Why listeners bond with radio hosts

Steve Kowch blog photoFrom where I sit On The Kowch, a new US study about the influence radio personalities have on listeners comes as no surprise. Talk radio hosts have a bond with listeners because they share the same opinions and politics. Music radio hosts bond with listeners because of the music they play on air.  But the study says there is another reason why listeners bond with FM music deejays.

What I find interesting about The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism study, is about the relationship between music radio jocks and their listeners.

It is not just about the music they play on the radio. It’s about their personalities. Something music radio program directors have ignored for too long in their quest to play more music and less talk.

Who knew in this iPod era that people actually do respond positively to what is said by DJs in between the songs. The study involved 18-39 year-old listeners. Their message is very clear. Listeners relate to the announcers because of what they talk about on air and not just because of the music they play on their shows.


Finally a study that says what I’ve been saying for years. (but of course what does a talk radio programmer know about music radio) Let the DJ be personalities! It’s time the DJs do the talking and the PDs shut up. You can’t compete against the iPod with more music and less talk on the radio.

The study deals with something called parasocial interaction or PSI. It is a term to describe the illusion of intimacy between media personalities and audience members. PSI looks at the relationship between a “regular person” and the “famous” like movie stars, athletes and radio personalities. PSI is a powerful force that creates a bond between the listener and the host that results in appointment tuning and more time spent listening (TSL) to the radio station when their favourite announcer is on the air.

Here are the numbers:

  • The study involved 733 participants – 69.5% female and 30.5% male. Results showed basically the same PSI for men and women
  • The bond is so strong that 55% of respondents say they listen to their favourite personality on a computer or mobile device when they are away from the radio
  • On a typical day respondents say they listen to their favourite host for two to four hours
  • 81.1% say they listen to their favourite radio personality whenever I can
  • 51% say they have purchased a product or service advertised during their favourite radio personality’s show
  • 75% turn on the radio because they know their favourite personality is on the air
  • 79.4% listen longer to the radio station because their favourite personality is on the air
  • 58.6% listen more frequently than in the past because of their favourite personality
  • 85% change the station less frequently when their favourite personality is on the air
  • 71.6% talk to their friends about their favourite personalty or what they heard on the program

Remember, this study is about music radio DJ’s who have limited time to speak between  songs. This is what surprises me the most about the study results.

Social media plays a huge role in PSI. It allows the fan to feel even more connected to their favourite host. Study results show how important it is for radio announcers to have a profile on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

  • 70% of respondents follow their favourite personality and/or radio station on social media
  • 55.2% say following hosts on social media makes them feel like they know the host better
  • 54.5% follow the host on Facebook; 24.3% on Twitter and 11.7% on YouTube
  • 61.4% follow the radio station on Facebook, 22.5% on Twitter and 9.4% on YouTube

From where I sit On The Kowch, this study shows social media probably plays as big a role in establishing PSI as what you do on the air as an announcer. It is an important tool to build your fan base, your ratings and your job security in radio. Never mind the numbers … look at the answers to two open-ended questions in the poll. I believe the answers hold the key to being successful in radio and beating your competition.

What makes him/her/them your favourite radio personality?

  • Connects with the audience, feels like they’re one of us

Explain why communicating through social media with your favourite radio personality makes you feel like you know them better?

  • By taking the time to respond we build on a relationship even if we have not met or he does not know me personally
  • I think by reading posts on Facebook from my favourite radio station and/or personality helps me feel a bit more connected, and allows me to share my opinions with them easier. It definitely aids in bringing the station closer to its fans and the fans  have a chance to ask for a specific request, share a memory and just ask a question. Makes the station seem more “down to earth” and approachable.
  • Because I hear about their everyday life makes me feel connected.

Steve was in charge of programming Canada’s two largest newstalk radio stations for 14 years

You can email Steve at steve@kowchmedia.com

Follow kowchmedia on Facebook