Times Should be A-Changin'

How should we be scheduling our shows and content

I'm a listener person. I think if you’re making any type of audio - radio, podcasts, whatever, you should be about catering for a listener. If you’re doing it for your own enjoyment, well, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t need a transmitter or an RSS feed, just sit in your bedroom, talk to yourself, and laugh at your own jokes.

For me, the act of broadcasting, is about understanding who your audience is and trying to make something for them, that they get value from. To do this, it’s useful to understand them and their lives, to find out what’s important to them, what they like and why. If you’re attuned to them and their needs, they’ll want to be tuned to you.

This doesn’t mean you have to be their friend and just play the songs they like (though that can work). If you’re a shock-jock that takes the contrary view, you still need to know what will rankle, or how to speak to your listeners’ specific concerns.

Usually radio is pretty good at research and understanding this. But it can be caught up in established ways of doing things. As a programmer, if you’ve been though ten years of radio, it’s easy to know what the rules are, but you need to be able to answer why they’re there. That way, when things change, you can decide whether they still apply.

Coronavirus, lock-down and the aftermath, have massively affected people’s routines. With still a huge amount of working from home, and no commuting, the time people get up has changed. The lack of any drivetime has changed people’s radio use. No tube journeys mean the places that people consume podcasts have dropped.

The excellent Edison Research, in their Share of Ear study says the US peak for the alarm going off has moved from 7.15am to 8.30am - a 75min drift!

With all of this happening, I’m amazed how much radio has stayed the same, still programming for an 8am peak or ‘the big drive home’.

Benchmarks

When a breakfast show generally does well, it’s because it has synced itself to the listener’s morning behaviour. The beauty of tightly fixed benchmark features is they act as immovable signposts to a listener’s morning.

In my radio programmer training I was dispatched to spend a morning with a lovely family in Coventry, to try and understand their habits and where radio came into them. The answer seemed to me, as I sat at their kitchen table with chaos all around me, that radio had very little impact. That was until we all, slightly squeezed, got into the car.

“Oh, if we’re not in here by the time the Secret Sound’s on, we’re in trouble”.

It was the perfect way to understand that benchmarks really shouldn’t move ten seconds. I had learned the rule and the reason why.

Today, I’d be rethinking the job of my presenters and shows and what morning moments my benchmarks were there to soundtrack.

Come September, the probable return of kids to school will bring back an element of structure for some demographics, but not all.

Radio 1 have announced their new schedule, with a time change for Greg James, now on-air 7am to 10.30am. They say:

A new time slot for Radio 1 Breakfast means we can bring Greg’s trademark brand of light-hearted entertainment to as many young people as possible

I think this isn’t a bad way to acknowledge that the ‘waking up’ time of your listeners will be very stretched. It makes sense to have your breakfast host on for more of it.

For other demographics, maybe there should be two types of breakfast shows (or at least two parts) - one for people leaving the house and one for those staying in. 6am to 8.30am could remain benchmark heavy and short-form, knowing that ‘leavers’ are rushing about, but perhaps 8.30am to 10am needs to be for ‘remainers’ who have a little more time to play with, are more relaxed, or who can now have the radio on for their first hour of work at the kitchen table. Do you really need that more music hour from 9 to 10 to keep an office happy?

I think these changes affect podcasters too. So much podcasting is a solitary exercise, in headphones, to one person. With people’s alone time now often reduced, are there things you can do to encourage people to listen with partners, or kids? Are you (easily) available on a smart speaker - do you encourage that consumption behaviour? Can you bring in features to your show designed for new partner listening? Especially relevant if your podcast er, somewhat leans, to the in joke.

Being listener-focused and dead focused on them, their situation and behaviour, can only help your content better resonate. Take the opportunity to re-evaluate what you know about their lives today.

The more aligned you are, the more regularly they’ll tune in and the more you’ll be a part of their life. Whether they need to be in the car for Secret Sound, or not.