Drive time brings radio broadcasters the largest audiences and highest commercial revenues. It’s been that way for fifty years.
Radio broadcasting and automobiles have a long history together. People have been listening to radio in their cars and trucks for more than 90 years. If you are of a certain age, you may remember having an AM-only car radio. These ruled the day until FM arrived in the 1950’s followed soon by FM stereo ten years later.
Radio broadcasting gave new meaning to “captive audience.” Cities and suburbs grew, traffic got heavier, and work commutes longer. By the 1960’s, drive time became the most important radio day parts. They still are, with the most listeners and advertising revenues.
Morning drive typically runs from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Programming focuses on what you need to know to start your day: news, sports, weather and traffic, with a few jokes and music thrown in. The best morning shows become habits, like brushing your teeth and getting dressed. A seamless transition from bed to breakfast to bedlam on the roads. It counts on audience wanting to be alert and active.
Afternoon drive is more relaxing, more musical. Running from 3 p.m. to 7 pm. it supports transition towards personal activities, family and friends. Enough work, more play.
In my radio announcing days, drive time was a catch 22. Everyone wanted to do the morning show and be a star. But who really wanted to get up at 3:30 a.m. five days a week?
Drive Time Challenges – Then and Now
Many alternatives have challenged radio in the car. Back in the 1950’s, some manufacturers experimented with record players in the car. That never worked. But soon came eight track tapes, audio tapes and CD players. Now, it’s all abut connecting your smart devices making your car an integrated entertainment system. So, instead of radio, you can listen to your iPod.
What’s more, people commute in different ways, particularly more mass transit. Radio audiences are less captive. On the train, you can read a book, surf the web, make a phone call, socialize, or even work.