Play to the Entire House

Row of charming homes in a small town

In a recent episode of American Idol Lionel Richie advised a contestant that you have to play to the entire audience as a performer. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion and adulation of those in the front row, but it’s critical to spread your attention across the entire crowd. With radio it’s easy to focus your attention on those who identify your station as the one they hear most or cite as their favorite – but that’s a mistake as well.

In the American Idol analogy, the risk of focusing on the front row is that audience members further back will feel left out and will lose interest and/or engagement. It’s tempting to focus on core listeners for a station or format in radio but focusing exclusively on those listeners means you’re not working to increase TSL from listeners currently less engaged with your station.

Stations lose core listeners all the time, often through no fault of their own. A new vehicle purchase has a former core listener now spending more time with Spotify while driving. A breakup or divorce has someone back in the dating pool and trying to identify as younger. An old song used in a TV show or movie causes a temporary shift in preference. People can change stations in an instant – they don’t have to re-register with another station; there’s no email needed to notify the former station.

Are you working to recruit new core listeners? Moving P3s to P2s, P2s to P1s? We always advise splitting up callout or library test samples to include a healthy breakout of non-core listeners to compare with the preferences of your core listeners. Music selection and scheduling is a balancing act: trying to keep core listeners content, while ensuring you’re not programming sequences of music that are unappealing to non-core listeners.

In markets with head-to-head in-format competitors, it’s tempting to limit test samples to those who are core to one station or the other. Allow duplicated cume in Nielsen to give you direction on this. Shared cume groups typically split into thirds: one third core to your station, another third core to the competitor, and the remainder core to other stations in the market – they just happen to cume you and your in-format competitor. Even in an extreme example where 75% of your cume also listens to your in-format competitor, only about a third of them – 25% of your cume – would likely be core to the competitor. Leaving room in your sample to understand the preferences of those outside the format group is a smart choice.

As we advised in our session at last month’s All Access Audio Summit 2023, Moneyball for Radio, knowing the details of listening in your market is a must. Which hours have the most available audience? Which demos are not just cuming – but actively spending time with radio? Listeners have so many options these days; you’re no longer in a battle with just the other stations in your market. You need to work to turn everything you can to your advantage in the ratings.

Many have asked about the “special sauce” NuVoodoo marketing guru, PJ Kling, mentioned in our All Access Audio Summit session. It’s a potent weapon available for subscribers in PPM markets. If you want the details, reach out to him at