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Media Terms: The Car Park Test

Simon Pitt | Radio | Wednesday 17th February 2010

Definition: A mark of how good a radio play is. The 'car park test' is whether the listener remains seated in his car in the car park until the play finishes. A play "passes" the car park test if he does, and "fails" it if he is able to turn it off and carry on with his life.

Coined by: Simon Elmes based on the actions of Peter Donaldson.

Spotted: Included in Simon Elmes' And Now on Radio 4 (London: Arrow Books, 2008). In the chapter on the Afternoon Play, Elmes quotes Peter Donaldson:
The car park used to be below our studios and, if I were listening to the Afternoon Play and enjoying it, I was not going to leave my car until the play had finished! So I flashed my lights from the car park up at the studio, which people got to know was "Donaldson's here but he ain't coming in till the play's over!"

Examples: Before quoting Donaldson, Elmes explains what he means by 'the car park' test.
One of the benchmarks radio people often use to assess the impact of a programme, how effective it's been in moving and captivating its audience, is the 'car park test'. Were listeners 'unable' to leave their vehicles before the end credits rolled?
I might debate exactly how widespread this "benchmarking" has ever been; I would imagine most people use Audience Appreciation indexes, listening figures or iPlayer views to decide on the success of a programme, rather then checking to see if Peter Donaldson is still in the car park. Nevertheless, the term reflects the change that has gone on for the listener during the programme. The radio was turned on as background noise during the journey. But, during that time, the programme has engrossed the listener enough that he or she has carried on listening, even once the journey has finished. They have been converted from a "lean backwards" listener to a "lean forwards" listener.

I, in fact, suffered from a variation of this myself when listening to episode 3 of the latest series of Number 10, and missed my tube stop. This isn't quite the same, since I was so engrossed I hadn't realised I'd passed my stop, rather than arriving at my destination and not going inside until the play had finished. If I had been in a car, the equivalent would be to have driven straight past my house and ended up down a narrow road and having to do a tricky three point turn.



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