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Drive time is the daypart analog to prime time for radio broadcasting. It consists of the morning hours when listeners wake up, get ready, and/or head to work or school, and the afternoon hours when they are heading home and before their evening meal. These are the periods where the number of listeners is highest and, thus, commercial radio can charge the most for advertising. Drive times coincide with rush hour.
The exact times vary: morning drive-times typically include 6-10 a.m.; afternoon drive-times typically include 3-7 p.m. In the United States, these are the time slots as defined by Arbitron for audience measurement. (Depending on the station, morning drive can start as early as 5 a.m. local time, although rarely any earlier.) Because the contiguous United States spans four time zones, what constitutes drive time on one coast does not broadcast in drive time on the other, which can cause issues for nationally syndicated programs; this is not as much of an issue in morning drive, which usually incorporates a tape delay to air at the same time in all time zones, as it is for afternoon drive. National satellite networks typically air their morning drive programs from 6-11 a.m. Eastern Time, with heavy repetition. This is not an issue in the United Kingdom or New Zealand, where the entire country is in the same time zone, nor in Australia, where there is only one hour's difference between the eastern and western coasts. Although Canada also spans several time zones, most of its drive time programs are local and are thus unaffected by these problems.
Mainstream stations employ high-status presenters for drive time shows. Examples include BBC Radio 1 who have Nick Grimshaw (on air in the morning) and Greg James (on air in the evening), and BBC Radio 2 who have Chris Evans (on air in the morning) and Simon Mayo (on air in the evening). In the United States, popular national hosts who are associated with morning drive include Howard Stern, Ryan Seacrest and Don Imus, while Sean Hannity is associated with afternoon drive on the East Coast.
For popular music-oriented stations, morning drive-time is typically dominated by the "morning zoo" genre of radio program, with the afternoon portion is often given over to music (often in commercial-free blocks, especially in markets with long commute times) and light entertainment features. For news/talk stations, drive-time is characterized by regular news updates, as well as extremely frequent updates on traffic and weather forecasts to help commuters get to and from work. Primary news talk radio stations are almost always local during this time period.
In the United Kingdom and Australia, the term "drivetime" is used almost exclusively to refer to the peak evening period (most commonly 16.00–19.00); the term used for the period of peak morning listening is "breakfast," akin to the phrase breakfast television used for morning TV shows. (In circumstances where the phrase "drivetime" may be ambiguous, the term "hometime" may also be used for afternoon drive.)