What most listeners don’t know about radio commercials

You’re sitting in your car listening to the radio. A song ends, and the DJ says something, and then commercials start. You change the station, and that one is playing commercials too. Another button, another commercial.

Why do they all seem to play commercials at the same time?


There is a company that gives a select number people a device called a PPM (portable people meter) and this meter listens to sounds that are embedded in the radio signal, but you can’t hear them. What those people listen to gets tracked and measured and through the magic of statistics and extrapolation voila: radio ratings.

All of that makes sense, right? Now, here’s the part you might not know.

5=15 OR 5=0

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/96029422@N00/3041923556

The clock is chopped up into four different quarter hours of 15 minutes. 00–15, 15–30, 30–45 and 45–00. You have to listen to a station for 5 minutes within one of those quarter hours for a station to claim you as a listener.

Those 5 minutes don’t have to be contiguous, but they do have to fall into one of those quarter hours.

Get it?

For example, if I listen to a radio station from :01 to :06 they get credit for me as a listener. If I listen from :31 to :33 (2 minutes) and then again from :41 to :44 (3 minutes) they get credit for me as a listener.

Got it?

Not only do they get credit for me as a listener, but as long as I meet that 5 minute minimum, within a defined 15 minute quarter hour, it counts as if I listened to the entire 15 minutes.

If I listen for less than 5 minutes in a quarter hour, it doesn’t get credited as anything. It’s considered zero, zilch, nada.

So, here’s a little quiz: if I listen to a radio station from :12 to :17 what do they get credit for?


That’s 5 straight minutes of listening, but my five minutes wasn’t wihtin one quarter hour. It’s 3 minnutes from one quarter hour, and two minutes from another, and those don’t get added up.

So you see: five either equals fifteen, or five equals zero.


Radio stations use different strategies around those times.

As my friend and radio ratings genius Michael O’Connor points out, life seems to happen at the half-hour. People leave the house at 7:30 to get to work at 8. Or they leave work at 5:00 to get home… or whatever. Life is scheduled at :00 or :30. With that in mind, a station might want to have their commercials complete before the start of those quarter hours. And maybe they don’t care as much about the quarter hour at :15 and :45 so ads might run from :12 to :17.

Now the next time you find yourself flipping around avoiding commercials, take notice of the time and you can figure out who is trying to get and keep your attention around the clock.

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/beckyjohns/

What can you do about all those commercials? If you’re going to keep listening to free over the air radio, nothing really. Otherwise, you could play music from a CD, or your phone, or listen to a podcast or…



Father, husband. Created the WarnerMedia Podcast Network. Wheel, snipe, celly.

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Tyler Moody

Father, husband. Created the WarnerMedia Podcast Network. Wheel, snipe, celly.