R. J. Curtis: There's all sorts of scuttlebutt out there about the phasing out of live/local programming in evenings in radio. Nights are tough for country stations targeting adult audiences who watch TV, tend to the family and spend time on the Internet in the evening among other things. Additionally for the most part, don't most country stations get their main productivity 6a-7p?
Jaye Albright: By and large, ratings - when it comes to diaries at least - are a 6 am to 7 pm game. At least two thirds of all quarter hours come from those hours. Even the most successful country station is only going to get perhaps 35% of its cume to listen to evenings and weekends. However, since 40% of country diaries give country 73% of our quarter hours, it's heavy users/core listeners who are spending time listening to those fringe dayparts, so paying short shrift to them can result in a loss of a lot of P-1 time spent listening if the programming on nights and weekends is not very competitive.
RJ: So in addition to that question ... - Is country -- a "high touch" format -- endangering itself if it too begins phasing out live & local evening shows?
JA: I firmly believe that country is a high-touch format. Listeners expect to be able to interact and contribute content to the country station they are most loyal to. Country radio, you might say, was the original social network, going back the five decades of its history as a radio format. However, just because that is true, does not necessarily mean that great interactive, content-driven syndicated or out of market talent can't provide everything core listeners want and need. WGAR, Cleveland, listeners relate to Michael J. Fox in midday even though he does that show from WPOC, Baltimore, because he's entertaining and relevant. There are many other voice tracked and syndicated air personalities whose rating performance says that it's quite possible to beat 'live and local' air talent if you understand what listeners come to your station expecting and deliver it with passion. A crutchy, cliched local jock starting phone calls with the same phrases air personalities have been using with request calls since a phone line was first put into a control room, like "hi, who is this, what can I play for you, I'll try to get that one on for you, thanks for calling, where are you calling from..." may be in a room in the local market, but is too self-involved and is largely irrelevant to listeners and will get beaten by more creative, fun, well-edited listener voices telling relevant stories.
RJ: Are the choices for evening programming strong enough: Lia, Whitney, GAC ... and soon, a CMT generated evening show?
JA: It will be interesting to see as these new offerings come online. It's safe to say that Lia and Blair Garner definitely are more than "strong enough." They've been time-tested in all size markets and in very competitive battles and have proven that their personal brands generate strong usage and consistent ratings. The others, I would say, are too new and not yet on enough stations, given the wobbles that sample issues create in night and weekend shares, that it's a bit early to judge yet.
RJ: While Big D & Bubba are making inroads for a nationally syndicated AM show, it's never really been pursued ... are nights better suited to this?
JA: I do not think it's a daypart thing. Great talent, entertaining and relatable content beats boring, unprepared talent with nothing to say every time. For example, I think the new "Shawn Parr's #1 Show" from Friday nights on KKGO, Los Angeles, which is being produced by Dees Entertainment is going to do well as it rolls out across the country in competition with countdowns and classic country shows for many reasons, not the least of which are Shawn's a great radio entertainer whose like-ability is viral, plus every single song during the entire three hours is a proven hit at a time when the first two hours of most countdown shows are playing 20-25 songs that are never going to be hits and country from more than 15 years ago appeals to a very small segment of the country audience today. That's a strategic advantage, totally unrelated to whether a show is live, local or not. Programming on competing stations can't stay the same in the wake of a development like that. Programmers are going to want that show on their stations, not against them.
RJ: Finally, with a tough evening listening environment .... should we care if 7-Mid local programming goes away?
JA: I think we should, but not for the reasons implicit in your questions. I hate to see another training ground for future talent disappear. Country music is extremely hot with Gen Y right now and we need to find and train 20-something personalities if we hope to stay in touch with their lives and values. I wish some of these new programming options featured young guys as well as females, and they had more of a listener focus instead of being so Nashville-centric at a time when secondary and tertiary artists aren't gaining very much traction with the radio audience. There are really only ten or fewer artists listeners care enough about right now to listen to for very long. Interviews with no-name Nashville insiders and songwriters have very limited appeal. CMT's Brian Phillips obviously understands this, given the cable channel's weakest and strongest-rated shows, so it will be interesting to see what CMT rolls out for radio.
It's quite rational at a time of job cuts throughout our entire economy and extremely uncertain short and medium term economic realities for radio owners of all sizes to be more frugal, preserve cash and batten down the hatches during stormy financial seas. This means that it's probably a good time to be launching new syndicated daypart options as long as they meet listener needs and increase efficiency. However, it's still true that the best content wins.
Thanks for askin', RJ. I'll be very interested to see what others think!
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