Play-by-play announcers are often the target of sports fans’ ire. I know because I am one (a fan, that is). Back in 1980, NBC took heed and aired a football game with no announcers…just the stadium P.A. and crowd noise. Dick Enberg, NBC’s lead football announcer at the time, said afterward: “The final outcome, with much relief, was the fact after watching for a quarter or two that, you know, something was missing. It was us.”

Enberg continued: “While we are not the most important ingredients in the pie, we certainly are a slice of that pie that gives the whole experience full flavor.”

OK, Enberg is hardly an objective observer! But face it: Had the broadcast been successful, you know NBC would’ve waved bye-bye to Enberg and his other highly-paid colleagues, just as radio groups have been cutting back on personalities for years now. “It’s all about the Benjamins,” right?

So, what do listeners think? Do personalities “add value” to radio? Do they make it better, or worse?

To find out, we completed 953 online interviews with 18-64’s in the U.S. from June 18-19th. Respondents either listened to FM or AM radio, “pure plays” like Pandora, Spotify, etc., podcast or satellite radio.

And we asked them to Think about the PEOPLE on radio — announcers, personalities or personality teams. Overall, how do the people on radio affect your interest and enjoyment in listening to it? Do the people on radio make radio…a lot better to listen to, a little better to listen to, a little worse to listen to, or a lot worse to listen to?

A LOT BETTER to listen to 47%
A LITTLE BETTER to listen to      . 39%
A LITTLE WORSE to listen to   7%
A LOT WORSE to listen to   2%
Don’t know   5%

I’m shocked at how overwhelming the consensus is. The vast majority think personalities make radio better. Nearly half think they make radio a lot better.

And this attitude is across the board, demographically.  Yes, women are a bit more enthused about personalities’ contributions than men are, and 55-64’s somewhat more enthused than younger listeners. But even in the least positive cell — 35-44 men — 78% think the people on radio make it better, 40% a lot better!

If respondents indicated that personalities make radio better (or worse), we asked them How do the people on radio make it better to listen to? (or worse to listen to)…

For the “betters,” humor is clearly the #1 benefit:

Funny 24%
Interesting/engaging 12%
Informative (about music, events)   9%
Entertaining   8%
The music/songs they play   6%
Have good/clear voices   4%
Have/add fun   4%
Have good topics/opinions   4%
Have good personalities   3%
Add energy/enthusiasm/excitement   .   3%
Make it more personal/relatable   3%
Happy/cheerful/upbeat   2%
Friendly/like a friend   2%
Other 35%
Don’t know   8%

Note that these are percentages among those who think the people on radio make it better (a lot, or a little). The percentages add up to more than 100% because some some respondents gave more than a single reason.

Among those who think the people on radio make it worse, it’s about the music more than anything else…25% of them only want music, and 20% say personalities talk too much and don’t play enough music. But it’s not only about music…15% find personalities annoying, 12% uninteresting, 11% unintelligent, and 10% unfunny (even though they try to be).

But, getting back to the majority, it’s worth noting that a number of them put a big “if” in their comments. What they’re saying is that personalities can make radio better if they’re funny, or interesting, etc. The implication is that they aren’t all or always that positive. For example:

If they are funny and you can relate to them, it makes me much more likely to listen.

If they are interesting and have something interesting to talk about.

If they do not spend too much time talking and just play more music.

If they aren’t stupid, don’t talk a lot or act childish they make the station better.

If they’re entertaining, interesting, or interactive it can make it a more enjoyable experience.  If they’re dull or just there to announce song titles, then they detract.

My takeaway from all this is that personalities are a powerful asset for traditional radio in meeting the challenge posed by “music only” alternatives. Of course they need to be interesting, entertaining, informative, etc.

Bottom line: Radio shouldn’t be cutting back on personalities…it should be developing them!