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Tracy Johnson
Radio is Not Free: There’s a Cost of Listening
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Virtually everything comes with a price and a value. That’s what drives every transaction, and the economy. Yet since consumers don’t pay cash for radio, it’s easy for broadcasters to assume that it’s free. It’s not. Radio has a cost of listening.

Starbucks charges $4 for a cup of coffee. Their cost of materials is far less. There’s a lot of profit in that cup of Joe. But the value delivered to customers is worth more than the the ingredients. Otherwise, why would you keep paying for it?

The Starbucks brand is wrapped in their environment. That includes the stores in which they serve coffee. The convenience of being on nearly every corner. Their commitment to serving the community. The principles on which their brand is built. All of these things represent value that cause coffee drinkers to happily pay several times more than they would at 7-11.

An iPhone is valued by the Apple customer, though competing brands offer smartphones with similar features at a lower cost. Apple prospers because they deliver an experience to their customer. Their market share grows even though their products are relatively expensive devices with high margins.

These examples are easy to understand. Commerce takes place when the perceived value of a product or service is equal to or greater than the cost.

But what does that have to do with radio? Plenty. And it’s a good thing.

Is The Cost Of Listening Driving Away Audience?

Radio is a different business model. Money doesn’t change hands when a listening occasion takes place. But the price/value relationship still applies. Each listener makes entertainment choices for specific reasons. It could be to hear their favorite song, find out what’s happening in town, win a contest, get a laugh or simply find station to match their mood.

Your ability to deliver an experience that meets the desire is what your show is worth. The greater the value, the more the customer (listener) will put up with.

But there’s a price. Listeners pay for your “product” with time. The longer it takes to realize value, the greater the cost of listening.

Too many commercials (and poorly produced commercials) add to the cost of listening. The same goes for directionless, pointless talk. A contest comes on that’s too hard to play or they think they can’t win? It drives up the cost. After awhile, it gets expensive to listen.

Your topics are unfocused or confusing. A song (or three) I don’t like. Information that’s unimportant or irrelevant. Unfamiliar or uninspiring  personalities. Another 7 minute stop set. I’m not sure I want to pay the price of staying tuned in.

There are dozens of distractions that increase the cost of listening to your radio. And there are more and more choices to shop elsewhere.

When the cost becomes too great, listeners leave. They may punch the button to find another radio show or turn to satellite radio or their personal device. They may turn on Spotify or Apple Music, or go to a podcast.

Some escape to YouTube, interact with social media, play a video game, turn on a movie or any number of other entertainment options. Your competition isn’t just other radio stations, you know.

Keeping The Cost Of Listening Affordable

In a research project with Strategic Solutions Research, we explored what causes tune out. That’s another way of identifying what adds to the cost of listening.

Those six things are:

Not Getting Attention Quickly

Content That Has No Context

Slow Pacing

Not Enough Payoffs


They Just Don’t Care.

Each of the six are detailed here.

You can reduce the cost of listening by providing more value. There are two solutions:

Lower Your Prices

Identify what you’re doing that is running off customers, and stop doing it. This is the first choice of many programmers. We add commercial-free blocks of music, stack stop sets into quarter hours with lower listening levels and tighten the personalities to reduce all that “talk”.

The lower your prices approach can be effective, to an extent. Objectively evaluate every detail of your station or show as if you were a listener. Now get rid of all unnecessary clutter. You’ll be shocked at how much you can clean up.

You won’t be able to remove all of these things, of course. Commercials are with us for awhile. But the more streamlined the station, the better your listener experience. Therefore, you make your station more affordable. It’s a better value proposition.

Increase Value

The other way to deliver a better experience is by increasing the benefits of the experience. With your list of most important brand qualities in mind, what can you add to make you memorable, unique and irreplaceable?

How can you deliver this experience on the air in every break and extend that value as a meaningful part of your audience’s lives on multiple platforms? Does what you offer match what they pay to tune in-and stay tuned in-to your show? To your station?

Chances are, those things revolve around your personality that can’t be duplicated.

Great personalities can charge more for their entertainment because it’s worth it.


When we deliver more value than is expected, radio becomes a bargain. How are you connecting to the audience emotionally to deliver an experience greater than the ingredients of your product?

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