Ratings are your Report Card. Listening Talk Radio?

I can’t say this any clearer.

Ratings are your report card.  Nothing else matters.

Associated Press awards don’t matter.  A plaque from a local charity for community service work, while nice, doesn’t matter either.  Nielsen numbers are what matters.  With higher ratings, come higher revenues.  It’s what I call “Rule #1 – Ratings and Revenue.”

Your job as a talk show host or programmer is simple.  Get high ratings that can be monetized.  This is how you will be judged, through Nielsen.  You will also be judged by digital growth, but that’s for another column.

I can’t tell you how many times I have asked a program director or air talent at a troubled station, “What’s your report card?”  Most times I’d get a glassy stare back.  If you don’t understand what your report card is or how you will be judged and what the rules of the game are, you’re doomed.


Current industry ad with a clever play on words. Clever in 1990!

Carolyn Gilbert and Leigh Jacobs of NuVoodoo Media recently published an article gathered together using research they’ve done.  Since it was Carolyn and radio legend Randy Michaels who about 30 years ago drilled into my head nothing matters other than your ratings, I found this week’s article on All Access worthy reading.

One of the tricks in what I’ll call “gaming” the ratings system is to know who actually takes part in a ratings study.  Generally speaking, these are the same people who will play contests and waste their time filling out a Publisher’s Clearing House entry.  People you’d like to yell “get a life” to.

Here’s the part talk radio needs to pay attention to.

According to NuVoodoo research, do you know what ideological group is least likely to participate in a Nielsen PPM study?  People who consider themselves “very conservative.”  The following bar graph explains it.


What audience do most talk radio stations cater to?  Yep.  The “very conservative” group who aren’t interested in taking part in a ratings study.

And ipso facto what does this mean?  It means today’s talk stations are catering to an audience that will not reward them with high Nielsen ratings.  I will also add another factoid.  A station that caters to a 55 plus audience will not be rewarded with PPM success either.  The PPM rewards stations that cater to an “employed audience.”  That means a “younger audience” in PPM lingo.

As Carolyn and Leigh write in their column:

We’ve advocated for some time that stations should be looking for TSL and stimulating cume among the right-of-centers – those who resonate with most of the values expressed by the Conservative talk lineups, but have opinions that put them outside the tribe served best by those hosts.  Local shows need to find the issues that bring a wider swath of the community together.  Issues outside the latest flap with the current administration need to be brought more foreground.  Topics revolving around morals, values and ethics – things that conflict with the general compass of right and wrong – need more airtime.  Promos and positioning for the syndicated hosts that form the backbone of many stations need to be couched in a manner to showcase the issues that appeal to the widest possible audience.

Cliff-notes.  Cast a wider net!  Be an advocate for the listener and be his voice.  You can lean right of center.  Just don’t be a rock eater!

And one more thing.  Programmers never forget this.  “Promos are more important than the show.”  Imaging for any show must be considered “commercials” for that show.  PPM data shows people listen for about 8 minutes per occasion.  They’re NOT listening to three hours of any talk show. Well thought out creative, scheduled correctly like a commercial, will do more to craft the perception of a show than the show will itself.

Research shows syndicated talk host Sean Hannity is thought of as “informative” by listeners.  Rush Limbaugh is viewed as “entertaining.”  Note, I didn’t use the word conservative, because that’s not what research reveals.  A well thought out strategic imaging plan for shows such as these can provide a perception the shows are more centrist-right than extreme right, making them more appealing to a broader audience.

But, then again there’s always that 25 year old play on words, “right?”  I mean correct?

Another clever play on words.

Bet they thought long and hard on this clever phrase.


Remember to “like” and share if you so choose.  Also please follow me on Twitter @darryl_parks.

  4 comments for “Ratings are your Report Card. Listening Talk Radio?

  1. July 1, 2014 at 3:23 am

    Hi Darryl,

    Thanks for another informative, and entertaining, insight into the subtleties of “behind the scenes” talk radio!


  2. Lou Kasman
    July 1, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I’m curios what the ultra-conservative audience participation was at the height of Rush and company. The scorecard is ratings and stations have come up with a variety of ways so in specific attributes such as age. The real report card is revenue – radio is a business. After the top 75 – 100 markets ratings don’t mean much. And when looking at CC and Cumulus stations a lot of revenue and cash flow comes from the markets below.

    For stations in markets where ratings aren’t important it is mandatory for stations to be active in the community with charity sponsorships, awards and the like.

    My first boss was Rick Sklar at WABC; he was a promotion genius and that kept listeners from hitting a button to another station. My favorite promotion was when AFTRA went on strike and all the air talent was off the air. He got the guys to “picket” in front of the building while running on-air your chance to meet, get autographs and take pictures with all the WABC stars.

    Talk radio as it is as conservative talk has lost its audience. Look at stations like WABC, KABC and others. Unless the radio industry comes up with a new entertaining product talk radio will stay in the toilet. Certainly AM News and Sports, particularly on the FM dial is a big bright spot. Large, medium and smaller AM’s have nothing but political talk to air. Mostly syndicated product with very little other types of programming. I have counseled conservative talk talent on becoming more MOR but they can’t do it. Cumulus on their website continues to search for experienced talkers that aren’t political focused – They can’t find many.

    Radio management today have only lived in the Rush era. Counseling PD’s and GM’s I suggest they look back before they look forward and that includes FM music stations. I continue putting WGN in the prototype spot. 50,000 clear channel WJR-AM in Detroit, a Cumulus station, has the best ratings of any Cumulus AM – #6 in the market. How do they do that? Morning and afternoon drive is two highly identifiable local talents not talking politics. Throughout other day parts conservative talk that doesn’t register anywhere near AM/PM drive. Yes cast a wider net!

    Why can’t the industry’s leading executives and minds you come up with a new AM product? I’ve been involved in Major Corporation’s brain storming new product/service or tweaks and after a few days coming up with concepts with many going to market like Michelob Ultra-Light.


  3. Hans Von Balkovsky
    July 7, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    First off, you’re talking garbage.

    “Conservative” talk radio -excepting Alternative/satellite, ended when Mutual forced Pat Buchanan off the air.
    Limbaugh, Hannity, Cunningham, McConnell are Elite-defending capitalists and capitalism is revolutionary, not conservative, when it runs amok-far more than is socialism by the way.

    To open Iraq’s markets to oil and to ensure Israel’s well-being, the Limbaugh crowd betrayed conservatism and ostracized Buchanan (who ran against Bush for the nomination as a real conservative) and others like Ron Paul.

    But we are probably talking past each other.

    You see, authentic conservative Buchanan ….and anti-Elite statesman of the Left Nader weren’t very popular with the Michaels Elite,—since both spoke in favor of legislation requiring local ownership of radio, dismantling the consolidated monster your crowd requires to make the kind of bucks which you are complaining aren’t as easy to be made anymore (and the purpose of serving the public interest be relegated to the curiosity shop, i.e.damned.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: