A Listener Focus Group at an Industry Conference?

What if you conducted a live focus group of listeners in front of a room of talk radio managers, consultants, programmers and hosts? No mirrors. No video cameras. Nothing between the panelists and the seasoned talk radio professionals.

NuVoodoo did it in Atlanta for Talk Show Boot Camp 2015 and did again March 5 at Talk Show Boot Camp 2016 in Ft. Lauderdale. Last year in Atlanta, the panelists were talk radio listeners, ages 35-54. This time the panelists were a screened group of five men and four women, 25-40, who were active radio listeners from South Florida who showed strong interest in spoken-word programming and spent significant time using radio, including terrestrial.

The stage was set up as though the nine respondents were panelists in a typical conference session. And, that’s exactly what they were: the people with the most important opinions and knowledge in the room.

Some key takeaways from the session:

TV remains the winner at home in the morning. Interesting sound with non-essential pictures gets GMA and/or Today on in the homes of many. Terrestrial radio has the leg up in the car, but there’s plenty of competition even then and there.

Experience with connected cars was slim, one of the women referring to her husband’s internet-connected car as very confusing.

Many had experience with SiriusXM, but only a couple were paying for it currently. Howard Stern was the key programming of interest to some of the panelists, the multiple music channels of the service now less interesting in the face of many streaming music options.

Most panelists were active Pandora users. There was a smaller, overlapping group of Spotify users. None, however, were paying for a commercial-free experience from either provider.

Despite being screened to be regular podcast users, under the weight of dozens of professionals staring back at them, stories of actual podcast usage dwindled to only a few on the panel. NPR’s podcast initiatives earned it praise and additional time spent among those few. Beyond NPR, there was no central theme of how podcasts were discovered or used. One respondent with greater podcast experience complained that she can’t find time to consume them all.

NPR earned praise even among the more Conservative-leaning panel members for being innovative and interesting. Among the men, Sports radio earned some mention as programming they used often. There were scattered mentions of South Florida talk radio stations, but there seemed to be more affinity for some talkier morning show hosts on FM music stations.

RAB President, Erica Farber, asked the panelists about NextRadio. They had no real knowledge of NextRadio and not much more about HD Radio. Those who had or had seen HD Radios believed the new technology to be about sound quality and had no idea about the prospect of additional channels being available.

There was wide interest in local and hyper-local information. One panelist commenting that, while he’s interested in national politics, it’s local politics that will impact him most quickly. Others chimed in concerning interest in information about things to do in their localities. It was clear that there’s no source stepping up as a central place to get that type of information.

Politics will make 2016 a huge year for spoken word. These panelists were more interested in getting the information and less interested in analysis and opinions. Hosts like Rush and Sean and Glenn were seen as hosts who might appeal to other (presumably older) people, but were not credited as speaking to any of these 25-40’s.

It should go without saying, but this was a focus group, albeit an unusual one. It’s qualitative and not quantitative research. With a sample of nine, there’s no reliable way to project these results to a wider population. But, given the speed with which the media landscape is changing, this information gives us deeper insight into listeners and helps us to ask better and more relevant questions.