MediaMonitors&Nielsen

Clearing the commercial log and rolling nonstop music has become a common programming tactic to jump-start at-work listening or to drive more quarter hours for the evening commute home. Commercial-free is practically de rigueur for new format launches. The arrival of overnight ratings for radio gives programmers the opportunity to see how the tactic affects audience listening patterns.

In a recent example, a commercial-free day on “Radio 104.5” WRFF Philadelphia delivered a nearly 50% week over week audience gain for the station in middays, according to Audio Overnights data provided exclusively to Inside Radio by Media Monitors and Nielsen. On Wednesday, Sept. 4, the iHeartMedia alternative station blew out all the commercials from 6am-12 midnight, allowing it to play an average of 16 songs per hour. Branded as “Listener Pet Appreciation Day,” it was sponsored by a local pet food retailer. WRFF also did a commercial-free day back on July 2, sponsored by a local car dealer.

The station’s 6+ raw quarter hours for the 10am-3pm daypart jumped 47% to 134 on Sept. 4, based on preliminary data from 1,209 panelists, compared to 91 on the previous Wednesday when there were 1,204 panelists. The 25-54 trend was similar with raw quarter hours rocketing up 51% to 74 during the midday daypart from 49 the week before, based on preliminary data from 535 panelists on Sept. 4 and 518 on the prior Wednesday.

The week-over-week gain during a critical daypart for at-work listening is the most obvious benefit from WRFF going commercial free in this instance. The increased quarter-hours were likely the result of more listening occasions since it's easier to increase occasions than to drive longer ones.

The 10am-3pm daypart was the only time period where WRFF saw week-over-week increases in raw quarter hours. In the 6am-midnight daypart, the week over-week trend was largely flat, with 323 raw quarter hours (6+) on the commercial-free day of Sept. 4, compared to 336 one week earlier. The trend was similar among 25-54 year-olds with 185 6am-midnight raw quarter hours on the commercial-free day, compared to 191 on the prior Wednesday.

Gains were considerably larger when comparing the audience size for the commercial-free day to the day before. Raw 6am-midnight quarter hours rose 40% to 323 on Sept. 4, compared to 230 on Sept. 3. The 25-54 trend was comparable with raw quarter hours climbing 23% to 185, 6am-12 midnight on Sept. 4. The biggest day-over-day gains were in the 3-7pm daypart (+58%, 6+ and + 61%, 25-54) and 10a-3p (+47% 6+, +23% 25-54).

But comparing to the day prior could be misleading since that was the day after the Labor Day holiday, which is an abnormal listening day as people are still coming off vacation and not back to their normal routines. It’s possible that all radio listening in the market was lower on Sept. 3 and didn’t come back to more average listening levels until Sept. 4. That makes it difficult to draw solid conclusions about the success of the commercial-free day by comparing Sept. 4 patterns to Sept. 3.

Audio Overnights is intended to provide programmers and managers with next day insights about their station’s listening, allowing them to respond more quickly to programming and market changes, rather than having to wait weeks for the data. It’s currently in beta-testing with Media Monitors clients and a launch date hasn’t been announced.