The Effects of Auditory Complexity
on Listeners' Attitudes and Memory for
Radio Promotional Announcements
Robert F. Potter
Institute for Communication Research
Telecommunication and Film Department
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
Paper submitted to the Communication Theory and Methodology Division of
The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for
at their annual convention in New Orleans, LA
Address correspondence to the first author in care of the University of Alabama
or via email at
[log in to unmask] Sounds
The Effects of Auditory Complexity on Listeners' Attitudes and Memory for
Radio Promotional Announcements
This experiment tested the ability of a limited-capacity model of cognition to
reactions to changes in the structural complexity of radio promotional
research shows that certain auditory structural features cause listeners to
cognitive resources to message encoding. This study shows that increasing the
number of such
features in promos leads to better recognition, free recall, delayed free
recall, and more positive
attitudes about promos and the stations that produce them.
The Effects of Auditory Complexity on Listeners' Attitudes and Memory for
Radio Promotional Announcements
Despite decades of predictions to the contrary, radio continues to be a medium
millions of Americans. There are over 11,000 radio stations in this country,
and over five radios
in every United States household (Mateliski, 1995). What's more, those radios
are being listened
to by a lot of people. Recent industry research indicates that as many as 80%
of American adults
listen to the radio daily compared to only 73% of adults who watch television
(Merli, 1998). In
fact, over the past decade the radio audience has continuously increased while
the audience for
both television and newspapers have declined (Ditingo, 1998). Whether we are
tuning in to hear
weather and traffic updates, a new hip-hop song, or the public debate
surrounding the latest
political scandal, there is little doubt that radio continues to be a vital
ingredient in the daily media
menu of many individuals, and that the number of people being reached by radio
The ubiquity of the medium has not gone unnoticed by advertisers, who are
funnel more than $16 billion into local station and network radio in 1999
(Ditingo, 1998). Such
strong audience and revenue projections have resulted in a flurry of investments
broadcasting properties. This, in turn, has led to heightened concentration of
station ownership a
phenomenon made possible by the relaxation of ownership restrictions after the
passage of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996. The importance media investors give to radio is
exemplified by Chancellor Media Corporation, who owned 19 radio stations in 1996
paid $4.1 billion to purchase Capstar Broadcasting Company. This gave
distinction of being the largest radio owner in the country with a total of 355
properties in over
100 markets (Rathburn, 1998).
With the size of the audience increasing and the amount of money being invested
in and on
radio stations reaching unprecedented levels, there is little doubt that both
the public and the
business sector are taking the medium extremely seriously. It is surprising,
therefore, that the
academic community has not been affording radio the same level of importance.
Dennis (1995) note that researchers have spent comparatively little time and
radio programming, the radio industry, or how audiences process purely auditory
There have been hopeful signs that this may be in the process of changing,
1998). Recent volumes of the Journal of Radio Studies have included insightful
inquiries in the
area of radio formats and programming (Carroll & Perry, 1995; MacFarland, 1995;
1998), as well as research designed to show the impact of different radio news
on listener perceptions and memory (Gerhard, 1992; Greenberg & Busselle, 1997).
In another line of research focusing on radio message processing (Potter, 1998;
Lang, & Bolls, 1997, 1998), a limited-capacity model of cognition has been
employed to predict
listeners' physiological responses to, and subsequent memory for, purely
auditory signals such as
radio messages. The limited-capacity model conceptualizes individuals as
with a single, finite pool of cognitive resources (Lang, 1996; Lang, Geiger,
1993). According to the model, the execution of any act of cognition, including
the processing of
mediated messages, requires resources to be allocated from the limited pool and
applied to a
combination of (at least) three cognitive tasks: encoding, storage, and
retrieval. Encoding is
selecting information from the multitude of details in the (real and mediated)
allowing it to pass into short-term memory. Storage is the transfer of
information from short-
term memory into long-term memory. Retrieval is the ability to acquire the
long-term memory for use and further processing at a later point in time.
When using the media, how well an individual encodes, stores, and retrieves
depends upon several factors. An important one, of course, is the significance
or interest that a
viewer or listener places on the content of the message. However, the
conceptualizes a mediated message as containing various structural features,
several of which
elicit a call for an automatic allocation of cognitive resources by viewers to
the task of encoding.
For example, research has shown that viewers automatically allocate resources to
encoding in response to unrelated cuts (Lang, Bolls, Potter, & Kawahara, in
press), related cuts
(Lang, Zhou, Schwartz, Bolls, & Potter, under review), the onset of television
& Lang, 1992), negative video (Lang, Newhagen, & Reeves, 1996), and picture
(Detenber, Simons, & Bennet, 1998).
The work of Potter and his colleagues (Potter, et al., 1997) indicates that
can be similarly conceptualized as consisting of a number of different
structural features, some of
which elicit calls for automatic resource allocation in listeners.
Specifically, sound effects,
production effects, vocal processing, character voices, music onset, and voice
(replacement of one announcer's voice by another) have been identified as
structural features that
lead to resource allocation both in listeners actively involved in radio
messages and in listeners
who are not (Potter, Lang, & Bolls, 1998; Potter, et al., 1997).
Since the limited-capacity model of television processing generalizes to radio
at least to
the extent that messages in both media can be described as containing structural
affect cognitive processing a logical next step is to see if the model can
predict radio listeners'
memory and attitudinal responses in the same way it can for television viewers.
experiment was designed that varied the level of auditory structural features in
announcements (promos) and measured listeners' responses to them.
Why conduct research in radio promotions?
Beginning to generalize the limited-capacity model of television viewing to
such as radio, is an important step in advancing mass communication processing
1996). From a practical standpoint, however, there are several reasons why we
chose to explore
listener reaction to on-air radio promotional messages. First, while the
scarcity of research in the
area of radio has already been mentioned, Williams (1998) notes that nowhere is
the absence of
systematic research more apparent than in the area of promotions, where almost
work has been done. Second, it is in promotions where knowledge about how to
effective audio messages can be immediately applied by radio practitioners.
"The Four P's of Marketing" (Product, Place, Price, and Promotion; Berkowitz,
& Rudelius, 1992), it is primarily in the area of promotion where local radio
managers can have a
substantial impact on the sound and image of their station. As Buchman (1991)
has argued, in the
American radio marketplace station owners and programming consultants often
station's product in terms of format and music titles played; individual
listeners determine the
place where radio content is consumed, and the price of radio is free aside from
inconveniences of commercial interruption. The creative control behind the
design and execution
of on-air promotional campaigns and the production of pre-recorded promos,
primarily in the hands of local Program Directors, Promotion Managers, and
Directors. This is even the case at individual stations that are a part of
large media conglomerates
The substantial impact that research findings could have on the overall success
of a radio
property provides another reason why promotion is an important area to
which variables positively affect listeners' perceptions of a station, or
identifying how to make a
station's call letters easier to remember, could translate into significant
increases in that station's
ratings. Local radio ratings data are collected by the Arbitron Ratings Company
who mails paper
diaries to a random sample of residents in each market (Webster & Lichty, 1991).
are asked to record their radio listening over the course of a 7-day period. An
to this methodology is that listeners tend not to be diligent in their record
keeping and instead
often try to recall an entire week's worth of listening just prior to sending
the diary back to
Arbitron. It is arguable, therefore, that actual listening is not as important
as the perception a
listener has of a particular station and the ease with which the station's call
letters, dial position,
or marketing positioning statement can be recalled. This is precisely the
argument made by
Because of the delay between listening and reporting, many promotion
broadcast marketing consultants believe that the positioning of a station
relative to the
positions occupied by its competitors is vastly more important for ratings
actual station listening. Because they are unlikely to recall all of their
many Arbitron diary-keepers. . .will respond in the survey by naming the
presents the image with which they most closely identify, rather than with
description of their actual listening behavior (p. 142).
So, by conducting research on the effects of auditory structural variables on
listeners' reactions to
radio promos, not only can we investigate an area where results can be
immediately applied, but
also where such an application can have substantial impact.
Measuring the effectiveness of radio promotions
Most television promos are designed to inform viewers about a particular
program and direct them to an exact day and time when that episode will be
1991). This has led much of the research in television promotion effectiveness
to use the Nielsen
ratings that the promoted episode received as an outcome variable (Walker, 1993;
Newton, Riggs, & Neal-Lunsford, 1997; Eastman & Newton, 1999). Such a research
less practical for the study of radio promo effectiveness since modern radio
delivers regularly scheduled "shows" to an audience in a manner similar to
radio programming is delivered as an on-air format a style of music, news, or
designed to attract a specific demographic and psychographic audience (Keith,
1987). Most radio
promos, therefore, do not direct the audience to listen at a particular day and
time but rather are
designed to create a strong image of the radio station in the minds of listeners
As a result of this fundamental difference in the goals of radio and television
promotional campaigns, this experiment did not use ratings as a dependent
measure but rather
chose to vary structural attributes of radio promos and measure changes in: 1)
toward the promos, 2) listener attitudes toward the stations that produced the
promos, and 3)
listener memory for the promos
The effects auditory complexity on listener recognition memory
Early work in children's attention to television showed that information
the audio track was just as important as anything that appeared on the screen,
if not more so
(Anderson & Lorch, 1983; Watt & Welch, 1983). Watt and Welch (1983), for
that changes in the audio track caused previously inattentive children to turn
and look at Sesame
Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Furthermore, programs that had a
soundtrack high in
auditory structural complexity resulted in higher recognition memory in young
programs with comparatively simple soundtracks.
Watt (1994) later transferred the concept of auditory complexity to radio
describing how each audio production could be classified along a continuum
anchored by the
poles "high dynamic complexity" and "dynamic simplicity". For example, a
several quick cuts between an announcer, music, and sound effects would be
classified as highly
complex. On the other hand, a commercial containing no music or sound effects
and only a single
announcer giving a flat delivery would be classified as simple.
Potter, Lang, & Bolls (1998) expanded on Watt's definition by specifically
auditory elements that increase the structural complexity of a radio message.
Their findings show
that introducing sound effects, production effects, music, funny voices, and
changes between two
different announcers increases the amount of cognitive resources that listeners
processing the message. Furthermore, this increase in resource allocation
resulted in better
recognition memory for information immediately following complexity features
information immediately preceding them.
Building on these results, Potter (1998) conducted an experiment in which the
voice changes between two announcers was systematically varied in a series of
messages with simple content. One purpose of this study was to determine if the
allocation of resources to voice changes would eventually cease after the
structural feature had
been repeated a number of times. This habituation phenomenon is exhibited by
response to more simple auditory stimuli such as short, single-frequency tone
pips or white noise
(Graham, 1973; Gianaros & Quigly, 1997). Potter's (1999) results show that, at
least over the
course of 2-minute messages, radio listeners did not habituate to voice changes.
structural feature consistently resulted in automatic resource allocation.
A second purpose of the experiment was to test whether increasing the number of
structural feature was used in a radio production would increase the automatic
cognitive resources to encoding, and thereby improve listeners' recognition
information in the message. Results confirmed this prediction; participants had
memory for messages with a high number of voice changes compared to messages
with only a few
of them (Potter, 1998).
The current study applies these results to the task of listening to radio
announcements that vary in their level of auditory structural complexity. A
promo's level of
auditory structural complexity is conceptually defined as the number of
structural features it contains. It is predicted that promos with a high number
of these features
will cause listeners to experience a series of calls for automatic resource
allocation to encoding
while promos without these features will not lead to such a series of calls. As
a result, it is
expected that information in highly complex radio promos will be better encoded
in simple promos. Since past research has used recognition memory as a measure
effectiveness (Lang, 1995; Zechmeister & Nyberg, 1982), the following hypothesis
H1: There will be a main effect of auditory complexity on recognition
that participants will have better recognition for information in complex
compared to simple promos.
The effects of auditory complexity on listener arousal and recall
Many media scholars have noted the important role that audience arousal plays in
processing (Singer, 1980; Zillmann, 1982; Christ, 1985; Perse, 1996).
arousal has been viewed as resulting primarily from programming content.
However, Lang and
her colleagues (Lang, et al, in press) have shown that regardless of the
arousingness of the
content they are watching, viewer arousal levels are also affected by altering
complexity of the messages. Increasing the number of structural features in a
for example, leads to an increase in viewers' self-reported arousal.
While no published research investigates how increasing the number of structural
in audio messages relates to listener arousal, the results from the television
literature support the
H2: There will be a main effect of auditory complexity on self-reported
such that complex radio promos will be more arousing than simple promos.
The psychology of emotion literature has shown that when people are aroused they
automatically allocate a portion of their limited cognitive resources to storing
information in long-
term memory (P.J. Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1997). This automatic allocation
results in better
free-recall of information processed during periods of high arousal compared to
periods of relative
calm (Bradley, 1994). This effect has been repeatedly shown in television
viewers (Lang, Dhillon,
& Dong, 1995; Bolls, Potter, & Lang, 1996) and has recently been extended to
(Bolls, Lang, Potter, & Snyder, 1999). Therefore, if increasing the structural
complexity of radio
promos is expected to increase listener arousal levels, the limited-capacity
model predicts that
listeners will automatically allocate cognitive resources to storing information
in the promos.
H3: There will be a main effect of complexity on free recall memory
listeners will recall
more complex radio promos than simple promos.
The effects of auditory complexity on listener attitudes
Petty and Cacioppo's (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion
a theoretical basis for predictions made about the effects of auditory
complexity on listener
attitudes. The ELM postulates two different types of cognitive processing:
central and peripheral.
In a persuasive context, central processing consists of the careful cognitive
deliberation of points
made by a source. When one engages in peripheral processing, on the other hand,
simple cues in
the persuasive message are employed in order to form attitudes toward the topic
Cacioppo, 1984). Radio promos are not expected to be the type of media that
extremely involved in and process centrally. Rather, it is predicted that
participants will engage in
peripheral processing to a large extent while listening to the promos.
Therefore, we expect that
participants will be quite susceptible to manipulations of executional cues such
structural features when forming attitudes about the promos and the radio
stations that produced
Since a radio promo can be viewed as an advertisement for the station that
(Eastman, 1991), our hypotheses were based on the advertising literature that
applies the ELM to
attitude formulation. Lutz (1985) used the ELM to develop a general attitude
toward the ad
measure (Aad) that has proven to be a good index of whether a person responds
"in a favorable or
unfavorable manner to a particular advertising stimulus during a particular
exposure occasion" (p.
46). Recently, research in television advertising (Yoon, Bolls, & Lang, 1998)
has shown that
viewers have more favorable attitudes toward structurally complex ads compared
simple ones. The same prediction is therefore made concerning radio promos:
H4: There will be a main effect of auditory complexity on listeners'
toward radio promotions. Listeners will have more positive perceptions of
produced with many auditory structural features compared to those produced
a only a few features.
Yoon, Bolls, & Lang (1998) have also shown that increasing the structural
television commercials improves participants' attitudes toward the brand being
Making an analogy between the brand sponsor of a television advertisement and
the radio station
sponsor of a particular promotional announcement leads to the following
H5: There will be a main effect of complexity on attitudes toward the
produced the promos such that listeners will think more positively about
that produced complex promos compared to stations that produced simple
This experiment employed a mixed 2 (Complexity) X 5 (Message) X 2 (Order of
Presentation) factorial design. Order of Presentation was the only
between-subjects factor and
represented the two systematic tape orders created for experimental
Complexity factor was a within-subjects factor with two levels, high and low.
factor was also a within-subjects factor. It had five levels representing the
five promos used in
each level of the Complexity factor.
Participants were 41 undergraduates (22 males) enrolled in courses in the
Communication and Information Sciences at a large Southeastern university. The
provided informed consent and received course credit for their participation.
All were unaware of
the specific purposes of the experiment, but were told the experiment would
people process mediated messages.
Stimulus messages were chosen from cassette tapes obtained through a
Radio and Production magazine. This monthly publication targets radio
and includes discussions of the latest in audio production equipment and
techniques. A regular
monthly feature of the magazine is a cassette tape that features samples of
productions created and submitted by magazine subscribers. These audio
promotional announcements as well as commercials, station identifications, and
The promos used in this study were included on the Radio and Production
November 1997 and September 1998.
Stimulus messages were chosen from this source for two reasons. First, doing so
for the selection of promos from radio stations outside of the listening area in
experiment took place. Secondly, since the promos were submitted by actual
Production Directors and chosen by the editors of an industry production trade
magazine, it was
assumed they represented illustrations of radio production techniques as they
All of the promos on the cassettes were initially judged according to the extent
they used auditory structural features shown to cause automatic cognitive
These features were defined as voice changes (replacement of one voice by
another in the
auditory stream), sound effects, production effects, vocal processing, character
voices, and music
onset. Promos which contained a high number of these features were identified
complex. Promos using only a few of these structural features were considered
simple. Ten advertisements were chosen for inclusion in this experiment, five
the High Complexity level and five representative of the Low Complexity level.
The High and Low levels of the Complexity condition both contained one promo
each of the following programming formats: alternative rock, classic rock, top
40, oldies, and
news/talk. The duration of the promos varied from 30 to 75 seconds. However,
balanced across levels of the Complexity factor. This was done by ensuring that
contained one promo between 30 and 39 seconds in duration, two between 40 and 49
duration, one between 50 and 59 seconds, and one between 60 and 75 seconds.
Two presentation orders of the 10 commercials were created. One of the orders
with a high complexity promotion; the other with a low complexity promotion.
Both orders then
alternated between high and low complexity promotions. The orders were
designed to prevent any two promotions from being heard sequentially in both
Also, to prevent possible primacy and/or recency effects, no promotion appeared
the first or last quarter of both orders.
Since the initial determination of auditory complexity was made subjectively, a
conducted using participants similar to those who would later complete the final
Participants (n=19) completed the pretest in groups of 2-6. The procedure
consisted of listening
to the ten radio promos and completing four semantic differential scales after
hearing each. The
seven-point scales were designed to assess complexity using the following
Complex/Simple; Extreme/Mild; Complicated/Basic; and Extravagant/Plain.
Pretest data were combined into a complexity index for each promo (alpha
.94). These indices were then submitted to a mixed 2 (Order of Presentation) x
2 (Complexity) x
5 (Message) MANOVA. The factors for this analysis were the same as discussed
Results from the pre-test analysis confirmed the earlier classification of the
promotional announcements. High complexity promos were rated as being
complex (M = 4.66, s.d = .58) than low complexity promos (M = 2.85, s.d. = .69,
(F(1, 17) =
130.53, p. < .000)).
Two experimenters conducted the final study, each following the same
protocol. Research participants, who were randomly assigned to one of the two
presentation, were scheduled for participation in the study in groups of three
Participants were instructed they would hear 10 promotional announcements from
stations and would be asked to respond to a short questionnaire following each.
The promos were played one at a time off cassette tape through a portable stereo
player. In between each, the tape was paused and participants filled out
measures consisting of several seven-point scales. The scales included the
Complexity of Promo: Research participants were asked how they would
production elements used in the promotional advertisement. The anchors of
point scales were Complex/Simple, Extreme/Mild, Complicated/Basic, and
Extravagant/Plain. Data obtained in this section served as a manipulation
Overall Attitude Towards the Promotion: Participants were asked how
evaluate the promotion overall. The anchors of the seven-point scales were
Unattractive/Attractive, Depressing/Refreshing, Unappealing/Appealing,
Unpleasant/Pleasant, Dull/Dynamic, and Not Enjoyable/Enjoyable.
Overall Attitude Toward the Station: Research participants were
also asked three
individual questions concerning their impressions of the radio station
that produced the
promo. The anchors of these seven-point questions were
Dull/Exciting, and A Station I Would NEVER Listen To/A Station I Would
Finally, participants provided ratings of their emotional responses to each
promo using the
SAM (Self-Assessment Mankin) scale (Lang, Greenwald, Bradley, & Hamm, 1993).
The SAM is
a series of 3, nine-point pictorial scales used to evaluate self-reported
emotional responses to
stimuli along the dimensions of arousal, valence, and dominance (Bradley, 1994).
The scale has
been found to a valid and reliable measure of emotional responses to advertising
Yoon, Bolls, Lang, & Potter, 1997; Bolls & Potter, 1998) and research in
has shown it to be reliable and valid in responses given to purely auditory
stimuli (Bradley, 1990;
Verona et al., 1997). While data were collected for participants arousal,
valence, and dominance
responses to the promos, only the arousal data are reported here to address
After listening to the radio promos and completing the questionnaires,
asked to review a series of four magazine advertisements and answer questions
appropriateness for a college audience. This procedure served as a distraction
task and was
designed to purge participants' short-term memory for the promos. Following
completion of the
distraction task, participants were told that the researcher was interested in
testing their memory
for the radio promotions. Participants were first instructed to list all the
station names and
promotion descriptions they could remember on a free-recall form. The
consisted of 10 blanks for station names and 10 blanks for promotion
participants had completed the free recall section, they were asked to answer a
series of multiple-
choice questions designed to test recognition memory of information given in the
multiple-choice test was comprised of 10 sheets of paper, each containing 3,
questions about a particular promo. The questions for each announcement were
content taken from each third of the total duration of the promo. For example,
from a 60-second
promo participants were asked to recognize information from each 20 seconds of
The recognition test packets themselves were created in three different orders
of presentation to
control for serial order effects in the recognition data. Participants were
instructed to answer all
30 of the questions, and to guess rather than leave any of the questions
Upon completion of the memory portions of the experiment, participants were
provide their telephone numbers and a convenient time for them to be contacted
researchers 48 to 96 hours later. They were then thanked for their cooperation
and sent away.
During the delayed-recall phase of data collection, participants (n=36) were
telephone and asked to list any of the station names, call letters, and
promotional descriptions they
could remember from the promos they heard during the experiment. Researchers
responses, thanked the participants, and terminated the call.
Mean scores were calculated for all the scales. The pictorial SAM arousal
converted into their appropriate numeric values and mean scores obtained. The
data from each
self-reported category were submitted to a 2 (Complexity) X 5 (Message) X 2
Presentation) repeated measures ANOVA. No significant effects were found for
presentation, the only between subjects factor.
For the immediate and delayed free recall measures each station call letter/name
promotional description recalled was scored and then categorized as either high
complexity. The answers given to the recognition multiple-choice questions were
coded as either
correct or incorrect. Participant's recognition scores for each promo,
therefore, ranged from 0
(no information correctly recognized) to 3 (all information correctly
recognized). All memory
data were analyzed using a 2 (Complexity) X 5 (Message) X 2 (Order of
Even though pretests showed significant differences in the perceived structural
of the two groups of promos, a manipulation check was conducted to ensure that
perceptions were experienced by the participants in the actual experiment. The
same series of 7-
point semantic differential scales used in the pretest were answered by the
their exposure to each promo. Mean responses to the scale items were obtained
submitted to a mixed 2 (Complexity) x 2 (Order) ANOVA. Results show a
manipulation in the two levels of the Complexity factor (F(1,39) = 313.49, p. <
participants finding the messages in the High level more complex (M = 5.14, s.d.
= .70) than the
messages in the Low level (M = 3.21, s.d. = .78).
This hypothesis predicted that participants would have significantly better
memory for information in complex promos compared to simple promos. The
based on the theoretical prediction that the high number of structural features
in the complex
promos would result in more frequent automatic allocation of cognitive resources
encoding. Results show a significant main effect for complexity on recognition
data (F (1,39) =
11.89, p. < .001, 2 = .2140). Listeners had significantly higher recognition
scores for information
in complex promos (M = 10.32 out of 15.00, s.d. = 2.13) compared to information
promos (M = 8.98, s.d. = 2.09). This main effect can be seen in Figure 1.
Hypothesis 1 is
This hypothesis predicted that participants would report feeling more aroused
listening to radio promos with a high number of structural features compared to
promos with a
small number of features. There was a significant main effect for complexity on
ratings (F (1,39) = 105.99, p. < .001, 2 = .7158). As predicted, participants
arousal in response to the complex promos (M = 6.46, s.d. = 1.13) compared to
simple ones (M = 4.22, s.d. = .98).
The limited-capacity model predicts that the increased arousal listeners
experience as a
result of the increase in structural complexity will be manifest through better
free recall for
complex messages compared to simple ones. This is because the increased sense
causes cognitive resources to be automatically allocated to the process of
The results of the free recall data show no effect of complexity on listeners'
recall call letters or names of individual stations. However, there was a main
effect of complexity
on the ability to recall the promos themselves (F(1,39) = 32.56, p. < .001, 2 =
were able to recall a significantly greater number of complex promos (M = .51,
s.d. = .21) than
the simple promos (M = .25, s.d. = .21).
The delayed free recall results indicate that this effect was robust.
were contacted on average 109. 31 hours (approx. 4.5 days) after their
participation in the
experiment. Even after this period of time, there was a significant main effect
(F(1, 34) = 36.22, p. < .001, 2 = .4923) on free recall, with participants able
to recall more of the
complex promos (M = .48, s.d. = .22) than the simple ones (M = .19, s.d. = .20).
This hypothesis predicted a main effect of auditory complexity on listeners'
attitudes toward the radio promotions. Since the alpha level for the attitude
toward the ad scale
questions was sufficiently high (.95), a mean attitude score was created for
Results of the analyses on these mean scores show the predicted main effect
(F(1,39) = 14.86, p.
< .001, 2 = .2408), with complex promos resulting in significantly more
favorable attitudes (M =
4.74, s.d. = .59) than simple promos (M = 4.27, s.d. = .88). Hypothesis 4 is
This hypothesis predicted that listeners will think more positively about radio
produced complex promos compared to stations that produced simple ones. We
attitudes toward the station by asking participants to respond to three, 7-point
differential scales. Responses to these scales were then analyzed separately.
Results show that listeners do not believe there is a significant difference in
the level of
professionalism between stations that produce complex promos and stations that
ones. However, there was a significant effect of complexity on the perceived
excitement of the
stations (F(1,39) = 96.08, p. < .001, 2 = .7037). Stations that produce
complex promos (M =
5.69, s.d. .69) are perceived as being more exciting than stations that produce
simple ones (M =
4.01, s.d. = .94). Furthermore, there was a significant effect of complexity on
the estimated time
participants would spend listening to the stations that produced the promos (F
(1,39) = 42.77, p.
< .001, 2 = .5014). Participants were more likely to say they would always
listen to the stations
that produced the complex promos (M = 4.99, s.d. = .85) compared to stations
simple promos (M = 3.90, s.d.= .89).
This experiment explored the predictive ability of a limited-capacity model of
listeners' memory for radio promotional announcements and attitudes toward the
produce them. Specifically, it was predicted that increasing the auditory
structural complexity of
radio promos would increase listener memory and lead to more positive
evaluations of the promos
themselves and the radio stations that they represent. Past research has shown
auditory structural features, such as sound effects and announcer changes,
reliably elicit an
automatic call for cognitive resources in radio listeners. In the current
study, two levels of
auditory complexity were established, with auditory structural complexity
defined according to
the relative number of resource-eliciting audio features a promo contained.
The results provide strong support for the limited-capacity model. As
increasing the structural complexity of the promos increased listeners' memory.
This effect was
found not only in the task of freely recalling the promotional messages, but
also in being able to
recognize detailed information presented in them. Furthermore, improvement in
free recall due to
increases in structural complexity was robust over time. After an average of
more than four days
delay, participants still recalled significantly more complex promos than simple
One possible mechanism for this recall effect is variance in audience autonomic
responses to the promos. As predicted, participants reported that complex
promos made them
feel more aroused than simple promos. This is consistent with literature in the
area of television
message processing. However, while the video literature has also shown
that parallel self-reported assessments of arousal, future research in audio
employ physiological measures to replicate the effects of structural changes on
The current results also show that auditory structural complexity has a
on listener attitudes toward the promos and the stations they represent.
Participants had more
favorable attitudes toward complex promos compared to simple ones. They also
stations using complex auditory productions to promote themselves were more
exciting and were
more likely to be the type of station they would listen to often.
The substantial effects that auditory complexity had on both memory and listener
should be of utmost interest to radio practitioners, particularly considering
the large role that both
memory and attitude play in the current U.S. radio ratings system. Since the
was balanced for both promo duration and station format across levels of the
condition, a case can be made that regardless of how long your production or the
format of your
station, something as simple as adding sound effects or a second announcer to
promotions could result in better memory for the promo and a better station
image in the minds of
There are several limitations to the current study, all of which we believe are
as opportunities for future research. To begin with, these promos were played
stimuli for participants in a laboratory situation. While the effects that were
found are both
interesting and applicable, future research should attempt to investigate how
the level of structural
complexity affects listeners in a more natural listening environment. Two of
the many possibilities
include having the participants complete other tasks while having the promos
played in the
background, and inserting the promos between commercials or music to see how the
surrounding programming interacts with the structural complexity of the
This study used college-aged participants. While the psychology literature
age will not significantly impact the overall effects of the memory data, it is
possible that different
results would be obtained in the attitude data if this study were to be
replicated using older adults.
Finally, while there was an effect of complexity on recall of the actual promos,
not a similar effect on the ability to recall the specific name or call letters
of the stations
themselves. In hindsight, this is not surprising since the promos were taken
from stations outside
of the market in which the experiment was conducted and therefore participants
had only heard
the call letters a few times when they were asked to recall them. As a result,
free recall of call
letters from both complex and simple promos was very low. Future research
should try to
develop an experimental design which allows for the investigation of complexity
on memory for
call letters and station names considering the important role they play in
current radio ratings data
collection methodologies. References
Anderson, D. R., & Lorch, E. P. (1983). Looking at television: Action or
reaction? In J.
Bryant & D. R. Anderson (Eds.), Children's understanding of television:
Research on attention
and comprehension (pp. 1-32). New York: Academic Press, Inc.
Berkowitz, E. N., Kerin, R. A., Hartley, S. W., & Rudelius, W. (1992).
Bolls, P. D., & Potter, R. F. (1998). I saw it on the radio: The effects of
radio commercials on listeners' allocation of attention and attitude toward the
ad. Proceedings of
the 1998 Conference of the American Academy of Advertising, 120-130.
Bolls, P. D., Lang, A., Potter, R. F., & Snyder, J. (1999). How can I tell if
you love me
when I'm afraid to ask?: The effects of message valence on emotional and
cognitive responses to
radio. Paper accepted for presentation to the Information Systems Division of
Communication Association for their annual conference, San Francisco, CA.
Bradley, M. M. (1994). Emotional memory: A dimensional analysis. In S. Van
N. E. Van de Poll, & J. A. Sergeant (Eds.), Emotions: essays on emotion theory
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, Associates.
Buchman, J. G. (1991). Commerical radio promotion. In S. T. Eastman & R. A.
(Eds.), Promotion & marketing for broadcasting &cable . Prospect Heights, IL:
Carroll, R. L., & Perry, S. D. (1995-1996). Subgenre radio formats: The case
intensive religious stations. Journal of Radio Studies, 3, 41-58.
Christ, W. (1985). The construct of arousal in communication research. Human
Communication Research, 11(4), 575-592.
Corwin, N. (19998). Forward. Journal of Radio Studies, 5(1).
Detenber, B. H., Simons, R. F., & Bennet, G. G. (1998). Roll 'em!: The
effects of picture
motion on emotional responses. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media,
Ditingo, V. M. (1999, January 4). Radio. Broadcasting & Cable, 39.
Eastman, S. T. (1991). The scope of promotion. In S. T. Eastman & R. A. Klein
Promotion & marketing for broadcasting & cable (pp. 3-37). Prospect Heights, IL:
Eastman, S. T., & Newton, G. D. (1999). Hitting promotion hard: A network
channel surfing and new competition. Applied Communication Journal, 27, 73-85.
Eastman, S. T., Newton, G. D., Riggs, K. E., & Neal-Lunsford, J. (1997).
the flow: A transition effect in programming theory? Journal of Broadcasting &
Media, 41, 265-283.
Gerhard, M. E. (1992). Effects of headlines and recaps on radio news learning.
Radio Studies, 1, 37-42.
Gianaros, P. J., & Quigley, K. S. (1997). Going, going, gone: Habituation of
responses to aversive auditory stimuli. Psychophysiology, 34(Supplement 1), S
Graham, F. (1973). Habituation and dishabituation of responses innervated by
autonomic nervous system. In H. V. S. Peeke & J. F. Orlebeke (Eds.),
studies . New York: Academic Press.
Greenberg, B. S., & Busselle, R. (1997). Reporting rape: The impact of
names on radio listner judgments. Journal of Radio Studies, 4, 45-59.
Keith, M. C. (1987). Radio programming: consultancy and formatics. Boston:
Lang, A. (1995). Defining audio/video redunancy from a limited capacity
processing perspective. Communication Research, 22, 86-115.
Lang, A. (1996). The information processing of mediated (and unmediated)
Towards a general theory of communication, The information processing of
television: A not yet
ready for prime time theory . Presented to the annual meetings of the
Communication Association Mass Communication Division.
Lang, A., & Bolls, P. (1995). Memory for emotional television messages:
valence, and capacity. . Paper presented to the Information Systems Division of
Communication Association, Albuquerque, NM: May.
Lang, A., Bolls, P. D., Potter, R. F., & Kawahara, K. (in press). The effects
pace and arousing content on the information processing of television messages.
Broadcasting and Electronic Media.
Lang, A., Geiger, S., Strickwerda, M., & Sumner, J. (1993). The effects of
unrelated cuts on viewers' memory for television: A limited capacity theory of
Communication Research, 20, 4-29.
Lang, A., Newhagen, J., & Reeves, B. (1996). Negative video as structure:
attention, capacity, and memory. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media,
Lang, A., Zhou, S., Schwartz, N., Bolls, P. D., & Potter, R. F. (under
review). When an
edit is an edit can an edit be too much?: The effects of edits on arousal,
attention, and memory
for television messages. .
Lang, P., Bradley, M., & Cuthbert, M. (in press). Motivated attention:
and action. In P. Lang, R. Simons, & M. Balaban (Eds.), Attention and Orienting:
Motivational Processes . Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, Associates.
Lang, P. J., Greenwald, M., Bradley, M. M., & Hamm, A. O. (1993). Looking at
Evaluative, facial, visceral, and behavioral responses. Psychophysiology, 30,
Lutz, R. J. (1985). Affective and cognitive antecedents of attitude toward the
conceptual framework. In L. F. A. A. A. Mitchell (Ed.), Psychological Processes
Effects (pp. 45-64). Hillsdale, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
MacFarland, D. T. (1995-1996). Rethinking the hits: Why hit music radio
formats are in
trouble. Journal of Radio Studies, 3, 32-40.
Mateliski, M. J. (1995). Resilient radio. In E. C. Pease & E. E. Dennis
forgotten medium (pp. 5-19). New Brunswick: Transaction.
Merli, J. (1998, May 4, 1998). Radio beats TV during day. Broadcasting &
Morris, J. D. (1995). Observations: SAM: the self-assessment manikin an
cultural measurement of emotional response. Journal of Advertising Research,
Pease, E. C., & Dennis, E. E. (1995). Radio-The Forgotten Medium. New
Perse, E. M. (1996). Sensation seeking and the use of television for arousal.
Communication Reports, 9, 37-48.
Petty, R. A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of
L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental psychology (Vol. 19, ). New York:
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1984). The effects of involvement on
argument quantity and quality: Central and peripheral routes to persuasion.
Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 46(1), 69-81.
Potter, R. F. (1998). The effects of voice changes and production effects on
memory for radio messages. Unpublished Dissertation, Indiana University,
Potter, R. F. (1999). The effects of voice changes on orienting and immediate
overload for radio messages . Paper accepted for presentation to the Information
Division of the International Communication Association for their annual
Potter, R. F., Lang, A., & Bolls, P. D. (1997). Orienting responses to
structural features in
media. Psychophysiology, 34(Supplement), S72.
Potter, R. F., Lang, A., & Bolls, P. D. (1998). Orienting to structural
features in auditory
media messages. Psychophysiology, 34 (Supplement, S66.
Rathburn, E. A. (1998, October 12). More than just radio. Broadcasting &
Singer, J. (1980). The power and limitations of television: A
In P. J. Tannenbaum (Ed.), The entertainment functions of television (pp.
36-42). Hillsdale, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Tankel, J. D. (1998). Reconceptualizing call-in talk radio as listening.
Journal of Radio
Studies, 5, 36-48.
Thorson, E., & Lang, A. (1992). Effects of television video graphics and
familiarity on adult cardiac orienting responses and memory. Communication
Verona, E., Curtin, J. J., Levenston, G. K., Bradley, M. M., Lang, P. J., &
Patrick, C. J.
(1997). Psychopathy and physiological response to emotionally evocative sounds.
Psychophysiology, 34(S1), 92.
Vigil, J. (1998, January). Eric Chase. Radio and Production, 11, 6-15.
Walker, J. R. (1993). Catchy, yes, but does it work?: The impact of broadcast
promotion frequency and type on program success. Journal of Broadcasting &
Watt, J. H. (1994). Radio commercial sound quality and recall: Effects of
and complexity : NAB Research Report.
Watt, J. H. J., & Welch, A. J. (1983). Effects of static and dynamic
children's attention and recall of televised instruction. In J. Bryant & D. R.
Children's Understanding of Television (pp. 69-102). New York, NY: Academic
Webster, J. G., & Lichty, L. W. (1991). Ratings analysis: Theory and
NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Williams, G. (1998, April). Money, music, and marketing: Promoting local
cash . Paper presented to the Broadcast Education Association at their annual
Yoon, K., Bolls, P., & Lang, A. (1998). The effects of arousal on liking and
of commercials. Journal of Marketing Communications, 4, 101-114.
Zechmeister, E. B., & Nyberg, S. E. (1982). Human memory, An introduction to
and theory. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Zillmann, D. (1982). Television and Arousal. In D. Pearl, L. bouthilet, & J.
Television and Behavior: Ten years of scientific progress and implications for
the eighties (Vol.
2, ). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Figure 1:
Main effect of structural complexity on recognition memory