Learning from radio

The Glory of Morning

Young people… in the 1980s, we used to have this woman, on TV, while we ate breakfast

The big theme running through this blog is the joy of television and of humanity.  To know why we watch what we watch is to understand the very essence of being human.

The second theme is about time.  We are here to celebrate the joy of each passing day, the ups and downs, warp and weft … the tapestry of the hours.  You can read more about this in the Clock page.

So imagine how delighted I was to receive a ‘Bite Sized Thought Piece’ from the Censydiam team at Ipsos CT entitled Breakfast Radio: the most important media of the day?

It’s the best sort of audience research because it:

Takes insights into the human condition derived from listening to people expressing themselves,

Recognises that time of day matters. We can’t talk about what we need on TV or radio without talking about a specific time of day.

Runs it through a powerful model to help it make sense, and

Provides prescriptions for media practitioners – that is, it tells them what to do.


News also reaches us that ITV have ‘lost’ another editor after failing to revive the audience for Daybreak.  The best thing ITV could do might be to read the research that Ipsos have published for radio, and apply it to their troubled morning programme.

Let’s take a look:

Radio succeeds first thing when it is in tune with the needs we have after we have got up.

You can watch a film about these needs here

Just for a change, at breakfast, television plays second fiddle to radio.  And that’s because radio is more effective in fitting the coping strategies people deploy when they wake up.

After being asleep, some people want to re-connect with other people – that’s how they put themselves together.

Others prefer to do something energetic – to kick themselves into life.

Some prefer to enjoy the feeling of security – replacing the cosiness of their bed with the warmth of a familiar voice.

And there’s the sort who want an immediate briefing – information about what’s been going on overnight.

Radio stations are successful when they choose one or two needs and deliver on them.  The Today show arms its audience with information, reassures its audience that it is clever for listening to the programme, while sticking to a familiar formula that provides reassurance.  Some music stations provide a high-energy jolt.  Chris Evans, according to Ipsos, provides a sense of community, and conviviality – a welcoming mix – when you listen you are engaging with others, rather than working through things yourself.

Interestingly, the morning TV programmes calibrate their output to a gradual lowering of social class during the breakfast period. Before 6, the audience is more likely to be a more serious business-person.  After that, with each half-hour, the audience becomes more mainstream and more female.  So the output can be flexed to suit audience types. But fundamentally it’s an awkward time of day in the first place.

Breakfast shifts:
5.30 – 6.30am Cleese
6.30 -7.30am Barker
7.30- 8.30am Corbett

8.30 – 9.30 am.
Possibly with child in tow

9.30 – 10.30am Mr Gumby.
The audience for Jeremy Kyle

Television struggles at breakfast time and always has done (I wrote about it here).  Most people don’t want the distraction of having to look at something when they are working through the functional processes required to set off for work or to prepare children for school, or to start another day’s routine.  A former editor of BBC Breakfast has explained to me how important the presenters are – viewers need a friendly and familiar face – so they are changed at your peril.  This alone, explains a big part of Daybreak’s problem.  As Ipsos explains in the film below, any change in the people you spend your morning with on radio, leads to a fall in audience before it (hopefully) picks up.

When a programme is struggling in the way Daybreak seems to be, it is normal to look at the presenters or format.  But it might be more sensible to look at the audience. ITV needs to come back to fundamentals – take a deep look at what humans need at breakfast time, settle on one or two needs, and design a programme to deliver on that.  The Ipsos research would help them choose one. My personal feeling is that ITV should find out which needs are delivered by the BBC Breakfast programme, and go for the complete opposite.  There may only be room in the UK for two dedicated TV broadcasters at breakfast, so there’s plenty of options, but ITV need to be clear what Daybreak is for.  If it tries to satisfy all the possible audience needs a little it will fail – better to super-deliver on one need a lot.

One final thing.  As Ipsos explain,Terry Wogan used to provide a feeling of security to his audience on Radio 2.  Long before broadcasters decided that social media needed to be incorporated into their output (tweet this, text that….), Terry created a sense of community by talking about his listeners and the letters they sent him.  I would ignore what Ipsos say in the film above about online social media, and concentrate on their wider point – about the need to create a sense of tribalism, of warmth and belonging.

Come on ITV, sort it out.

And streeetch…


Here’s a second film from the Ipsos research about radio:

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