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It’s simpler (and cheaper) than you think


I’m not proud of this, but I once got into a screaming match with a program director who didn’t want to do an on-air giveaway of $50 gift cards for free gas.

No, there wasn’t a catch. A listener would just have to take the gift card to a local gas station and fill up until she used up the entire $50.

The reason this generally intelligent PD rejected the prize? He informed me that “his” listeners were environmentalists and that aligning the radio station with a corporate oil company would permanently stain our brand’s reputation. (This wasn’t 1966, by the way; it was the mid ’90s.)

When I asked him how he thought our listeners drove around without gasoline, he told me that this fact was irrelevant. I quickly polled those around us: Anyone wants $50 of free gas? Every hand in the room shot up.

It was on that half-tank-full day that I became convinced that nobody can routinely and consistently intuit what listeners are thinking. Sure, I can understand that smart people can observe human nature and know that folks want to connect, be entertained and say what they feel …

Ding ding ding! That’s right! To find out what your listeners are thinking, ask them.


If you have a research budget, a half-dozen focus groups and two perceptual studies a year should do the trick. But if your budget is limited, you can still go grassroots to obtain the feedback you need to make better decisions.

Before we go into the “how” let’s focus on what you’re watching out for. Keep it simple by looking for large trends in what your listeners are telling you. If hundreds of random people sampled from different areas of life are saying the same thing to you, pay attention. Ignore the one-off haters. There are plenty of them, but they typically hate different things.

Fortunately for you, unlike other businesses, radio stations have the means of engaging the audience for free on the air with announcements asking for their thoughts about whatever subject(s) to which you want answers.

You can then use your on-air power to amplify your questioning on social media and your website just by mentioning it. You can create a two-minute multiple-choice survey, which you run for a few weeks. Make it entertaining with a funny question or two. Consider adding a cool prize to incentivize listeners to fill it out. Once done, disclose the answers, but only if it won’t compromise your competitive situation.

After a survey has run its course, try text messaging simple “yes” and “no” questions. Collect them over time. Look for duplicate numbers and eliminate them. Tabulate the results.

An oldie but goodie that still works is drafting a “listener advisory panel” of a dozen people whom you invite to the station for a behind-the-scenes tour, free pizza and then 30 minutes of questions and answers.

Congratulations! You’ve just conducted your first free focus group.

Want more involvement? Stream your panel live on Facebook and ask viewers to offer their perspective on various topics. Do four more of them. Listen for trends in answers, especially regarding emotional topics.

On “Get Smart,” Chief once famously asked: “Max, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Max smartly responds, “Actually, Chief, I’m thinking what I’m thinking.”

There’s only one way to know what someone else thinks. You gotta ask them!

The author Mark Lapidus is president of Lapidus Media. He can be reached

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