transcends simply streaming the station. A smartphone is the one device that is never more than six inches away from the listener’s hand. Providing compelling content designed for the mobile user is an essential component.

VG: What was the most exciting thing that came out of this research for N/T?

FJ: I believe it has to do with in-car listening – which is huge, by the way. Both News/Talk and Sports/Talk fans are on the leading edge when it comes to owning in-car entertainment and information systems, like Ford’s Sync. The “digital dashboard” is the next major battleground for radio, and it looks like these spoken word formats are going to be on the front lines.

VG: What was the scariest or most disappointing thing you discovered in this research for N/T formats?

FJ: I would have liked to have seen stronger recommendation scores. We use the standard Net Promoter question, asking respondents to rate the degree to which they would recommend stations to friends and family. Our Christian Contemporary, Country, and Classic Rock fans are in the forefront for recommendation. The News/Talk format is below average, signaling great potential to generate more passion and energy from these caffeinated fans.

VG: You’re planning a News/Talk webinar?

FJ: We’re excited about the News/Talk format webinar, a chance for programmers, managers, and marketers from these stations to better discover the format’s unique digital footprint. We’ve isolated the more than 5,000 fans of the format and we’ll get very granular with them. As you know, I’m a storyteller and I’m excited to help News/Talk professionals better understand what their audiences are doing in this space – today, and down the road.

Anyone can sign up for the webinar at It’s on June 26th at 2 pm ET. There’s a $99 fee, and obviously, anyone from the station can pile into the conference room to see the data. Webinar attendees will also receive their News/Talk “Media Usage Pyramid,” a great infographic that can help guide strategy and tactics through the rest of the year.

About the Author

Valerie Geller, president of Geller Media International Broadcast Consultants, works to help communicators become more powerful in 30 countries, including Australia, for news, talk, information and personality. Through consulting and individual coaching for news and talk talent, Geller finds and develops personalities, leads “Creating Powerful Radio” and “Communicate Powerfully” workshops and seminars for radio and TV broadcasters, internet radio and podcasters. Geller is the recipient of the Conclave’s 2010 Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award and is the author of four books about radio including her latest from Elsevier’s Focal Press Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age. To contact Valerie Geller for a one-on-one coaching or consulting, appointment, or for information on the “Powerful Radio” seminars and workshops, call +1 212 580-3385

Note: This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on and has been republished with permission.