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“Padding” the numbers/stats

When you volunteer to be an online DJ, show host or “presenter”, listener counts are a valid motivation. After all, if you’re sitting at home dedicating the time to put together a show, make announcements or follow some station criteria – ads, news, etc – you would like to know it isn’t just for your benefit, right?

Listener counts also matter when attracting potential advertisers because, like you, they *may* not want to spend the money to have their ad played for the DJ only. The whole reason a business would pay for advertising is to get the word out about the company, what they offer, specials/deals.

What can an online station do to curb this doubt, both for the DJ and potential advertiser? Pad the numbers. Do all stations do it? Probably not, but it is fairly common. With the proliferation of online stations out there, the listener base diminishes drastically. The older stations may already have a loyal fanbase and followers, so why would they jump ship to an unknown station? So, you start your station and discover the costs are astronomical thanks to laws that were set many years ago regarding licensing and royalties. Of course, commercial stations have always paid royalties. But, when online stations became a “thing”, the commercial stations started seeing their listener base drop. As a former commercial FM listener, why continue to listen to the same 10-song playlist ever hour, interrupted by 10-20 minutes of the same commercials? Why call the “listener line” to make a request only to hear a busy signal for hours? As commercial radio stations disconnected themselves from their listeners, online stations were mixing up the music, taking requests and doing a better job of providing a service. As the interest online grew, the National Association of Broadcasters, and other entities, decided to make it almost financially impossible for small online groups to broadcast online. The laws created were, and still are, very strict and any violation would result in major fines, upwards of $10,000+. Online stations now had to attract businesses to help offset these royalty and licensing fees. Special niche stations would seek businesses that were in the same niche market, which makes perfect sense. You each share a common audience but for a business to help support the station financially, how many listeners are in that audience? The same thing happens in commercial radio – a #1 rated station can charge more for advertising space than a #20 station in the same market. Similarly, a number 1 show on the radio can charge more for advertising than the midnight show that may have half of the overall listeners at any time. Ego plays an important role in this as well for both commercial and online stations and personalities.

Start your online station, ask businesses to help fund your expenses. How many listeners do you have? Checking the stream logs, you can show there are 3 to 5 listeners per hour. Sorry, that is not enough to pay for an advertisement. Check back in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, the station operator or one of his/her co-partners, learns that if you open the online station player multiple times, your listeners numbers go up as well. If I open 20 players on my desktop and my co-partner opens 20 players, our listenership is now 43 to 45!! As a DJ/presenter in an already overly crowded broadcast space (online), that is impressive and, since most station operators do not give access to the actual streaming logs, the DJ will never know there are really only 3 to 5 listeners – the operator and co-partner are probably not even tuned in but the apps are still running. Another method to fake listener numbers is to simply add a number prior to the actual count. What is displayed or shown on a spreadsheet can be manipulated easily enough, similar to “padding” numbers on website visitor counts.

One way to gauge this is through listener interaction. Is there a chat function or “listener” call-in number? If there is (never) any interaction with listeners, it could be because there are none. Try bringing this up with the station operator – “it’s that time of year again” or “just because they aren’t chatting or calling, they are still out there listening”. The latter could be true but doubtful.

I’ve been an online presenter, DJ, announcer and podcaster for many years. I have seen the tricks, the deception and egos. Most online stations are voluntary except for your time so do you value your time? At some point, you have to be asking yourself, “am I sitting here for 2-4 hours doing this for myself?”. I invest in the DJ software, a couple of DJ pools for music, as well as my own collection, my internet and of course the time to do it…it is worth something. If you’re not receiving any feedback other than excuses. but your numbers appear to be really good, or the station operator tells you they are really good, you might want to reconsider. Unless you are only doing this for yourself.