A COVID Vaccine for Radio: An Open Letter

An Open Letter to Radio:

After 365 days and 550,000 deaths across North America, the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter each day.

At the same time, what radio listening will look like post COVID-19 remains to be seen. Although listening has rebounded, it hasn’t yet recovered, which puts greater pressure on ratings performance to drive revenue growth.

After a year of intense disruption and personal sacrifice, radio cannot take for granted that women will rediscover their former P1 station, satisfied with the promise of a “No Repeat Workday” or “Commercial Free Hours.”

Local radio brands must offer greater depth and relevance in order to be top of mind and win the occasions necessary to outperform the market.

A Turbulent Year

When looking at the lives of listeners, not surprisingly, over 40% of W18-49 reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in February 2021, which is up since the early days of the pandemic.

One of the hidden causes of this sustained anxiety and depression is that it was never supposed to last this long.

A year later, moms are holding their families and their careers together with the same tape they have been using since March and it’s barely working. In particular, remote learning, which disproportionately impacts women is causing much of the strain. As the NY Times reports, day after day, working moms have one harrowing realization: they have to get back up and do it all again tomorrow.

As one mom puts it, “There is no such thing as balance … something is always on the brink of collapse.” 

As female listening remains off by 30% from pre-COVID levels, female targeted stations need to be engaging in the issues that matter in this moment. Whether it’s remote learning, caring for elderly relatives or managing a career from the kitchen table, there are plenty of opportunities to super-serve the listeners who matter most to your ratings and revenue.

Over the past year, radio has done an admirable job celebrating healthcare heroes, first responders and front line workers. It’s time we add working moms to the list.

As school districts resume in-person learning, radio needs parents in general and moms in particular to rediscover their favorite stations as they resume their commutes. Unfortunately, this outcome is far from guaranteed.

Pre-pandemic, audience disruption was often framed around short term issues involving seasonal PUMM levels and panelist churn. A heavy meter going on vacation could ruin your entire month. The longevity and scale of this pandemic is an order of magnitude unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

For the first time in the modern era, radio has to re-introduce itself to former listeners, particularly those female loyalists who have been sidelined since last March.

In order for listening to truly recover, market leading stations must rebuild listening habits that will sustain ratings and revenue growth. It starts with a culture that puts the listener at the center of every decision.

Winning the Recovery

Across markets and formats, winning the recovery is based on the on-air product and “Can’t Miss Moments”. In a world of 8 second attention spans, radio’s immediacy, localism and authenticity provide meaningful content that listeners tune-in to hear and advertisers pay to be part of.

Along with great programming, when it comes to your listeners, it’s essential to capture their opt-in data and build relationships. According to Nielsen, just one hour per day makes someone a heavy listener. That means your audience spends 96% of their life away from the radio. Knowing your listeners by name and staying in-touch with them off-air are essential elements to winning their next occasion.

Data acquisition is not limited to contesting. Throughout the pandemic, stations have done heroic work highlighting local businesses open for business. With the worst of the pandemic behind us, have you recently asked those businesses to promote your station to their employees and customers through their own email newsletters and social media posts? Pandora and Spotify weren’t serving the local community and promoting these businesses. It’s a perfect opportunity to craft a compelling listener centric message and utilize the power of reciprocity.

When it comes to station marketing, rebuilding listening habits cannot be taken for granted or left up to chance. Break through the noise with repeat and varied contact that features a targeted mix of integrated, individual touchpoints. Along the way, celebrate your listeners and invite them to share their favorite station with family, friends and co-workers.

During this pandemic, this combination of great programming, leveraging listener data to remain top of mind and 360° station marketing designed to actively engage those who matter most has delivered powerful ratings performances and audience growth, including top ranked female stations

Some stations plan to bounce back from COVID-19 by riding the coattails of the overall recovery. While that approach may be prudent for second tier stations, it comes down to risk tolerance and opportunity cost. What’s the revenue impact of your best brands staying at their current ratings for the next three to six months, while competitors increase their rank position and get on more buys? In addition, if you’re a Classic Hits or Rock station that’s done well during the pandemic with male listening, how do you sustain and increase your advantage with A25-54 in Prime, as dominant female stations come back to life?

As we look ahead to more vaccines, the ensuing recovery of ratings and revenue will depend on the ability of stations to super-serve listeners and drive daily cume.  

Let’s rebuild listening habits and outperform your market.

On behalf of Catherine Jung, Tony Bannon, Jen Clayborn and everyone here at DMR/Interactive, thank you for reading and working to drive radio forward.


Andrew Curran
President and COO

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