Does Sports Talk Radio Work a Little Too Well?

I spent fifteen years selling radio advertising for a 7-station group that included a variety of formats. Although I was expected to sell all of them (and did, thank you very much), I came to believe that pound-for-pound, my two news/talk stations were much more effective advertising vehicles than my music stations.

The advertising agencies were more concerned with ratings, and buying the market at a certain cost-per point. But the clients who carefully measured response to their advertising found that they got results from news/talk that were well out-of-proportion to what Arbitron’s numbers would have predicted.

A look at why that might be comes from an English study of drivers done by the Transport Research Laboratory. According to the  Telegraph, [hat tip to Radio-Info for bringing this to my attention] sports radio listeners’ reaction times behind the wheel were similar to those of drunk drivers.

Reactions can be slowed by up to 20 per cent scientists at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) found – adding a six metre stopping time if a car is travelling at 70mph.

The report said: “To put this into context, this increase in distance travelled is 10 per cent further than the additional stopping distance when driving with a blood alcohol level at the UK legal limit (80mg/ml).

The number of incidents of hard breaking at the last minute almost doubled when motorists were listening to sports commentary.

Bad news for public safety, but great news for the format’s ad sales department — people are paying awfully close attention to what’s on.

I never had a sports station, but I did have a Progressive Talk station — the audience was relatively small but it was passionate, and the advertisers got great results. On the other side of the dial, Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura also really delivered. Agency buyers staring at rankers never understood that, but my results-measuring direct clients did.

The lesson for advertisers seems to be the same: people don’t put talk radio on in the background — if it’s on, they listen.

Sometimes, perhaps, a little too hard.


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