Sunday, December 21, 2014


Each time a station I've worked with over the years has been directly attacked I have publicly said:  "Competition makes us better."

For the listeners and the air staff, that's true.

But, generally, from a business point of view I have to privately admit it's simply not, especially in markets where media buyers generally refuse to buy two country stations at good rates.

Doubly so in PPM measurment markets where direct format competition has often driven down shares, making point levels shrink.

This was reinforced for me in September 1999 when longtime Detroit incumbant W4 Country typically had higher ratings with country than did WYCD, lack of advertiser revenue led W4 Country to switch to a classic rock format and WYCD never looked back from a revenue viewpoint.

The same thing played out a decade ago in San Diego.  Local observers claimed that neither Lincoln Financial nor the company formerly known as Clear Channel made any money during a costly fight, but when it ended KSON rose back to the top of the audience and revenue rankings, where they remain today.

iHeart's K-102 and CBS' Buz'n have been going at it in a virtual tie after three years in the Twin Cities in what has been a costly battle for both companies.  The last time KEEY had an attacker in this position they purchased it, leading to two decades of revenue and audience dominance.  This time, BUZ'N came out just as Taylor Swift was on the upswing.

Back before PPM measured Boston a very competitive fight went on between WKLB and WBCS (Boston's Country Station) from 1993 to 1995.  The victor in that battle was Greater Media. They have been extremely powerful from a revenue and ratings perspective for the 20 years since then.  Fighting for format ownership in country can be lucrative, long term.

It's been almost 20 years since the last competitive assault in Orlando for country, which even included Cox's K-92 buying the attacker just before it went country.  Three years later they took it out of the format, leading the market for much of the intervening time with just one country station, part of a solid cluster with broad reach.

Until now, as JVC closed on WHKQ Monday and then quickly launched 103.1 The Wolf on Friday

Things to watch:
  • Is this the beginning of a new post-consolidation age in competitive format battles?
  • In the past, new stations launched as formats were on the upswing.  Is this a good time to launch a new radio station in the country format against a strong competitor?
This I know:  the listeners are going to love having a choice.  The air staffs and street teams are going to have fun going at it.

The accountants, not so much.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

“Woof, Woof, Woof. Bow, Wow, Wow. Arf, Bark, Arf, Bark, Woof!”

Ever since dogs started barking “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” Christmas music has given country (and rock) format programmers and personalities a big headache.  

Thanks to PPM panel measurement which can follow the same group of people’s radio usage for many months and years, we now know some things about what drives the country format’s annual fall swoon at the expense of Adult Contemporary and Christian stations going “all Christmas music.”

1.  As Mike O’Malley told Inside Radio last week, studies of country listeners going back more than a decade consistently find that less than 20% of country P-1 listeners say they’d be very interested in having their country station play all Christmas music while half tell researchers they wouldn’t be interested at all, making going solid Christmas tunes a very risky tactic in a competitive country battle unless your company owns two country stations.  In that case, it can benefit them both, one gaining 35+ female tuning and the other one acting as an alternative for younger and male country music fans.  The more new music intensive you are, the more dangerous it can be to go more than a month without exposing and familiarizing the core with fresh music.  When you go back to playing the country hits you need to refamiliarize your core with it, which can hurt familiarity scores that drive TSL and passion as the new year - and a new PPM month - begins.

2.  In diary markets it has always appeared that all-Christmas helps the upper-demo contemporary get a cume boost in the first month of two of the Winter survey.  Now, thanks to PPM, we know that’s more a result of top-of-mindness impacting what people write in diaries than it is real usage.  Once, all-Christmas was seen as a strategy.  Now, we know it’s just a tactic.  In PPM, normal listening patterns resume on December 26 and don’t have any residual impact in January or February.  Thus, in a PPM market any station contemplating solid Holiday music in November and December needs to pre-sell the event in advance.  Diary measurement may make it appear that buying those great Christmas season ratings in January and February is a bargain, but PPM proves that would be overpaying.

3.  PPM permits a microscopic view of usage patterns not possible in diary surveys as long as the sample is large enough to be reliable.  As a result, aggregating multiple markets, it’s possible to uncover precisely what drives month-to-month changes in cume and average quarter hour.  Most months, any sudden changes are likely driven by sample weighting alterations or households coming into or leaving the panel.  As Christmas music starts to dominate one or two stations in a market, it’s now possible to dig into it directly and see exactly how each station in town’s average monthly users react.  What we see appears to be more than a sample wobble.  It looks “real.”

4.  A&O&B has been carefully studying PPM, thanks to the help of direct marketing and rating analysis vendors, from the very first month of PPM measurement going all the way back to the first tests of the technology in Wilmington and Philadelphia many years ago.  Here’s what we’ve observed, thanks to help from Arbitron and Nielsen analysts:  the normal pattern of daypart and day-to-day recycling tends to continue as usual for a healthy country radio station.  However, non-stop Christmas music on a station that always shares 25-30% of the country station’s audience month after month does something astounding during the Holidays.  It creates NEW DAYPARTS for itself, times of the day and days of the week from that group of panelists when the country station’s average listener wasn’t even using radio in most months!

5.  PPM “time spend exposed” (TSE/AMA) per hour for that country station when under attack from a 100% Christmas music competitor remains steady.  Morning show, at work and weekend usage are generally more or less unchanged.  Except for one group of listeners, the ones who seem to want to get into the Holiday spirit as they prepare for Christmas.  They go Christmas shopping, wrap presents, decorate the house, the workplace.  They host and attend parties.  They plan for the family event.  They continue to listen to their usual morning show, don’t listen much less than normal to their favorite 24/7365 country station, but they also find themselves using the solid Christmas music station a lot - as much as an extra day a week of their total time with radio - at lunchtime when they go out to shop, in the evening and over every weekend at home when they wrap presents, decorate the tree, write Christmas cards and organize their wardrobe for a busy Season Of Giving.

To deflect such a tactic when half the audience really doesn’t desire all-Christmas is next-to-impossible, though you can, we’ve found, at least minimize the damage — by creating your own extra special, lifestyle-driven extraordinary depart usage drivers. 

The challenge, of course, is that playing 500 popular Christmas songs over and over for six weeks is relatively easy when compared to the creativity, innovation and hard work it takes to build enough of the kind of content that can compete with it in listeners’ minds for six to eight weeks every year.

Attempting to cure your first headache can make for a pretty big second one too.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

May Your Stuffing Be Tasty...

May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
-- Grandpa Jones

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time For Programmers To Learn A New Language

This development is not at all surprising.

As usual, they want us to cut our inventories while refusing to pay anything more when we do it, in spite of considerable data proving radio's impact.

If the only way they will pay more is when "cost per point" hits media buyer wishes and dreams, it's crucial that the people creating content fully understand which quarter hours and programming tactics have the highest potential to get target GRPs, ultimately ARPs, as high as possible.

Let's stop worrying about 6+ average quarter hour shares, replacing those with the highest payoff target points.

That's an entirely new way to approach formatic, content and programming metrics.

It's going to require a quick learning curve for most Brand Managers, but A&O&B can help make it simple and very rewarding for you to do so.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's That Wonderful (?) Time Of The Year

If you're a small indie label or a new, emerging artist, you're coming upon potentially the best time of the year at radio for your needs.

If you're a music director, it's the annual time of year to watch your mailbox for unknown names and labels you never heard of before.


As Billboard's Country Monday Update noted in listing the adds for the next few weeks it's just three weeks from the time when the vacuum of major label and star artist releases begins.

Country Aircheck made note of the same phenomenon in its pages this week as well.

Most weeks music directors find a lot more piled up in their in box than they can add to their playlists in any one week, but not December 8.

So, it's a very brief window of opportunity if you have something a bit risky or brand new.
Smart music promotion people, like my pal Kris here, know this.

The catch:  if you have a new Christmas song it's going to have to compete with the very familiar and welcome sounds of years past.  It has 17 days to get big or never be heard ever again.

If you have something that you hope will be a major hit in the coming year, you have a few more weeks before the superstar tracks start to come out in 2015, but it needs to be so sticky that it can achieve impact at a time of year when radio listeners are asking to hear more and more Holiday songs per hour.
 At best, you've got five or six weeks to get to the point most big hits take twice that long to gain traction.

So, indie labels and new artists, bring it.

But, please make absolutely sure that what you bring is your very best

And, pardon those of us in radio if we're still a bit dubious and skeptical as we click on your newly-arrived package.

It's the time of year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Sense Of History

As we all get ready the 39th annual Twin Cities radio meeting, I am reminded of an anonymous response back in 1996 to a "RadioIQ" (our client e-zene) report of CBS Radio President Dan Mason’s talk at the Upper Midwest Communications Conclave which continues to echo all these years later.
“Jobs on the programming side of radio will continue to be eliminated,” Mason correctly predicted back then. “For every position eliminated in programming this year, there will be three added in sales.”

Now that programmatic buying and selling is emerging, eliminating reps while making media sales more transactional and less seller-driven, I am reminded of an anonymous comment I got after that post from 18 years ago:
"…any medium which requires more effort to sell than to create is headed for a future no better than slimy posters on the brick wall of public consciousness."

I greatly respect Mason’s smarts and proven track record over the years since that Conclave speech, but I have always wished I knew who “anonymous” was.

That person may have been the smartest of us all.

Their comment remains true, now than ever.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Let Me Second That Motion

The announcement from Country Radio Broadcasters that Jeff Smulyan will be given the 2015 Tom Rivers Humanitarian Award during the opening ceremonies of Country Radio Seminar 2015 is another great decision from the seminar's board.

If you want to peruse the many, many wonderful giving works Jeff has spearheaded and been involved in, click here to read the complete press release listing a lot of them.

I'd like to add a personal reflection on what Jeff has created for the people who work for and with him, which in today's corporate radio competitive environment is another level of humanitarianism.  As their company website notes:  "Emmis is the 9th largest radio group in the U.S (based on listeners) and has been voted the Most Respected Radio Company in a poll of industry CEOs."

Other owners wishing to establish a positive productive "family" environment for their employees would do well to go to click around and learn about a winning culture. 

He purchased my hometown baseball team, reunited two guys named Griffey and turned a losing ball club into a winner, though it wasn't a winner for Jeff.  He used radio marketing tactics and rallied a community to the team's side, getting attendance up after years of apathy by local fans.  He lost money on the deal, but made baseball fun again for Puget Sound fans.

That's when I first observed that this was a guy who did the right thing first and worried about bottom line secondarily.

"Emmis" is the Hebrew word for “truth," and I first got a chance to work with the company when they purchased "KIX" (now "The Arch") in St. Louis from Zimmer.  

We had a very good run and thanks to a wonderful group of people, managed to make a pretty good showing against a powerful incumbent.

In Nashville I was a fly on the wall when they made their first presentation to the Music City community after buying the now defunct KZLA, which was very impressive.  

Of course, from Terre Haute, Indianapolis and many other legendary radio stations, they have shown their ability to win long term in many markets.

I brought up the no-doubt painful Mariners, KZLA and KIX situations for two reasons, having seen Emmis' greatmedia.greatpeople.greatservice® mission in action for a very long time, even in situations where circumstances led them in the infamous "other direction."   

Their people and the culture Jeff and his team have innovated show "class" even in places where it's not easy to do so, living Eleven Commandments of doing business with a humanitarian tone indeed.

Charitable works are terrific, and Jeff has performed many, but the way you live your life in all aspects is even more noteworthy.

Our entire industry is better because of the values exemplified every day by Jeff Smulyan.