Are We Thinking About TSL All Wrong?


The Portable People Meter fundamentally changed Radio’s Time Spent Listening reality. For decades, the recall-based diary ratings system reported the average listening occasion to a station was one hour or more. Today, the average listening occasion reported by PPM is only 9 to 10 minutes. Naturally, this dramatic difference in the length of a recalled listening occasion versus a monitored occasion resulted in programmers making significant modifications to their programming formulas.


Radio programmers responded to the shorter PPM listening occasions by implementing new tactics designed to address the new reality:


  • Reducing the size of playlists and greatly increasing rotations
  • Removing extraneous talk and limiting interruptions
  • Setting specific times for people to listen hoping to receive another 10-minute listening occasion


How are these TSL tactics working?  According to Nielsen, the average daily time spent listening to the radio per adult in the United States from 1st quarter 2016 to 1st quarter 2020 (pre-COVID) has dropped every year during this period from 112 minutes to 99 minutes. The problem is most music stations are now programming to the 10-minute average listening occasion. And when we program for 10-minute listening occasions, guess what, we get 10 minutes of TSL per occasion.


Unquestionably, there are more and more entertainment options fighting for consumers time and attention. In 2021, it’s estimated the average person encountered between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day.


In a world of nonstop ads, texts, tweets and app notifications, immersive content can feel like a welcome break and studies have shown bingeworthy content is a welcome refuge from our busy lives. Isn’t this a role radio can fill?


The TSL trend line is clear. Our current obsession with programming in 10-minute blocks isn’t working. If your station sounds more like a Jukebox than a Show, and you are spending more time manipulating the ad breaks to program more commercial free hours than programming a station designed to attract, captivate, and ultimately conquer an audience, you’re in trouble. We’re at a fork in the road. We can continue down the 10-minute declining TSL path or we can believe radio still has the potential to be something much more.  I’ll take the much more path because I refuse to accept 10-minute listening occasions is the best Radio can do.


Ken Benson is a multi-award-winning contemporary radio and music television programmer. Today, Ken is a co-founder and partner of P1 Media Group, providing insights and strategies to leading media companies around the world. He can be reached at