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Tracy Johnson
P1’s Are Not Fans and Fans Are Not P1’s
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The ratings report is in. Your cume is strong but your P1’s are down. Oh no! You have a ratings problem, because everyone knows that P1’s are the lifeblood of your brand. Your general manage demands an answer to the question: “What is happening to our fanbase?”. You’re panicked. But wait a minute. P1’s are not fans, and fans are not P1’s.

How can that be? We’ve always thought of P1’s as being first preference listeners. Doesn’t that mean they prefer us more than the others? And doesn’t that make them fans?

No. Not at all. In fact, many stations have a large number of P1’s but very few fans.

Being a P1 listener only means that they spend more time listening to your station than any other station.

A Department Head Meeting is called, and the Ratings Freak Out begins. Isn’t it great to be a program director?

But before you turn your station upside down, take a breath and step back to analyze what’s really going on.

P1’s Are Not Fans

To qualify as a P1 listener, that panelist must spend at least one quarter hour more with your station than any other. There are many explanations for P1’s and fans being out of step.

It could be that:

They’re an accidental P1.

They’re a P1 listener this week or month, but only at this particular moment in time. In other words, they may not be loyal to your station-or any station. They’re button punchers who happen to give you slightly more credit in this reporting period. The difference in actual quarter-hours a listener spends with their top 3-4 stations is often very small. they may be a P1 today, and a P4 tomorrow.

They’re a radio prisoner.

Maybe someone else controls the radio in their workplace, or they’re exposed to a signal they would never choose as their favorite. However, the exposure turns them into a P1 for ratings purposes. Their actual preference could be quite different. They may hate your station, but are forced to listen.

They’re an unimportant P1.

Many P1’s are light radio users overall. They listen to one station more than another, which qualifies them as P1 to that station. They may even consistently tune to your station more than others. But if overall listening is small, their quarter-hour contribution is insignificant. They still count as a P1, but it’s not as valuable as having a station fan.


Fans Are Not P1’s

On the other hand, many fans don’t show up as P1’s, for some of the same reasons described above (particularly being a radio prisoner). Just because they love what you do doesn’t mean they actually listen more. These folks are valuable, and can be converted to much higher quarter-hour tune in with effective promotion and marketing.

When the percentage of P1’s grow, programmers often make the assumption that the station is delivering a better product, satisfying more listeners. And that may be the case, but it’s dangerous to assume that this means you’re converting cume into fans. It’s probably just because those folks wearing meters happened to be exposed to your signal.


In PPM markets, radio ratings are determined by those carrying these pager-like devices being exposed to radio signals.


This demonstrates just a few of the many problems when using ratings as a research tool for programming or positioning your radio station brand. The bottom line is that if you want to measure how you’re really doing with fans, you need a strategic research project to measure it.

Go For Fans, Not P1’s

Fans are passionate, loyal listeners who love your brand are the lifeblood of your station. When a true fan becomes a ratings respondent, you feel an immediate and meaningful lift. The opposite is also true: When one leaves the panel, you feel it immediately.

The key is to nurture the audience with a strategy to lead that fan into becoming a more frequent user. The larger your fanbase, the greater your influence and higher the ratings.

Why Listeners Become Fans

The problem for most stations is that building a fanbase is rarely because the music format is just right or that you provide service elements (traffic, news, weather, etc.) at predictable times. It’s not even the amount of money you give away in contests and promotions.

They become fans because of an emotional connection. The bond could be a common worldview, such as we see in the Contemporary Christian format. But it’s usually because of compelling air talent that lead communities of listeners through personality.

Ratings are a game. Here’s how to play and win

That’s why air talent holds the key to unlock radio’s future success. Stop trying to increase your P1 base and worry about building your fan base.

Are you developing meaningful personalities for your brand? Want to? That’s what we do. Contact us.



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