Saturday, February 17, 2007

Here We Go Again (And Again.. And Again!)

Arbitron this week released its quarterly update of American Radio Listening Trends for Fall 2006 in the 96 continuous measurement markets and News-Talk remains #1 12+, but slipped 0.4 share point from a year earlier to a 17.6 AQH share radio listening.

o AC ranks #2 12+ on the strength of another impressive December of Holiday music, tops the 25-54 demo. News/talk is first in 35-64 and 35+.
o Spanish (11.2) is the biggest gainer, now ranking third in the report.
o Contemporary Hits (10.7) ranks fourth and Urban (10.1) comes in fifth.
o Country’s 9.2 share ranks #6 and is up .2 from last fall and up .8 from 2001, but Country's 18-34 is down a full share point from 2001.
o The biggest loser as measured by share point drop: Rock (down to a 7.3 from Fall 2005’s 8.2 and Fall 2001’s 8.9).

At the same time, A&O – not coincidentally – is recommending that our clients cut the number of “power” currents, increasing the number of secondaries but making a net decrease in the total number of currents being played by two.

Why? The fact is that there are simply fewer songs testing in our clients’ local research at a level which justifies exposure in our heaviest rotations.

Ironically, also this week, fate stepped in to give me a bit of historical perspective on these trends reminding me that “we’ve seen this movie” many times before.

I happened to be cleaning out old files and somehow came across the June 12, 1993, edition of the new-defunct trade publication “Network 40,” which featured an interview with three PD's whose CHR stations were #1 12+ in the Winter 1993 ARB's.

Network Forty editor Gerry Cagle (who now writes for
MusicBiz) spotlighted them as harbingers of a turnaround of CHR, which had been in the doldrums while country’s class of 1989 was hot, hot, hot, making country’s cume go up 35% and hit share levels which haven’t been reached since that time.

Cagle wanted to know what these three programmers were doing to turn the Top 40 downtrend around.

Ken Benson of KKRZ, Portland (who is now International VP and researcher at
Pinnacle Media Worldwide): “Our main goal is to program for cume. We want as many people listening to Z-100 as possible. So, we have a tight list. We carefully select the records we play. We also have a big street presence, killer promotions and real air personalities, not liner card jocks. We do auditorium and focus groups to find what fits the radio station and what sounds right. We are completely market-focused.”

Dan Kiley, who quickly rose to become PD of KIIS, Los Angeles, from 1997 to 2001, ultimately died of a heart attack on April 9, 2006 and is still greatly missed by those of us who knew him, was PD at KQKQ, Omaha at the time of this interview: “Every Top 40 in the country is different. So, it is important to play the Top 40 Omaha wants. Right now the mix is incredibly important. As a mainstream Top 40, we play a lot of records from both ends of the spectrum. Our music is probably very polarized to its important to get a precise feel from both ends of our audience. We have a very dominant morning show and that's where a big chunk of our 25-54 numbers are. This is a great radio station because there is no pressure to go after 25-54. But, when you do a solid Top 40, those numbers come along with it in this town.”

Jerry Dean, at KLUC, Las Vegas at the time (and last I heard was OM for Entercom in Memphis): “For us, it has basically been getting our music on track. The main reason anybody listens to any radio station is to hear their favorite music. We tried for 25-54, a demo that doesn't listen to Top 40 radio anymore, and we have cured ourselves of that. A Coleman Research project showed that people had a certain expectation of KLUC and we weren't meeting it. That's why our ratings were down. So, we got our music back together and made sure it was tightly focused and much more up tempo. That's the main reason we moved 6.1 to 6.8 and in those .7 of a point we went from fifth place to first! A successful Top 40 station has to be dominant in teens and 18-24 women.”

One other possible factor that I remember: Las Vegas at the time had THREE FM country stations and an AM classic country, which was up from two just six months earlier and one only several years before that.

So, another factor in the CHR turnaround and the peaking of country in the mid 1990’s was the birth of more country stations than the exploding shares of the previous year or two could sustain.

Sound familiar?

Cagle also asked the three successful Top 40 programmers what they do about the country phenomenon…

Ken: “Ignore it. It's beginning to peak here in Portland. Last summer, seven out of the top selling ten albums were country. Last week, there was only one country record in the top 10. Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson's resurgence has taken the spotlight off Garth Brooks. The quality and diversity of available hit music is the best it has been in quite a few years. Star power is really strong.”

Dan: “Do what you do and do it very well. If a new country signs on, be sure you are on the street and promotionally active - because you are no longer the "new" kid. Country shares are being divided up by two or three stations in most markets now. What that pie gets divided up, they'll come back to you. I do not think we can play country crossovers because all of a sudden there are five stations playing country records. People are not coming to me to hear Mary-Chapin Carpenter, so I have to just keep on doing what I'm known for doing.”

Jerry backed up my point: “…two years ago, there was one country station in Las Vegas. Now, there's four. That helps Top 40, because now the Top 40 station has the chance to "own" a format. Country is media-driven and like any media-hyped format it adheres to what (Nationwide National VP at the time, another name in this article who has done well for himself since then) Guy Zapoleon describes as The Lemming Principle: everybody jumps on board, thereby burning it out. The media-hyped resurgence is over.”

At the time, I wrote in an article for my clients: “I don't think is HAS to be that way IF we who program country radio read the CHR advice they just gave to other Top 40 programmers and apply it to OUR target and town.

Country's recent explosion is a lot more than just a media hype. It's borne out of great songwriters, creating hit songs that relate perfectly to a broad cross-section of the same folks that both Bill Clinton and George Bush (the first one!) were attempting to speak to in the Fall 2002 national election -- the "family values" and "change" crowd, who are the three HUGE generations between age 20 and 55 today, the Leading Edge Boomers, the Brady Boom and Generation X.

“I maintain that, to win 25-54, you MUST satisfy them ALL. And, since AC is dependent on CHR for its new music and in spite of the fact that things ARE looking up right now, there is still more polarity than agreement on most pop songs and artists. Meanwhile, there is tremendous unanimity among the folks who are drawn to country music. Predictions that the country format would fragment were rampant two years ago. Instead, something magic happened: country music changed! And, the taste of the entire target audience (ages teen to 64) has changed along with it. The key now more than ever is asking listeners what they expect from their favorite radio station, quantifying those responses and acting on what they tell you by giving them big doses of what they want - specializing in that thing and stressing that fact as the key difference between you and their other choices on the radio dial.”

It’s been almost 14 years since those words were all written, and 2007 is incredibly different in many, many ways when compared to what now seem like “the simpler times” of 1993.

But, you’ll forgive me if I also exercise a wee bit of the perspective which experience and age provides and also sigh:

“Here we go again.”

Will YOU be one of the programmers of 2007 whose ability to win in changing times will make you one of the successful visionaries and leaders whose wisdom stands the test of time in the next seven to fourteen years?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great article . Enjoyed reading it . Sounds like a couple of those guys saw it coming with Country sales. Isn’t it amazing that the biggest selling artist this year in all genres of music were Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood, yet working over here with the Flatts when I tell people that they go, REALLY !! It seems that everyone is amazed when you tell them Flatts out sells Justin Timberlake,Beyonce,etc.Why is that so shocking? They are mass appeal.