Why Listeners Have Stopped Paying Attention…And What You Can Do About It

Radio stations are often their own worst enemy. Today’s audience no longer has the patience for anything that fails to quickly capture and retain attention. Most listeners have stopped paying attention, and the damage is self-inflicted (at least partially).

They Have Stopped Paying Attention to Promos

You are annoyed when you have to watch a 15-second commercial before a YouTube video. Though short, it’s still disruptive, even though you can skip it after a few seconds. The public lacks patience for ads, and radio promos are commercials for the station.

Promos are critical for your success, but can’t we tell a story and sell a message in half the time? Why does it take 30 seconds to promote a contest?


Eliminate needless details in promo copy. Focus on capturing the listener’s imagination and provide a simple call to action.

Slow down. Many programmers are concerned about length, but the instructions are so fast that nobody understands what to do. Promos should be as short as possible but as long as necessary.

Make them entertaining. Promos are intrusions, especially when explaining every detail of the campaign. Make a point, add personality, and the promo will be tighter and more effective.

Note: This strategy requires more frequent promos, with each message telling part of the story. It’s more to manage, but the campaign will resonate with more listeners.


Radio’s commercial problem has reached the danger zone, partly because stations no longer exercise quality control.

Commercial copywriters were cut out of the budget years ago, leaving an overworked production manager or unqualified account executive to pound ad copy. Or worse, they take the copy from the advertiser who thinks they can write their commercial. Or stations are so happy to be included in a buy that they accept whatever ad is provided from another source.

Another issue is length. Despite research results that claim listeners don’t care whether the ad is 60 seconds or 10 seconds, they are not the same. But it’s not just the amount of time a commercial takes. It’s also about the amount of time it needs to take. Many spots are repetitive, sloppy, and, like promos, contain too many facts.


Stations must reject bad commercials that harm both the station and the advertiser. We need shorter, more creative, and engaging commercials.

Stop Sets

Finally, radio stations must stop allowing ratings services to dictate programming. The rating system is severely broken. People tune out when commercials come on, but that’s partly because radio has trained the audience to feel like commercials never end when they start. Listeners scurry for relief only to find that every other radio station is playing commercials, too.

That’s because programmers all bow-tie stop sets. This happens because the rating services award credit if a listener tunes in for at least five minutes (two minutes in Canada) in a quarter-hour. Theoretically, they could tune in for eight minutes (11 to 19), and the station would get no listening credit.

When spots appear on nearly all stations simultaneously, listeners conclude that all stations always play commercials. It’s bad for the station and the industry.


How about something new and bold that focuses on the listening experience rather than playing The Ratings Game? A clock with more frequent, shorter stop sets promoted aggressively to communicate the listening benefits can work.

Combined with improving and shortening individual commercials, this would improve results for clients. And that will lead to increased revenue.


These three things will improve the sound of your radio station, but they’re bold steps that confidence and a strategic commitment. Programmers obsess about whittling a few seconds out of talk segments and trimming liners because these are things they can control.

But few are addressing the elephant in the room. The audience has stopped paying attention, but don’t get upset with them. It’s not their fault that stations haven’t adjusted to how listeners consume content.

This radical idea may scare you, but fear is a great motivator if it doesn’t become a freakout. Your next steps are

Analyze the radio station. Get rid of everything that wastes the listener’s time.

Prune messaging that is longer than it needs to be.

Pump entertainment value into all that remains.

Evaluate commercial programming.

This isn’t about editing to make it shorter. It’s a wake-up call to attract listeners that have stopped paying attention.

Pic designed by Standret for www.freepik.com.
Tracy Johnson is a talent coach and programming consultant. He’s the President/CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group. His book Morning Radio has been described as The Bible of Personality Radio and has been used by personalities worldwide.

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