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  • Frank Gussoni

The Math in Media: Radio Math

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

There are many ways to measure various forms of media. To help my clients achieve the best ROI from their media campaigns, I look at both the math and the nuances behind the media to ensure their marketing objectives and target audiences are reached. With each form of media, there are specific numbers and other factors to understand and focus on that will truly make a difference. Not only for determining which mediums to use, but how much to invest in them. While looking at the numbers is important, there are other factors to consider as well.


What most media buyers focus on:

Radio buyers typically put together a radio campaign in a similar fashion to a television buy. They look to the same numbers to determine what “the best” station formats are and the dayparts to air a client’s message.

Target audience ratings, listenership, spot costs, CPMs and CPPs are all part of the protocol of what to look for when selecting stations for a radio buy. But, just like television ratings, radio numbers don’t always tell the entire story and these ‘measurements” shouldn’t be the only deciding factor when choosing the best stations to buy.

In radio there are Cumulative (cume) audience listening numbers and Average Quarterly Hour (AQH). One measures the total audience that listens for at least 5 minutes sometime during the week, while the other measures how many listeners are tuning in during any given 15-minute period. Obviously the cume is the larger number. But is that all you need to know? No!

Data services such as Nielsen, Tapscan and Arbitron collect data by gathering a random sample of a population throughout the US, primarily in metropolitan areas. Years ago, and even still today in smaller markets, they use paper diaries that are only collected 2‑4 times a year. They are very misleading and inaccurate. However, today more likely they are using “Portable People Meter” or “Personal People Meters” (PPM), which is an electronic audience device. The PPM doesn’t just factor in the data from traditional AM/FM listening but also tracks digital broadcasts, like HD Radio, HD multicasts and Internet streams, helping to show true listenership habits.

In totality, the various radio formats available in a market are usually extensive, lending itself to a huge range of listeners. Every buyer needs to understand not only the size of the audience but the demographics and behavioral patterns of the radio format’s audience in order to target their client’s message strategically.

Unfortunately, in some cases, this level of discussion doesn’t happen because the formats are selected based on the request from the advertiser themselves. The buyer’s client directs them on which station to buy. While this may save the buyer a lot of time, it isn’t doing the client any favors.

I had one such client. It was a national online sportsbook. They had 8 agencies that did work in different portions of the country. My agency was one of them. They were highly sophisticated and had a data bank that tracked where every lead and bet came from, so they could examine the performance of each buy.

They had hired a highly regarded retired Dallas Cowboy as their spokesman. They also insisted on using only Sports Talk stations. Sound like a good decision, right? Not in our region. It would have proven to be a disaster.

Instead we recommended not using their spokesman since we were buying the NFC East conference area and the Giants, Eagles and Washington listeners despised their spokesman. Instead we fought for a very popular pair of regional jocks on a rock station to be the spokesmen in our area. We still recommended Sports Talk, but we preferred buying more Rock and Hip- Hop stations. The owner and I debated over this strategy for weeks. In the end on one angry call, he told me it was my account to lose.

Fast forward six months. We were the only agency that didn’t do as directed, didn’t use his spokesman, and we didn’t solely rely on the “numbers” and station “genre”. In the end our results outperformed the other agencies by such a wide margin that he awarded us the entire country. We’ve handled all their business since.

Other factors that should be considered:

In order to provide the best recommendations for a client, it is important to understand the habits of the listeners in each unique market. To determine these listener habits, it’s crucial to gather as much information as possible directly from all the viable stations available. Ask the stations for a full demographic breakdown of their listening audience as well as the times of day they are tuning in. What their typical listener profile looks like. Their employment, education levels, their past times and hobbies.

With this information in hand, you’re better able to determine which formats will work best.

And never discount the many smaller radio stations across the U.S. that are unrated but shouldn’t be counted out before being considered as part of a buy either. Many of them can deliver real value for the client. Regional and national radio station groups typically take the largest share of the budget, but only if you let them and it makes the most sense.

However, there often are community radio station groups in each market that can deliver great results, even possibly better than the regional or national radio station groups provide, depending on the audience you are seeking. I suggest not looking to only the reach and rating points of a radio station but to factor in affinity as well.

Radio advertising can be expensive and evaluating all these things is important when attempting to deliver the best ROI. Buyers must be prepared to explain the need for flexibility in the number of stations and the length of time a radio campaign will air. Hitting the proper audience, not just sheer numbers of audience, along with frequency are the keys to a successful radio campaign. People need to hear the message often enough to compel them to act. Rather than buy a light schedule on several stations in a market, it typically is more important to have an effective frequency on a smaller number of impactful stations than it is to be spread too thin.

In the end, the best buy is usually one made from data, nuances and the art of knowing how to dispense enough of each.



President & Founder of A3 media.

We’re Type A. We transform media from an expense into a smart investment.

Frank’s Take provides uncommon sense media buying advice for regional and mid-market businesses.

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President & Founder of A3 media. We’re Type A. We transform media from an expense into a smart investment.

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