The Recovery is Outpacing Listening

March 22, 2021

The holidays were 3 months ago, vaccines are rolling out at breakneck speed, more school districts are reopening.

Yet as FEB PPM data arrives this week, listening levels are flat to down in many markets. Not just year over year, but compared to last month. 

Across all levels of government, there’s an intensity around vaccine delivery, which needs to be replicated by radio when it comes to listening habits.

After a year of uncertainty, the quickest way to recapture ratings and revenue is with a relentless focus to rebuild listening habits in the car and at-work.

As an industry, we’ve become conditioned to gradual year over year declines in AQH Persons. The next 12 months represent an opportunity to punch our way out of that corner and reverse the trend.

For decades, positioning statements such as “the most music every hour” or “the no repeat workday” have helped stations define their appeal based on how they are differentiated from competitors.

As the recovery accelerates, it’s about understanding the needs of the audience and communicating your value proposition. The opportunity exists for stations to be differentiated for consumers.

In the best of times, listeners spend 96% of life away from the radio. Using all the tools at your disposal to win more occasions is job No. 1.

It’s all hands on deck.
Station social media posts and e-mail newsletters are heavy on celebrity news and podcasts, but light on promoting on-air listening occasions. Consistently highlight your talent along with drive time and at-work listening occasions.

It takes a village. Solicit crowd-sourced content from your audience and advertisers, including life hacks around timely issues – how to nail a virtual job interview, relearning how to balance family life and a commute. Your station doesn’t and shouldn’t have to do it all, but the brand and its air talent get credit for cultivating the topics, inviting participation and sharing the results.

Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Your female listeners have absorbed the brunt of childcare and remote learning during this pandemic. Local stations can show empathy and demonstrate leadership to facilitate conversations about how we can chart a better path forward.

More Wind at Our Backs

Although there’s trepidation around the future of commuting, billion dollar commitments to new office space by large companies such as Amazon and average commercial leases lasting 10 years should help assuage some of those fears. More importantly, the past year has created tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs not typically found in the midst of economic turbulence. In Q3 of 2020 alone, there were more than 1.5 million new-business applications, twice as many as the same period in 2019.

Even consultants McKinsey & Company admit, “we didn’t see this coming. After all, during the 2008–09 financial crisis, small-business formation declined. This time, though, there is a veritable flood of new small businesses.”

In fact, “the volume of ‘high-propensity-business applications (those that are likeliest to turn into businesses with payrolls) has also risen strongly – more than 50 percent compared with 2019.”

While Fortune 500 companies dominate the headlines, the backbone of the economy is small business.

In fact, when it comes to radio-friendly workplaces, small businesses are your station’s best friend and workplace calling is an essential element of a 360° marketing strategy to win heavy listeners.

Let’s rebuild listening habits and outperform your market by super serving those who matter most to your ratings and revenue.

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


Andrew Curran
President and COO

A COVID Vaccine for Radio: An Open Letter

March 10, 2021

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

COVID-19: “It Wasn’t Supposed to Last This Long”

February 22, 2021

“It wasn’t supposed to last this long.”

These are the words of working moms. As we rapidly approach the first anniversary of COVID-19, many of them still aren’t able to send their kids back to school five days per week, which impacts everything else.

One of the many tangible results, W25-54 PUMM levels remain down 30% Year Over Year.

After the world was told to mask up and stay home last March, radio rallied and the ratings rebounded, but audiences still haven’t fully recovered.

The decades-long investment promoting multi-platform consumption on smart devices remains a work in progress, while the resilience of listening in the car and on transistor radios at-work has been on full display.

It’s a reality we should stop actively undermining as an industry and instead use it to our benefit as it provides a competitive and economic advantage against streaming platforms.

In the words of my friend and radio mentor Pat Barry who passed away from COVID-19 this weekend, “We can increase our audience and revenue – without operating costs going up.”

In addition, we know how disruptive the holidays can be to listening habits. Now, we’re facing a widespread disruption lasting 365 days and counting.

Continuing to offer “a no repeat workday” as a way to win back listening and loyalty is not enough.

According to MIT’s Sloan Management Review, “humans are cognitive misers, meaning that we use mental shortcuts to guide our judgments and decisions … once a routine in a certain store or preference for particular brand is established, it becomes habitual and is difficult to change.”

What mental shortcuts and new habits have been formed over the last 12 months away from the radio? 

For those working from home, the convenience is giving way to stress related to a lack of separation between home and work. #FakeCommute and Virtual Commutes are common topics online including solutions being baked into Microsoft Teams, all designed to help re-establish those boundaries.

Radio needs to be part of these conversations with Fake Commuters, reminding them of the fun and companionship their P1 station provides. In fact, it’s great content for station emails and allows listeners to share their own experiences. 

In order for radio to fully recover and grow, stations need to have better relationships with their employed heavy listeners. This endeavor is not a box to be checked or a task to be completed, it’s an ongoing and relentless pursuit just like great programming and sales.

For decades, positioning statements such as “the most music every hour” or “the no repeat workday” have helped stations define their appeal based on how they are differentiated from competitors.

As the recovery continues and radio gets started on its next 100 years, the opportunity exists for stations to be differentiated for consumers.

Consumer differentiation is about understanding their needs and communicating your value proposition.

This involves communicating the function you serve, how your brand aligns with their lifestyle and values, while also delivering an unrivaled experience for their commute and workday that’s not found anywhere else.

This strategic approach is the cornerstone of our 360° Listener Engagement Strategy.

As the recovery accelerates, we’re committed to helping you outperform the market by super serving those who matter most to your ratings and revenue.

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

Andrew Curran
President and COO