I’ve never been one to trash other research guys. I think there isn’t enough mutual respect among researchers. Still, I’ve got to take issue with one aspect of the recent Edison/Arbitron spot load study…

Most of the study deals with listeners’ attitudes toward radio commercials, whether they perceive spot loads to be increasing or decreasing, and how spot loads affect their listening, and so on. For example, 44% say they’d listen to a station “a lot more” if it ran shorter spotsets, and 47% say they’d listen “a lot more” if it had noticeably fewer spot breaks.

Fine.

But then Edison takes the process one step too far. They ask: “If your favorite radio station played 12 ads an hour, would you prefer…Stopping two times an hour with six ads in each break, or Stopping three times an hour with four ads in each break.”

Listeners Prefer Three Breaks of Four Spots Over Two Breaks of Six Spots, proclaims Edison, based on the fact that 57% opt for the former versus 34% for the latter.

While I have no doubt this accurately portrays an attitude listeners have about radio commercials, it is a meaningless question with misleading results.

WHY MISLEADING? Because it would be a mistake to conclude — based on this one finding — that your station would be better off splitting its spot load into more and shorter breaks.

For one thing, many listeners tune out when you hit a spot break, especially in their vehicles. When in car, this research tells us, 72% tune out when a commercial comes on…34% “always” or “usually” do! At that point, do they know if it is a four minute break? A six minute break? Uh Uh. Doesn’t matter, they’re gone.

WHY MEANINGLESS? Because the underlying assumption — the one that many radio managers will accept, I’m afraid — is that listeners know what they would do given each scenario. And they don’t. They’re not radio experts. They may like the idea of more and shorter breaks, but that does not mean they’re going to listen more to your station if you implement that approach!

Research is a terrific tool (I endorse it!) But that does not mean that you can get the answer to every question you have merely by asking listeners! There are some things they don’t know or understand.

For example, let’s say that you have a CHR station and you’re concerned about its repetition. If you ask listeners how often your station should repeat the most popular songs, do you think they’ll tell you every 90 minutes? Every 2.25 hours? Every three hours? Try it…you’ll find that listeners have no idea how often you have to repeat the hottest hits so that they’ll hear them when they want to. Don’t bother asking them.

Don’t ask them how long a newscast should be. They don’t know. Don’t ask them how many different songs your station should play….they’d be shocked to find out how few you actually do play (even if your name is “Jack”).

Don’t ask them because they don’t know.

Here’s what listeners do know: They know what they like. And they know what they perceive. Research can get at both of those things. And if we know both of those things, we can infer most of the things you need to know to serve them.

But not everything.