Friday, March 28, 2014

It's The Panel

After more than a half century of radio ratings diary measurement, we have all become accustomed to certain metrics.  The arrival of PPM over the last decade has changed the math completely.

For the average country station still being rated by diaries this ratio remains quite constant:  a little more than one third of diarykeepers account for almost three quarters of average quarter hour audience. 

For that reason, radio's research companies have learned that a random probability sample composed of about 60% of a station's "core" (P1/heaviest users) and some 40% of that station's cume as found at random in a metro population provides a reliable indication of how that broadcaster is going to do in the next diary survey.

When PPM started to roll out in the top 50 U.S. and Canada's major markets over the last decade that formula no longer "worked."  Many radio stations back when their first PPM ratings were released were unpleasantly surprised to find out that performing extremely well in a traditional perceptual research project fielded with the time-honored sample parameters was no predictor of PPM scores!

Six years ago at the annual December programming "fly-in," Nielsen Audio's clever research crunchers revealed new insights into emerging major market panel samples that still help explain why that may have been happening:

  • Unlike in diary measurement where lighter users often fail to report their usage, PPM captures it all, so instead of the vast majority of AQH audience coming from heavy users, it's more of a 50/50 proposition.  
  • Roughly half of all radio average quarter hour ratings now reflect extremely light, "drive by," perhaps even unintentional use.  Those people listen an average of under three minutes per occasion, bringing average "time spent exposed" when down when compared to diary driven data.
  • Heavy users (P-1's) are still in the sample, accounting for about half the usage of the average radio station's shares.  Their average occasion is ten+ times as long as the other half of the sample, typically something like 35 minutes.
  • PPM also shows that those heavy users listen to about twice as many radio stations in an average week that they would have written down, on average, when they filled out a listening diary.
  • Savvy programmers and researchers have now had more than six years to fully understand these new dynamics and our ability to project results has been improving, but there is still much to learn, but it's important to keep in mind that actual listening has not changed.  
  • You can get the about the same number of quarter hours by targeting either group or many more than you did in diaries if you can find a way to bridge the gaps and constantly satisfy both of them.
  • Listeners still perceive and make use of radio in the same ways they always have.  It's the measurement techniques and the sample that changed, requiring new usage tactics and perceptual-driven strategies.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Do Perceptions Drive Usage?

The company now known as Nielsen Audio has been using diaries to measure radio and television audiences for 55 years now and it's unquestionable that the memorability, partisanship and top-of-mindness which make a person remember a listening occasion long enough to write down when it started and when it stopped as well as the station's "call letters, dial setting or name" can be predicted accurately by measuring listener perceptions.  However, this is prone to mistakes and forgetfulness, as well as subjectivity.

So, along came PPM, with its promise of more granular actual usage data of a panel that remains fairly consistent for several years.

A compelling case for moving to PPM has been driven by many factors - beyond the mere fact that today's audiences are increasingly unwilling to take time to fill out and send back printed diaries - not the least of which is that almost every single radio station's weekly cume audience almost doubles when actual usage is the measure rather than just the ability to be remembered.

PPM proves a long-held belief that Phantom Cume exists.  Roughly half of radio usage is simply not measured by diaries because either the sample doesn't think that their usage was significant enough to take time to report or because they just didn't recall doing it.

Diary success is driven by something one major radio researcher terms "The Image Pyramid."  The stronger the most important images, the better you do.

PPM panel success requires an even higher stakes game.  Not only must you strongly hold all of the key brand images compared to the other radio stations and media choices available to your potential audience, you also have to execute in a granular level down to the minute. 

You may be a person's favorite radio station, personality or program, but if at this very minute you tune them out and another station starts doing something they love, you lose.

Everything that was important yesterday is still crucial, but now minute-by-minute usage has increased the stakes.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

So, Seriously. Is Going To Do Anything About it?

Probably not.

Only the very courageous among us will want to take the risk of doing things differently in exchange for a potential payoff.  Old habits die hard.  BUT:  here's the payoff.

If we cut repetition complaints in half satisfaction could go even a few percentage points higher, driving better perceived TSL (diary measurement) and actual usage (PPM).
  • The trade charts won’t do it.  The chart editors have been concerned about overnight and other “daypart” spins for many years and have certainly talked about ways to remove them from their charts, but there hasn’t been a subscription-supported trade magazine since the deaths of Bill and Janet Gavin.  Ads paid for by the very folks who also pay for the promotional tactics support them.
  • Could they create two different charts, one for the higher level of spins that PPM appears to require and the other for diary markets where it's still possible to sustain 14 hours a week average TSL?  I wonder if PPM stations mixed in one monitored chart with diary markets hurts diary market stations that are drawn to increase their spins to dangerous levels given their longer TSL.  Most likely, even the stations wouldn't support this idea.  No one wants to be in the "smaller markets" group.
  • Labels and publishers won’t do it. They all support the idea in principle, since it would save them promo expenditures which really don’t do very much to drive sales or familiarity, but they all fear that they’d be the only one to stop and would get beaten by competitors that continue.  This will be true as long as AM/FM radio spins are the #1 driver of music sales and, thank goodness for today’s radio, there appears to be no foreseeable end to that.
  • Consolidated radio owners won’t do it.  Their debt drives everything they do and suggesting that giving up a few thousand dollars of their top line in order to fund marketing being paid for now for them by labels and indie promoters could get an exec fired.
  • Your competition won’t do it.  They also fear that you’ll get the money they’d leave on the table if they did.
  • Going back to “reporting” from a larger panel in place of monitored spins won’t do it.  Before monitored airplay, folks reported songs they didn’t actually play.
YOU will do it only when you’re convinced that carefully testing every recurrent spin to be sure it’s adding value for listeners.

YOU will do it only when you come up with better win/win ways to give value to your partners in the music business than burying songs you really know in your heart will never see the light of day on your playlist.  Commit to the songs and artists you believe in and give them meaningful spins when the majority of your audience is listening so that they you can build familiarity and solid test scores in fewer weeks.

YOU will do it when you see ratings growth by doing what listeners love and that is what I am confident will happen.

YOU will do it precisely because all of the others won't, and that's going to gain "someone" a power advantage.

After all, of the 8,874 folks who participated in A&O&B’s Roadmap 2014 listener survey the majority are very satisfied with the country radio they hear right now.  And, that number is trending up.  Of that total 1,336 say they are dissatisfied as a result of too much repetition.  15% of the total sample.

My proposition:  when your satisfaction levels and cume audience are at all time highs (more than double the level of any other negatives!) there is only one direction to go - down - unless you respond to the folks who aren’t happy in ways that don’t hurt you with current fans.

I think stations which take cutting "core dissatisfied" folks' repetition perception levels in half could see a 5-7% increase in usage.

Friday, March 21, 2014

R Is For Repetition .. And, For Recurrents

The pioneers of Top 40 and country radio back in the 1950's and 1960's felt that after very heavy airplay as currents, recurrents deserved a rest.  For example, Bill Drake dropped all power currents after they completed their run on his radio stations for as long as a year before carefully reintroducing them.

By the early 1970's as research pioneers like Bob Pittman, Todd Wallace, Steve Casey and the country format's Larry Daniels and Ed Salamon, among others, started testing them and learned that this potential category of music was the most familiar and popular, though also often highly burned.

Most of them played two per hour in tiered categories.  Now, many stations play a third (or more!) of their hourly mix from the stay current and recurrent rotations.

If our goal is to keep the song by song hit potential high and competitive while also addressing things that could be driving core country fan's complaints of repetition, I submit that it's crucial to research every song you plan to play more than two times a day so that you know that each tune being exposed 7-8 times a day is more powerful and familiar with lower polarity and negatives than any song being played 3-5 times and those are measurably stronger than the ones you play once or twice a day.

Ideally, that would mean that you should be testing some 70 titles every single week for burn, demo appeal and impact.  But, of course, that would be prohibitively expensive.  So, most of us test the currents and cycle perhaps 25-30% of the recurrents each week, meaning that it can take four to five weeks to track listener responses to all recurrents on the air.

That's the best thing about MScore tracking in my opinion.  You can watch every single song played each week in terms of its ability to drive usage for your PPM panel.

Of course, the minuscule sample size of the PPM panel, let alone just the "switchers" (about half of your total panel) causes tremendous wobbles so it's important to use every other research tool at your disposal so that you can make an educated guess on each play every day - is it a wobble or a real move?
  1. Every recurrent should have burn in single digits, positive passion of at least 35% favorite and 70%+ total positives and combined negatives under 15-20%.
  2. Don't mix recurrents in current or power gold categories.  Keep a tight rein on each category and make sure your balance is precisely what you plan in your coalition-building music strategy.
  3. Make "same hour/next day" rules your new religion.  Spread out categories, artists, song types, genres, et al as widely as possible so every three songs you play proves variety is your goal following only "song power" in importance.
What other ideas do you employ to cut your core listener complaints of repetition at least in half, with the goal of improving your station's average time spent listening at a time when the majority of radio's TSL is trending down in the wake of increased fragmentation and new media competition?

I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stop Punishing Listeners With Daypart Spins

A few years ago A&O&B consulted a top ten market leader whose competition was owned by one of the major consolidated group owners which at the time also owned the biggest concert promotion company in the world.

As a result, our client got no tickets, meet and greets, pre-show mini-concerts, on-sale remotes, artist interview about the concerts coming to town and all other typical radio-concert promotion opportunities.

Yet, this aggressive broadcaster still managed to own the events by buying everything they needed for cash.

The annual budget for doing so was under $30,000, which makes me wonder why some stations do so many things to do damage to their "repetition" image for such a small amount of promotion support, comparatively speaking.


One big reason, as noted here yesterday, a single could conceivably "lose momentum" in the first two months or so is because, frankly, it often never was given a real chance in the first place.

That's what led me to investigate the famed Double-Edged Sword of Early Airplay: the thrill of getting your record added but also the agony of knowing it is going to be heavily restricted to after 7pm or even overnights only for an extended period.

These limitations are often so severe that, using reach-and-frequency models based on the same turnover ratios that radio advertisers rely on, we were able to determine that many new releases don't have the opportunity to become familiar enough to be test-worthy before their lifespan ends.

At CRS 2014, Stone Door Media Lab's Jeff Green identified what he termed the "Sweet 16" rated reporting stations with the lowest turnover, enabling them to establish familiarity on new singles (and advertised products/services) faster than others. Such data give these stations a competitive advantage and also can help their record industry counterparts without punishing late night or overnight listeners.  If you'd like to see his presentation graphics, click here.

What's particularly noteworthy about the perpetuation of the common dayparting practice is that research from M-Score reliably shows very little tune-out to newer Country singles regardless of artist. In short, Country fans like what their favorite stations play them.

And, what is really learned by playing a song overnights only to a tiny audience segment anyway?

Are those really the listeners PDs/MDs should rely on for validating their music decisions? It could be argued that air personalities can make any song familiar simply by talking about it, and many stations' ratings, especially in smaller markets, are so strong they really face virtually no risk in playing new music -- certainly no more than by playing a commercial for a car dealer or mattress store every few hours or long stopsets two-three times per hour.

These days, when consumers are demanding to hear whatever they want whenever they want it via numerous music streaming alternatives, it seems to make less and less sense to daypart newer music for more than a few weeks.

This appears to be especially true for serving Country fans, who are so receptive to it and love their local stations, as documented year after year by A&O&B, as well as by the CMA, Edison and Nielsen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Correction And An Apology

I owe a big apology to Bruce Shindler and the Promotion Team at Mercury.

In my haste to look for an example for programmers which may be contributing to the core listener complaints of too much repetition in today's blog, I was sloppy in my wording and too flip when I wrote“Of course, we all wish the very talented Scotty well, but the fact that it took 48 weeks to find out that a tune isn't going to be a hit simply has to contribute to repetition complaints from listeners.  Pity the poor station which added it early, convinced that it was a hit and now their listeners are left wondering why it's not being played anymore.”

The fact is that Scotty was A&O&B's AccuTest ranked #7, having been in our recommended power rotation for seven weeks.  I knew that out clients are aware of that, but I neglected to mention it on the offending blog post which led a reader to believe that I don't think it's a hit.

CJJR.Vancouver PD Mark Patric emailed to correct me on my overstatements:  "I say country radio programmers are the reason why it took 48 weeks to chart.  And I'm one of those programmers.  I came on board very late and I wish now I came on board much sooner.  This is a super strong song.  I think country fans (radio listeners) love Scotty more than Program Directors and Music Directors do.  'See You Tonight' will be a power gold for many years I believe."

I wish I had said that.  And, I wish I had run my thoughts in advance by Shindler and my partners at A&O&B.

My sole goal was to point to how chart competition can contribute to repetition issues. 

I was not trying to say anything negative about Scotty, Billy Currington as artists, their latest tunes or the promotion team behind them.

For failing to make that crystal clear in my blog yesterday, I am sorry and I apologize.

Is The Chart Playing You?

I received this email last week from one of my reliable old pals at Mercury Nashville:   
"Thank you all for the great support of Scotty McCreery’s current single See You Tonight. 48 weeks old!  We will ship Scotty’s Feelin it on 3/31 and go for adds on 4/14 a month from now.  Great tune for the upcoming summer!! Those who took so long to add See You Tonight PLEASE don’t wait so long this time!  Scotty’s the real deal and has a ton of fans listening to your radio station. He’s on his way!"

Of course, we all wish the very talented Scotty well, but the fact that it took 48 weeks to find out that a tune isn't going to be a hit simply has to contribute to repetition complaints from listeners.  

Pity the poor station which added it early, convinced that it was a hit and now their listeners are left wondering why it's not being played anymore.

Yet, I appreciate a savvy promotion exec who can be honest like that.  

Few are, and it builds a lot of trust, which of course they will need now as they turn toward a project which they have to hope will have more success:

Currington finally made it to the top 30 last week, which means it now stands to gain from weekend countdown spins as it now enters an increasingly competitive part of the charts as Stone Door Media Lab's Jeff Green explained in his CRS 2014 session along with Musicmetric's Mark Tindle (click to read a recap of it in last week's Country Aircheck - pdf)

To give you an idea of what the promotion team behind "We Are Tonight" faces in the coming weeks and provide some stats to see how well they do, I dug into some of the metrics Green explained at CRS (note the interpretations of the benchmarks are mine only based on the statistical norms used at the CRS panel):
The song has been among the top 3 most added once (Nov. 18), but no better than that. Statistically, that indicates no better than a 31% chance of going No. 1.


A. The single did not have any "backmoves" before breaking Top 40, which is good, and only one backmove on its road to Top 30, which is also good. So there's nothing in terms of "wobbles" to cause alarm on its current week-to-week pacing.

B. However, it's taken Billy 12 weeks from chart debut to No. 30. While there have been a few No. 1 singles in recent history that took longer, they were mostly protracted battles: L&T's "Angel Eyes," "Randy Houser's "How Country Feels," Brett Eldredge's "Don't Ya," Parmalee's "Carolina" and Eric Paslay's "Friday Night." Note that these were mostly newer artists, as well, so for an established act like Billy to take this long suggests a struggle, especially since "Hey Girl" (also a No. 1) broke the top 30 in just seven weeks. 
Stone Door Media Lab data indicates the average No. 1 is already between chart positions 9-10 by chart week 12. Since the average Country single only has a chart life of 16 weeks, this one needs to catch fire soon.

C. Historical data indicates that a single typically ranking Top 30 should be averaging between 14-15 spins per week. Billy's averaging around 11, which indicates PD confidence in this single is below average.


Established artists such as Billy recently have been averaging 2.3 weeks on the chart before top 100 sales materialize. Specifically, 86% of established artists break into the top 100 sales within three weeks of reaching the CA/Mediabase top 50. It took "We Are Tonight" more than twice as long -- five weeks -- to reach Top 100 sales. Another lagging indicator, sadly.


Sales-per-spin (click the link to see Nielsen's SXSW presentation on deemphasizing sales with streaming growing so quickly now) on "We Are Tonight" are modest. "Hey Girl" averaged 10+ per spin its first 10 weeks.

The average chart peak of an established act (looking at charting singles for the first half of 2013) is 8, and the average chart peak of all songs that chart is 20. There are always exceptions, of course, and we've seen many singles eventually peak well above what the data would project. It appears that Billy would do very well to crack the top 10-15 with this single, but, frankly, the data benchmarks at this point are not supporting it going further than that.  That may be why Universal is clearing the decks now to focus on it rather than dividing their efforts between it and Scotty.

As financial advisers say, "Past performance is not an indicator of future results," and I hope that digging into this kind of historical research would never hurt any record's chances of success.

Apart from some hits that are so obvious that they require no special insight, there are "taste-changing" artists such as Eric Church, who took a good while to break through. And there are songs that take many months to reach No. 1 and defy all statistical odds along the way, but prove to be critical career-launchers and pay tribute to the promotional perseverance of the labels, managers, publishers and early believers at radio.

What does it do for the format if we lose all songs that don't have momentum in the first eight weeks or so?

I asked Jeff Green this question, and we agree (as would many others): It would be a bad thing. 
Needless to say, breakthrough singles by Brett Eldredge, Parmalee, Lee Brice, David Nail, Eric Paslay, Craig Campbell, Charlie Worsham, etc., would not have become hits and would have adversely affected their futures. Everyone realizes that a new single has many "parents" with a lot of time, patience, commitment and money invested. No one wants to give up on a single (or artist) without a fight, nor should they. And to kill off a single simply because some statistics suggest a headwind could mean missing a big opportunity.

Green acknowledges that both Stone Door and Musicmetric are only beginning to identify correlations with newer and potentially powerful exposure forces such as Shazam tags, VEVO spins, BitTorrent activity, iTunes, Beats and Amazon, which furnish a broader range of information as part of the overall "hit evaluation" process.
However, the costs to develop an artist are astronomical, and, in general, there's no good reason why it should so frequently take eight or nine months to find out if a single has hit potential. Film studios, television executives and book publishers are usually able to get a reasonably accurate grip on the commercial value of their artistic releases very early on, typically within a matter of weeks. I also agree with Green that for smaller, independent labels in particular, the cost savings in being able to assess a single's potential early on could be enormous.

And, of course, that would mean less "needless" repetition (songs that don't go all the way) for radio as well.  Online music testing and MScore tracking are radio's additional very fast leading indicators, which I think we all need to follow more than just getting in line in response to music promotion that standardizes playlists around a national chart.
As we test new ways to do that, we'll reduce complaints of "too much needless repetition" as well which may start to rebuild our slipping time spent listening among "dissatisfied core listeners."

Monday, March 17, 2014

OES ("optimum effective schedule") or OTS ("over-the-top spins)

Optimum Efficient Scheduling was never intended to be a guide to music scheduling, but just as with commercial "ROS" schedules of 12 and 18 times a week back when power rotations contained 9 or even 11 hits and a heavy rotation of 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 hours that math provided assurance to conservative programmers who improved their competition situation by upping the frequency on the most popular songs so that they play more often than they do on the folks across the dial.

With PPM's new math of doubled cume and "time spent exposed" (TSL/TSE) cut in half compared to diary measures, we all applied that old formula and upped the spins at some stations as high as once an hour and more widely two hours.

It seems to work and thanks to MScore tracking, it's no longer necessary to use an abstract formula. 

Now, you can literally watch and see if a higher spin count helps or hurts your usage.  In the chart to the left, one station's panel loves a song while another station in the same market's panel seems to hate it in the same period of time.

As repetition complaints from the small percentage of core listeners who say they have become dissatisfied with their favorite country station have become louder (though still only 15% of all listeners in A&O&B's 2014 survey), I think it's time to admit that there may be a perceptual toll to these tactics.

Yes, it seems that listeners have always said that they prefer variety and want less repetition and those beliefs can be tempered with online, callout and auditorium research, demonstrating that the right songs can be played heavily with "burn" and "dislike" tracked along the way.  Some folks now include "play less, play about the same, play more" in their online testing and listeners continue to say "play more" to the most popular tunes even as they get 75 spins in a week.

So, is it intelligent to simply ignore the repetition complaints and keep adding spins to the strongest titles as OES formulas seem to indicate?  As TSL and TSE drop and cume continues to trend upward, there is a siren song calling for just that.

Unless we're certain that we can keep increasing our cume hyper-spinning a small number of very popular songs - and I don't think we can - it seems to me that it's time to step back and look at the entire MScore, online testing, callout and auditorium data universe and recognize for the country format at least our listeners are extremely accepting of hundred and hundreds of songs which have little negative or burn.  Even with teens and 18-34, country isn't CHR.  We aren't limited to a very small library of common thread songs.

For example, the vast majority - hundreds - of gold, current and recurrent songs monitored by MScore at the average station track from between +4% to -4% which means they are all statistically virtually tied in terms of usage.  Only a very small number - often fewer than ten - float to the bottom having negative usage double the averages.

We are fortunate that our values and lifestyle appeal are pan-demographic, spanning at least five decades.

Let's look beyond one simple formula, use all of the tools to test music in our toolkit and think beyond just heavy play of one or two music categories.

It's time to start working as well on how long our heavy user/regulars listen in each occasion by offering more music new music discovery and impeccable song scheduling variety.

Admit It. They Are Right

When the most dissatisfied core country radio listeners complain that we seem to play the same songs over and over, they are not wrong.

The conventional wisdom says "if they're not complaining about repetition, you're not playing the hits often enough."  

It's time to question that and look at what's been happening.

Risks of Increased Song Repetition at Country Radio are Real

For the past several years, the Albright & O’Malley & Brenner annual Roadmap reports have identified that song repetition is country radio's heavy users No. 1 “dissatisfaction” issue. In fact, in CMA Insiders panel tests and Edison Research CRS studies also replicate results that seem to show that playing songs too often consistently far outpaces other concerns such as “too many commercials” or “irrelevant or too much DJ talk” for country radio heavy users.

A clear majority has shared this view every year over the last decade, with the proportion of thousands of Country listeners surveyed holding this opinion ranging between 54-62%. The January 2014 client exclusive report shows 58.8% cite song repetition as the top negative impression they have of Country radio.

Despite A&O&B’s clarion call to Country programmers to pull back on playing current singles too often and national research documenting decreases in time spent listening to radio (including Country radio), stations seem to be content to maintain business as usual. Perhaps PDs dismiss the risks, regarding such complaints as shop-worn issues that have always persisted in the minds of listeners and which run contrary to studies that indicate listeners want to hear the hits as much as possible.

How real is this consumer perception? The Stone Door Media Lab offered to examine the issue of repetition at Country radio, comparing spins at different chart milestones from August 2006 and January 2014. The Stone Door study’s results show that Country stations are playing currents far more than ever.

The spin frequency for charting Country singles is rising. Here’s proof:

And, it takes more spins than ever to achieve a No. 1, too – up 24% since mid-2006. The average number of weekly spins for No. 1 singles:

2013-2014                  48.32
2012-2013                  48.20
2011-2012                  45.37
2010-2011                  43.38
2009-2010                  42.13
2008-2009                  40.70
2007-2008                  38.87
2006-2007                  38.95

Even though A&O&B’s 2014 Roadmap report shows that nearly 72% of Country listeners are still “very satisfied” with their Country stations, these consumers are demonstrating a steadily growing appetite for alternative music discovery and entertainment options. Nearly a quarter (24.9%) cite a “pure play” online choice as a destination “where they go” when they leave their favorite Country station, instead of another Country station. That’s up from 20.4% in 2013.

As the saying goes, perception is reality. But in this case, reality supports perception.

Bottom line: Country radio needs to seriously consider this No. 1 negative. 

Tomorrow:  why is this happening?  Will cutting back on big current hit spins hurt PPM station ratings?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Form And Substance

Written for the ages by Jay Trachman:

One of the things we worry about as the "new technologies" whittle away our listener base is that they're not all wall-to-wall music. There are plenty of channels that offer DJs, and they set our own air personalities in competition with these "syndication quality" talents. This isn't always so - a lot of the jocks are hired simply because they live near the studios where the feed originates - but the level of performance is generally high. 

How can local-origination stations compete, with what they have to spend for talent? Some broadcasters talk as though they only have two choices: hire low-cost inexperienced performers, and nurture them till you lose them, or hire mediocrities who may stay put. (I know of station managers who actually opt for the second...)

It's always been that way. This creates problems and expenses for employers, but it's in the nature of the entertainment business. Suppose the record companies operated that way? Hiring so-so artists they could hang onto, rather than the brilliant flashes-in-the-pan who may turn out to be "one-hit wonders," or change labels as soon as their contracts are up? Artist development is an expensive, never-ending chore -- but it comes with the territory, in entertainment.

I believe it is possible for "young, inexperienced" personalities to win against the Big Bird.

Here's how to train them:

I believe the right thing to teach young jocks is this: "Here is our format. I expect you to follow it strictly...unless you have good reason. If, for a few minutes, these rules interfere with something you're passionate about, something you're sure both you and your listener will enjoy, then by all means, do it!  Be prepared to explain your reasons to me later. If they're good, I will not only approve,  I may even take you to lunch. If they're not, well, you had my permission, so let's talk it over and see how we can fine-tune your approach."

A station doesn't become appealing because of formatics or slogans; it becomes appealing because of substance. You can regulate jocks and make them follow every rule, but after you're done with that, you still don't necessarily have anything people will listen to. Training and seasoning can't just mean formatics and smoothness. It has to include what your jocks are saying and to whom.

Perhaps the core of it is understanding of the listener. One of the principal problems with beginning personalities is that they forget the person they're supposed to be talking to. They lose sight of attention span.

They talk to massage their own egos. The conventional remedy is to tell him or her: "Shut up and play the music." Maybe the right answer is, "Think!  Who are you talking to?"

Have you ever heard a "diamond in the rough" on the air? Someone who was "breaking all the rules," and yet so appealing in his or her unique way that you couldn't tear yourself away? These people are going to draw listeners no matter what mistakes they make.

Formatics, they can learn; smoothness, they'll acquire -- provided they don't get so bummed out over programmers telling them, "Just be yourself - while reading these liner cards!" -- that they leave the profession.

Seasoning and formatics count. But they're only of prime importance when no one offers anything else. I don't think you need ten years of major market experience to do an appealing show and compete with the syndicators.

I think what you do need is something to say that the listener enjoys and can't get anywhere else. Even if it is a little "rough." I think small market managers and programmers need to learn how to guide creativity, instead of confining it.

That's not a new problem, and the new technologies didn't create it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Now, The Bad News

At a CRS 2014 session Nielsen Audio revealed national country format trend data showing weekly cume among teens rose 8% and was up an impressive 15% among 18-24s helping country’s audience share grow 17% among teens (12-17 year-olds) and 16% with young adults (18-24), allowing the format to leapfrog past CHR in persons 18-24 and move from third to second among teens in diary markets.  At the same time, country’s share of 25-34 year-olds slipped 9% (still holding onto #1 in that demo).

The cume increases came largely as a result of new listenership, driven by population shifts.

We're fortunate that happened.  Here's why, thanks to another CRS prersentation, from Stone Door Media Lab's Jeff Green:
Larry Rosin, Roy H. Williams and Fred Jacobs have all fretted about a potential cause of this trend in recent blog posts and I can't disagree with any of their concerns:  the increasing de-localization of radio and extreme commercial loads.

This is important because normally it's far less expensive to improve time spent listening than it is to grow cume.

Country's core audience complains twice as much about music repetition as their reason for being dissatisfied/listening less than they do about "too many commercials," so country programmers have it in their power to turn our negative TSL trend around at almost no financial cost if we take listeners at their word and don't continue to virtually ignore their complaint.

To do so will mean letting go of some old habits and traditional wisdoms.

All next week, I'll offer my reasoning and proposed strategies. 

Watch this space.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Planning A Stunt? Start By Learning PR

I love perusing radio trades and seeing that an A&O&B client is doing something clever.

Communicating via the trades is very a nice thing to do, sharing your idea withe rest of us in your business (and perhaps it also serves to demoralize your competition when they see your name accomplishing something you know they wish they had thought of first).

Of course, the real folks you want to impact with your stunt - potential new cume and also your current core audience - don't read the radio trades, so it's even more important that your great idea creates word of mouth advertising among your local target.

What TV news, if any, do they watch?  What else do they read?  Which social networks are best at touching them?

Each of those things has a gatekeeper.  Do you know who that is?  More importantly, do they know who you are?

Before you start your stunt planning on the air, create a series of press releases for each stage of it.  Then, reach out to the local people who are most likely to cover things local radio stations do.  Even with these individuals, they are more likely to give you the coverage you want if they feel like they are scooping their competition, so you'll want to decide in advance which people to "leak" your story to and which ones will use it if they simply get the same press release everyone else does.

That's publicity 101, and if your stunt is something that you want maximum exposure for, you may want to hire a pro, a local press agent with a track record of getting things lots of ink and buzz.  If you don't know who that is, you're not ready to distribute your first release yet.

Talk to a ad agency your trust.  Do some homework.  Find out how other radio-oriented stories getting the kind of coverage you covet were delivered and by whom.

Once you know that and have decided whether you need to hire someone or just want to try doing it yourself, you're ready to hit the send button on that initial PR email to your list.

After the release goes out, it's time to really study who picks it up, which angle they use and how well your story did.  That way, when it's time to send out your next press release you will have the tools to kick it up a notch.

Take the people who used your story to lunch.  Sure, this will give you a chance to do some more personal PR and give them an inside view at your show and station, but  it is also time to listen to them and find out what they would do differently next time so that your story gets more prominent coverage in their medium.

Make a list of people who didn't use your story but who do sometimes cover other radio station events and stories.  Take them to lunch next.  Listen more than talk.  How do they perceive you?  What can you do to get them to cover your story next time?

This is an ongoing process, a part of daily show prep.  It's what the radio stations and people whose names you see in print have learned and do better than you do.  Get your competitive juices flowing and just as you do with every break on radio, strive to make the content you create as well as the PR you do to support it the very best.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Watching The Radio

Think about this:

The motor home that has been MY house for the past seven months as I explore North America from coast to coast and border to border has cable TV and can also be fitted with DISH and/or DirectTV.

Those were the options I considered last summer when I left my residence and started the journey and at the time I was aware of, but had never actually used digital television.  Now, I find myself using nothing else (and it's free!).

For example, for the last five days I've been camping near New Orleans for the Mardi Gras celebrations.

By simply cranking up my antenna, I receive more than local 40 channels and since they're all digital, the picture is as clear as any as I get to know each area I visit.

Last week, I watched WZZK/Birmingham's never-boring Rick and Bubba for several days on my digital TV on a Southern Alabama TV station's "side channel."

If you live anywhere in "The South" and want to really hear the values connecting people, Rick and Bubba do that in engaging and entertaining ways. 

Their show website makes it look like they think the majority of their "watchers" stream video on computers or mobile devices and, for now, perhaps that's right.

However, last week, this digital TV watcher "experienced" their show on the very same playing field as GMA, Today and CBS This Morning.

I just looked at the future for radio morning shows - alliances with local TV, thanks to the visionaries headquartered at Summit Media, Birmingham!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Can Online Usage Reinvent Radio At Home?

Trend:  as television has reinvented their morning newscasts in the form of traditional morning radio shows, many folks have been turning to radio later in the morning, as they get into their vehicles.

Will personal mobile devices give your radio station a new "at home usage" opportunity?

BUT, meanwhile, the vehicle is under attack at the same time:

.. especially with our long term future listeners.

The national averages, of course, are fascinating but meaningless, really, except as a comparison to your local performance.  Are you ahead of/behind the curve on every data point?  There's only one way to know and that is to do local research.

 - A&O&B Roadmap 2014