Clocking Off


Can you imagine how boring football would be if you knew exactly when the goals would be scored? How about if every movie you saw followed the same pattern with the car chases, romantic bits and intense dialog all neatly spaced out? What if every concert opened with the artist playing a hot 80’s hit followed by one that was a hit last year, followed by something current? Well that’s how those forms of entertainment would be if radio programmers were in charge.

No other form of entertainment balances out it’s content on a clock like radio does. Everything is programmed using the clock. Music, travel news, even listener phone calls all happen at the same time in each hour and for the same amount of time. All of the content is balanced out so you get a bit of everything. You never hear two 80s songs in a row or a block of phone calls or anything that goes on for longer than about three minutes.

Radio station bosses get really obsessed with these clocks, to the point of letting it hurt the output. On one station I presented on, I had a five minute window to interview a cabinet minister down the line. I only ended up with three minutes to talk to him because the producer made me put him on hold for the first two minutes because the clock said we had to cross to the travel desk.

The clock does the most damage at breakfast time when more people are listening in the car. Everything happens in short bursts. That means multiple exit points are created where the listener can punch out. In the car, the button that lets you do that is right there, at arms length. We even play produced stings, sweepers and jingles to signpost to the listener that this bit they’re really enjoying is finished now and there’s no reason to keep listening, because we’re going to be doing something different for the next three minutes.

Not all radio people are obsessed with clocks. About ten years ago, the American radio consultant Dan O’Day gave an interesting talk about the amount of exit points radio gives the listener. He even went as far as attributing a large part of Howard Stern’s success to the fact that his show doesn’t have anywhere near as many exit points as other shows. When you listen to Howard, you hear all of the content delivered in long blocks. When he was on terrestrial radio, his long blocks of content were followed by long blocks of commercials, some commercial breaks lasted as long as ten minutes.

If the “clock” is so important, how come football, movies, concerts and Howard Stern are so popular?

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