America's largest commercial radio operator, Clear Channel Radio, which owns over 12,000 stations, on Monday announced plans to limit the number of commercials it broadcasts.

John E Hogan, ceo of the San Antonio-headquartered giant, has read the writing on the wall and fears the present tsunami of commercials is damaging the radio business -- despite the increasing revenues it generates.

"If you have listened to the radio at all," says Hogan, "you know that there is an amazing amount of commercial and promotional inventory. So much so that we have run the risk of diluting our product."

Laraine Mancini, a broadcasting analyst at Merrill Lynch, agrees: "Radio wanted to take every dollar that was getting thrown at them," she said. "And you didn't have to produce more to do it; just take a song off and add commercials."

Although it is difficult to gather accurate data on the total volume of commercials broadcast by thousands of stations across the US, Mancini and other radio industry observers estimate that ten years ago around 10-12 minutes per hour was the norm.

Today it is over twenty minutes each hour on some talk-stations, while many music stations run more than fifteen minutes of commercials per hour. "People don't want to spend a quarter of their time listening to the radio listening to ads," says Mancini.

By and large, however, listeners have yet to be turned-off by the ad onslaught. According to data compiled by Arbitron on the top one hundred markets, the proportion of Americans who listen to the radio at least once-weekly remains high -- 94.2% compared with 95.8% a decade ago.

Of the planned cut-back in ad time, Clear Channel's Hogan says: "This is a way for us to go to advertisers and say we've heard you. We're going to give you a better environment," adding that enforcement efforts will rely on proprietary technology that monitors what Clear Channel stations broadcast.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff