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How AUDIENCE 98 Links
Listener Income to Listening

Listener income is a ready number at most public stations. But knowledge of listener income is most useful when tied to the programming inspiring it. This is a much more demanding task.

On first thought it seems reasonable to link an on-air drive's pledges to the programming on the air at that time. However, not only is pledge tracking insufficient for this purpose, it also provides misleading and just plain wrong information.

There are three problems with the pledge-tracking method. Although many public broadcasters understand these drawbacks, they continue to track pledges, because they assume it is still a valid form of feedback. Unfortunately, it is not.

The first problem is that listeners can pledge only when at a phone, and only then when the situation allows typically when they are at home and not otherwise occupied. For this reason true listener income from Morning Edition and All Things Considered, which play in morning and afternoon "drive-times" is probably under-represented, while income from A Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk and other evening and weekend programming is probably over-represented.

Many professionals try to work around this problem by administering a simple survey to givers. The survey asks givers to report their favorite programming – presumably the programming that causes them to support the station. but such self-evaluated preference reports inaccurately represent listeners' motives.

AUDIENCE 88, like the Cheap 90 study before it, showed clearly that use of the station's total service is the best single predictor of support. The more frequently people tune in, and the more types of programming they listen to, the more likely they are to support public radio. Clearly, listener support must be apportioned across all programming used – not just a listener's reported favorites.

In addition, as the most advanced stations in the system generate more income through off-air renewals, the links between specific programming and listener support becomes even less apparent.

The key point is this: Listeners’ willingness to give is tied directly to the personal importance of the programming in their lives. The on-air appeal, the direct mail solicitation, and other fundraising methods are merely the catalysts – not the cause – of the giving.

Done well, they can accelerate the act of giving but they cannot make givers out of listeners who do not already experience deep satisfaction with a station’s programming service.

Technical Details

In order to link listener income to specific services on your station, you must

You do this by apportioning each giver’s financial contribution across programming, based on the amount of time each giver listens to each service.

That is exactly what AUDIENCE 98 accomplishes nationally and the Local Programming Economics Reports achieve specifically. The Public Radio Recontact Survey updates systemwide data from AUDIENCE 88 and provides, for the first time, local information to a limited list of "Piggy-Back" stations.

At the micro level of the individual listener, this method of apportioning listener income across the programming that generates it assumes a generally linear relationship between listener income and programming use, and between listener income and personal importance.

A decade after we first learned to make this connection its constancy is confirmed by AUDIENCE 98.

 – John Sutton
AUDIENCE 98 Associate

 –Leslie Peters
AUDIENCE 98 Core Team


Audience Research Analysis
Copyright ARA and CPB.  All rights reserved.
Revised: September 01, 2000 12:38 PM.