Saturday, November 30, 2013

Is It "Beginning To Sound A Lot Like Christmas"?

It has been seven years since Edison Research was tasked by the Country Radio Seminar to ask country listeners about their preferences in non-stop Holiday tunes (click the charts to enlarge them).

When it became obvious that the decision on what to do on a country radio station was so highly polarized on a national average basis, perhaps driven somewhat by religious preference, CRS stopped including the question in the national format tracking studies because every individual market is so unique, depending not only on theology but also many other factors ranging from how many country stations slice up the pie, the age of the market, if you can afford the luxury of going six weeks without playing any new music so that in January you must completely refamiliarize your core with all of the country hits that came out since mid-November,  whether other format stations like Christian AC or mainstream AC fill the void, etc.

This week, Billboard's midweek Top 40 and Country update publications provided a reminder that 70% of the country listeners that participated in those CRS studies have now aged into the next older target cell and 45-54 seven years ago is now largely 55-64.

Writer Rich AppelThis year top 40 has been gifted with new and original songs from at least two core artists, Kelly Clarkson (“Underneath the Tree”) and Ariana Grande, who’s taken a page from Bieber’s playbook and releasing a new song each week for four weeks, two of those being originals. Republic Records executive VP Charlie Walk feels the four-song strategy for Grande, fresh off her new artist of the year win at Nov. 24’s American Music Awards, fills the void for top 40’s audience.  “There haven’t really been many contemporary artists putting out modern holiday music, and in the digital space we’re able to move quickly to bring it to Ariana’s massive fan base in time for the season.”

The CHR programmers Appel interviewed while noting that "Christmas begins with CHR" worry that even the best-known traditional Christmas favorites don't fit between the hits of today.

Journalist Phyllis Stark focused her attention on a country station in a market where two of the city's three country stations target younger, leaving the upper-demo one to go all Christmas again this year:  When KFKF Kansas City, Kan., flips the switch on Thanksgiving Day at 2 p.m., it will become the second country station this year to go all-Christmas, following KEGA Salt Lake City’s similar flip on Nov. 22. And like KEGA, this will mark KFKF’s third year stunting with all holiday music, a move that has generated huge ratings gains.  Other than its St. Jude Radiothon Dec. 4-5, KFKF will be churning out the holiday fare nonstop.

As country's target straddles both of the larger population groups on either side of the smaller Gen X cohort the decision of how much Christmas music to play at all and when to do it is making stations who target 18-44 more like Hot AC and CHR in this regard, while that seven year old research on it probably still holds true for you if your station's target resembles a traditional mainstream oldies based AC and is now largely 40+.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tagging Country's Positioning

In the wake of my last two posts (Do You Own A "Tag" Or A "Position? and Making A (Position) Statement), what is the current state of the country format's efforts?

To find out, I monitored every country radio station in the top 25 markets.  Here is how all of those country stations state their positions in 2013:

Many define themselves by Era
  • Today's Country, My Country
  • New Country, The New..
  • New country.  Always a great song, your workday station
  • New country..
  • (brand) country, new country
  • #1 for new country
  • The new (brand).. country's hottest hits.  The new generation of country
  • new country first
  • the best new music   an I Heart Radio station
  • more country ..  the 90s to now
  • New country and (area's) all time favorites
  • The 90s and more ..  the greatest country from the 90s and more
  • (city's) best country variety - from the tried and true to the brand spanking new
In competitive situations, Quantity is sometimes used
  • More music now  (brand name) Country
  • More country now
  • (brand name) Country More country now
  • More of (city's) best country
  • Another extra long music sweep ...  30 minute music sweeps  every country song's a favorite
  • Commercial free music (brand name)
  • the most commercial free country   more back to back songs   (city's) most listened to country station
  • another whole hour of music   the most music  XX-minute music run
  • the new (brand)  52 minutes of (brand) country
The current fad is positioning on a colorful Music Brand (almost always an animal, usually a Bull - or is that a lemming? - these days)
  • (WOLF, Cat, Froggy, The BULL. Coyote) country  A new breed of country station
  • (area's) New country leader
  • #1 for New Country
  • The biggest stars .. (state)-bred .. (brand)
Or a City Brand
  • (city's) Country Station
  • (city's) #1 for New Country
  • if it's country in (area small town), it's (area) country
  • (city's) new country leader
  • (city) country
Only a very few still use a "Position" in the country format's historical sense of the word
  • Great country (frequency)
  • real country  my country station  commercial free country
The key questions I hope managers and programmers seriously consider:

Does the average listener understand, relate to and remember .. let alone care about all of this verbiage?

And, before you push out another sloganeering "tag," shouldn't you find out what you are famous for in the mind of your user and make sure you do that a lot?

Making A (Position) Statement

Is your "position" in your market what you say it is?

Legendary programmer, manager and consultant Neil Gallagher told RBR a story a couple year ago about a battle in Las Vegas which answers that question:
There once was an A/C station that dominated their major market.  They had the best music images in the city. They were well known for presenting the grandest, most desirable contests and promotions with the most expensive and desirable prizes.  They had the highest rated morning show with the city’s most popular radio personalities.  They had an enormous database of at-work listeners that they worked religiously. They were the area’s dominate television and outdoor advertiser, presenting creative messages that tested extremely well in focus groups and articulated their benefits creatively and succinctly and in an extremely entertaining fashion.  They had the most aggressive street presence in the city, appearing at virtually every event in the entire region with an imposing fleet of stunning vehicles.  They owned the weather and traffic information images with their helicopters in the air, immense cellular phone reporter network and the market’s top television station’s popular, experienced and attractive weather reporter appearing frequently throughout every hour of the morning show.  They were the poster child for being a wildly successful, dominate radio station. 

They had very deep pockets allowing them to fend off any attack someone might contemplate. But they also had one very small “Achilles Heel” – a lack of strict discipline in music programming.

They were not alone in the format as there was a relatively new-to-the-format station in town that was very strategically oriented – and more disciplined. 

Both stations used extensive strategic research.  Both stations played similar “Power” and “Secondary” songs. Both played “Lunar” rotation songs for variety. It was this third category that was the narrow point of attack for their competitor.  Both stations had different philosophies on how to present Lunar songs: the dominate station would play the newer releases they thought everyone would enjoy and a wider variety of gold that received less airplay over the years while their new competitor played songs that were well established from considerable air play over the years.  Most radio station music programmers were tired of hearing these songs as they have been played to death in the minds of the music directors and they rationalized that listeners felt the same way. 

Here’s where the competitor’s focus and discipline paid off big time.  
At the dominant station, the average “like-a-lot” and “like-some” totals of the newer songs and wider selection of Lunar gold records played was 20.  This is because the newer songs hadn’t had time to establish yet and the “fresher” oldies based songs, though less tired, did not have as much passion with the audience.

On the new competitor station, the average “like-a-lot” and “like-some” totals was 40. In spite of the fact the programmers felt extreme discomfort playing those songs (feeling the songs were completely ‘burned’), they had the discipline to trust their instruments (research) and the laser-like focus to continue to attack on this narrow gap.

The Lunar songs were twice as popular on the competitor as on the dominant station (40 compared to 20 “like-a-lot” and “like-some” totals.)  Lunars were approximately 35% of both station’s playlists.  That meant that overall, the competitors music was 17.5% better than the dominant station's on average (50% of 35%.) 

The luxury casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard were all built on a 6% spread.  Within a few years attacking on this narrow distinction, the competitor took over the lead in the format by a margin of over 2 to 1.  In fact, the former dominant station continued to lose audience to the newcomer and left the format a year later in major defeat.

Lest you think this was some weird anomaly, consider this information that The Research Group’s leader, Bill Moyes sent out to their clients in the mid-1980s. 

The following phenomena are still true today:

  1. The average listener makes their decision on whether you will be their P-1 radio station based on the first 15 to 20 minutes or so that they listen.  So every quarter hour of your programming has to be great.
  2. Of all the different things that would influence a listener to become a P-1 of the station, music is the most important (in a talk based radio station, the equivalent would be the information relevancy and desirability).
  3. The image “playing the best songs for your taste” correlates 3 times as much in forming P-1 status than does having a “fun morning show” or playing “lots of music”.
Remember: nothing kills great advertising like a bad product.

Both stations no doubt hammered "the best music" as their tag, yet it took listeners just one quarter hour to figure out for themselves which one was better.

This is why it's now pointless, if it ever was, to mindlessly repeat a slogan over and over.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Do You Own A "Tag" Or A "Position?"

Like Randy Lane (writing in Radio Ink), I was also nodding my head at Geoffrey James' Inc Magazine article, "Forget Your Tag Line. It's Obsolete:"
Jingles started in the early days of commercial radio and continued to be popular as a branding technique through first decades of commercial television.  Jingle-writing was big business; pop star Barry Manilow famously got his start as a jingle-smith.  Today, though, jingles have almost disappeared.  That's partly because broadcast ads, which used to be 60 seconds long are now much shorter (often 15 seconds or even 5 seconds long) leaving less time for a jingle. But there's another, more cogent reason for the disappearance of the jingle: they don't work any more.  At best, they sound like bad imitations of popular songs; at worst, they sound corny and retro. The same thing is happening with the corporate tag line. Such tag lines are intended to encapsulate and clarify the essence of a brand proposition as with Apple's "Think Different" or NBC's "Must See TV." The problem with tag lines, though, is that they tend to sound like generic corporate speak. For example, Sony's recently launched "Make.Believe" tag line is supposed to inspirational, but could describe any company.

If you buy that, as I do, it's hard to disagree with Lane too:
Requiring air talents to bark out tag lines every time they open their mouth is wasting precious time. Time that could be better spent delivering a hook headline to instantly engage the audience. You don’t want to waste even a nanosecond when the average attention span is down to nine seconds, according to one study.  Saying “The Best Mix of the ‘80s, ‘90s and Now” first, every talk break, will be rattled off ineffectively at best by most air personalities. Tag lines have become meaningless commercial noise to most listeners. We have moderated many focus groups and have been surprised to find that the majority of respondents could not recall a radio station slogan even though it had been pounded for years every break.

That's why when I hear a personality mechanically saying the same words with the same inflection every time they open their microphone, I first attempt to get them to vary that autopilot inflection pattern.  If they have become so habitual in their delivery, I echo Lane's advice and tell them to just stop it and brand the interesting, informative, entertaining content they prepared, since that's their most obvious definable difference as a "voice on the radio" anyway.

It you don't have lots of songs I really love which are connected by engaging things I care about to say, all the tagging won't work anyway, even if it is delivered beautifully.

Meanwhile, just because "tag" self-marketing doesn't work anymore does not mean that you can win without a believable "position" in the mind of the listener.

And, the art today is subtly imprinting your unique, unduplicated position without resorting to techniques which no longer work to positively brand, such as hard sell and irritating in-your-face repetition (which is still one of the two ways we remember things, but they may just remember how repulsive you are if you over-use it)?

Rees and Trout's four decade old rules (click the link for a refresher course) have not lost their impact when done creatively and believably.

7Up is still the uncola.  Avis may actually be #1 today, but in our minds they still "Try Harder" because they are #2.

Compared to the campaigns highlighted for their ongoing success from back when Jack and Al's book first was published 26 formats and editions ago, "Best and Most Country," "Continuous Country Favorites" and "New Country And The Legends," given the excellent vantage point of history, probably never were "positions" embraced by listeners in the first place. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

There Ought To Be A Law

There are some things that our advertisers do that are illegal and then there are others that should be.

In both situations, it's the listener who gets punished when programmers fail to police these instances even before a fine comes the radio station's way.

Things every creative director needs to be on the lookout for every day:

1.  End dates for copy.  Nothing sounds less "live and local" than a spot for a Thanksgiving Day Sale on the day after the holiday.

2.  Updates.  Every time-dated spot or promo must have a "tomorrow" and "today" version.  Would anyone tell a friend "sale ends November 20th" ON November 20th?

3.  Sirens.  No, it's not illegal to broadcast one on radio, but has anyone not been in a vehicle when one came on, felt deceived after pulling over to the side of the road, realizing they could have caused an accident?  Surely, there's a more original and creative way to command attention than this hackneyed gimmick.  Let's protect the ears and traffic safety of our listener and offer to make something better for the brand, gratis.

4.  "The first listener to get to (remote location) wins..."  Actually, this one could get you sued if someone causes a collision after speeding up to get your prize.

5.  Anything that contains "prize, chance and consideration."  But, you knew that. 

I wish we'd handle numbers 1 through 3 as strictly as we do that one by using the phrase "I can't let you do that."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Riffing, Radio And Restraint

When you're extremely talented at something it's very tempting to press your advantage and show off a little bit.

Nashville-based performance coach Tom Jackson advises his clients not to just do a carbon copy of their hit when on stage, but to change someone's life by creating a larger than life experience

Nail that In front of a live audience and you get immediate positive feedback, perhaps a standing ovation.

That can make it very tempting the next time you are in the recording studio to overdo it in the same way, but a savvy hit record producer will ask you to tone it back down, create a more intimate and personal experience, one that can be listened to for a thousand times, becoming more potent which each listen.

Great radio personality isn't a stage performance. 

It's one to one and time is precious.

The difference between good and great on radio is not how long you can do the things you are best at, but how quickly.

No matter how large your radio station cume is, it's best to reach it all - one at a time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Going Native

First, I want to get the sick joke that occurred to me when I saw Inside Radio's top story:   "Radio deploys digital to meet ‘native’ demand."

The moment local casino gaming was legal, radio was all over native advertising!

That out of the way, I have to say that I am skeptical of this "new trend" in advertising when it comes to radio.  Even the Wikipedia definition of it has been up since May (
"this article may document a neologism in such a manner as to promote it. Please add more reliable sources to establish its current use and the impact the term has had on its field...") and I am still waiting for one of the proponents to comply in spite of many, many giddy articles and posts about its potential.
Finally: "The Urban Legends of Native Advertising" makes these key points about this ad fad:   
  1. It's not new.
  2. Not any brand can do it.  You are not Nike.
  3. Putting your logo front and center may kill the impact.
I am not ready to quote Tonto in response to anyone experimenting with new revenue concepts, but before radio sales execs go very far down the native path, I hope they compare this stealth new tactic to the much more effective multiplicity of tools already proven in our kit.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Radio Needs A Song Writers Chart

You could tell from my last post:  I don't think David Ross' new songwriters top 60 chart should be used as a source of content on the air.


When a song becomes a hit - which is to say that it's "a favorite, a song I like a lot and if it came on radio, I'd turn it up" - it no longer belongs to the writer. 

Now, it's owned by the listener, each one of whom has her own personal meaning to its message and story.

I don't watch music videos for that reason. 

They make the meaning of songs too literal, changing the perspective from the one inside my head to someone else's and it's almost always "less" than it was when I first heard it, projecting my own personal video on the screen inside my imagination.

Radio's power comes from intimacy and theater of the mind. 

The best music takes full advantage of that.  It is the basis of the art great songwriters practice better than anyone.

That is why all of the music business - including radio - needs a song writers chart. 

There's a lot to learn from those folks who rank at the top.

They possess a list with a lot of secrets worth studying.

A great performance by a sensational artist of an average song simply won't perform as well as an average singer doing a mediocre version of a simply terrific song.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Do You Know Who Ashley Gorley Is?

If you're a recording artist and you don't, you better catch up right now on David Ross' latest innovation.

If you talk on the radio, it's very tempting to interview song writers, relate and listen to their stories and try to educate the listeners who love the songs about this side of the music business they know and care very little about.

My experience, based on PPM usage data and well as longer term diary ratings:  listeners tune out when the content turns to things and people which don't relate to their interests.

We're not in the education business.  We're in the entertainment biz.

If you want to know more about Ashley Gorley, go to Wikipedia.

Certainly, there is no topic or person that a great communicator can't present in an interesting and relatable way, but counting down the top 60 song writers on the air would be too much inside baseball for most of us.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Local Radio Is Getting Close To Billing As Much As Newspaper

At least we're growing.  And, clearly, they are not.

The local radio market is growing, albeit at a more moderate pace than it once did, by expanding its offerings to off-air platforms, providing a wider range of listener experiences and advertiser opportunities, according to the firm's new state-of-the-industry report. "Local Radio Stations Profiles and Trends for 2014 and Beyond" provides a comprehensive view of the industry based on the long-term research and analysis conducted by BIA/Kelsey for its clients and the industry. 

According to the new BIA/Kelsey report, the five biggest local advertising categories for radio are: retail (18.0 percent of total radio industry revenue), financial/Insurance (17.0 percent), restaurants (14.5 percent), automotive (14.0 percent) and technology (10.0 percent). BIA/Kelsey says local radio generates over 10 percent of its advertising from these five different groups of advertisers. And, the report says local radio receives 14.3 percent of all advertising spent by finance and insurance companies and 12.1 percent of all advertising spending by restaurants.

Perhaps we should wait for RAB to issue their quarterly radio revenue trend report later this month  (here's the latest one), but I think it's safe to say this:  focusing on national business growth or online development won't make up for a lack of a solid local sales presence.

Monday, November 11, 2013

While You Are In A Giving Mood, Mr. Nielsen...

Thank you so very much for the wonderful gifts last week at the Affiliates' Advisory Country meeting.  More stable data, larger samples, allowing all online-terrestrial simulcasts to show up and not just subscribers as well as better in-station monitoring of PPM encoders all have to cost you money and are all long overdue and appreciated!

May I respectfully suggest you do one more thing that will actually save you money?

Stop suing and thus alienating your prospective customers and instead resume the practice of making 6+ and/or 12+ top line data for all of the radio stations in your quarterly "top line data" releases.

Yes, if a rep is dumb enough to ignore the copyright notice and walk into a client with a print out, trying to sell their station using it, go ahead and take them to court.

But, if someone is simply tracking format or station trends with no intention of profiting from the info, please lend a hand to students of radio and start releasing ALL of the top line data to the trades.

That way, both we and you can see the benefits of your very positive moves on everyone's sample.

And, if someone wants to pay a bonus for performance based on 12+, what's the harm?

There is so much info available to any subscribing station both for programming purposes and for sales, a station ignorant enough to try to get business off of a 12+ ranker and nothing more is going to be punished on the streets and you don't need to pay expensive lawyers to rub salt in their wounds.

Thank you, your friend,


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Will The Country Format Ever Fragment?

It was exactly 25 years ago at the Country Radio Seminar when researcher/guru John Parikhal predicted that the country format was about to fragment into two equal branches, mainstream and classic.  Instead, about a year later, a guy named Garth and seven or eight other exciting new artists emerged as "the class of '89," painting over the cracks that had started to show.

If you read my last four posts which show that by playing the right songs and artists it's still possible for a country station to cobble together the optimum coalition that spans from teens to leading edge boomers you might think that country radio still hasn't fragmented.

You'd be wrong.

We just hadn't looked old enough as yet.

55+ country partisans are clearly not happy with the direction that even the biggest hits of today have taken.

That's more than a third of today's country radio audience.

So, yes, country will fragment.  It will happen the day someone finds media buyers and advertisers willing to pay for 55 and older.

Meanwhile, for the average country radio station today, they remain the huge segment of our audience that no one is willing to pay for, but savvy buyers who ask our sellers to pitch on 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 know that they get for free!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Common Threads

The key to broadening the appeal of a format with a target as broad as country radio is finding the songs that drive loyalty for as many age and gender subgroups as possible.

The lower the "difference" number, the less the polarity among these highest rated hits:

I get concerned when I see a difference greater than 10% when comparing cross tabs. 

Aldean and Eli Young, for example, highlight a potential incompatibility if the target includes both 25-34 and 35-44.

Meanwhile, it appears that 25-34 and 45-54 may be more alike in their tastes with these songs this week than 35-44 is.

If you don't look at all the target cells individually and compare them, you'd be missing something important.

In certain very competitive situations, even standard demos are too wide as generational cohorts age year by year from one cell to another.

(More) 35-44

How many demos can a country station super-serve?

Top of the 18-24 ranker:

The highest "favorite" scores of all four demo cells for the ones they love.


Slightly lower positive passion levels, but still impressively strong.


Four of the five top songs are the same as the younger cells, as Blake Shelton sprints to the line in the center 35+ cells.


The upper end of the target's ranker looks a lot like the other three.

So, perhaps 18-54 is a target demo when it comes to the most popular songs?

How many demos can we super-serve? 

When it comes to our biggest hits:  at least four of them, thankfully!

Monday, November 04, 2013

It's Not Just How Many, But Also Which Ones

In 2000, almost one in five of the average country station's listeners was between 35 and 44.

Now, Nielsen's "Radio Today" reports that the format's 25-34 (15 to 15.4%) and 45-54 (19.9 up to 20.1) cells have grown in our audience comp as 35-44 slipped to 14.7% - due to the small size of Gen X compared to both the Boomers and Millenials in the general population.

Is that part of the reason the format's share of 35-44 listeners also dipped from the previous year? 

I think it would be if a station hasn't updated its callout screener to account for the generation creep that's been happening over the last decade!

Thanks to Cornerstone Research's Analyst, I compared scores of the best-liked new tunes 25-39 vs 40-54 to show what I mean.  It exaggerates the upper and lower edges of our audience and minimizes the opinions expressed by those right in the middle where we should still be aiming our arrow:

There was a time when most major country stations used callout that was targeted 50/50 25-39 and 40-54, 60% female and "60% core with 40% other core as found in nature."

If your station is still doing it that way, it's time to rethink your research plan.  That's especially true if you have moved from callout to online testing to your own station database.

Certainly, looking at the data that way continues to highlight the generational differences between the oldest and the youngest of your listeners 25-54, but splitting 35-44 in half understates their opinions.

That effect is amplified by the fact that if your station mirrors the national averages it's likely that the 20% of your database that was 35-44 in 2000 is now ten years older.  That makes it more important to look at today's smaller 35-44 folks' input on your music discretely compared to the larger numbers on both ends of our demographic scale.

Meanwhile, further complicating today's country targeting is the emergence of 18-24 and even teens into our cume (and music research).

Who wouldn't want as many younger listeners as possible? 

It's certainly possible to justify calling today's country format age target 18-54 (or even older!), yet dealing with five or six generational cohorts' attitudes, values, lifestyles - let alone music preferences isn't targeting, it's hosting a family reunion.

I want to consider some challenges that presents - and solutions - tomorrow in this space.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Country Will Be Huge In 20 Years. BUT....

... are we going to be moving slowly downward 25-54 and 18-49 year after year between now and then, as leading edge boomers age out of 25-54 and Gen X moves into the middle of it?

It's worth studying both Census Bureau population projections as well as Nielsen's annual Radio Today historical trends to stay ahead of the curve.

More than half of the country radio audience today is over 45.  The country radio format's 35-44 composition percentage has been slipping for the last decade as Gen X has aged into that demo cell right in the center of our target.  (click the link to see Westwood One/Denver VP/Programming John Paul's prescient post and stats on this)  "It could get real ugly" between now and then, he says.

Fortunately, country still ranks #1 18-24. 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54 in 2013:

Last week,
Inside Radio talked to a number of smart programmers managing to beat the national averages:

  • Keeping 35-44 year-olds tuned in isn’t an issue for “93Q” KKBQ-FM, Houston.  The Cox country station was tops in the demo in September.  More often than not it’s the station’s best-performing demo.  PD Johnny Chiang attributes that to a carefully balanced music mix that’s big on common denominator records. “You have to go by what the song sounds like and the lyrics still matter a lot,” he says. “The biggest advantage country has over every other format is how the music and lyrics connect with the audience.”  Keeping country radio a family affair starts with the research, he and other programmers say.
  • Entercom country “106.5 The Wolf” WDAF-FM, Kansas City PD Wes Poe says the station keeps Millennials and Gen X-ers satisfied by testing its music across the wide 25-45 demo.  Consultant Jaye Albright says it’s important for country stations to include men and upper demos in their research — not just younger women. “I would target 22-44 so you don’t get dragged too young and blow off upper demos,” she says. “The 35-44 demo has the potential of being country listeners for the next 20 years.” 
  • Clear Channel EVP of programming Clay Hunnicutt says country radio continues to have broad demographic appeal and that it has attracted 18-34 year-olds organically. “We have to convert them, not target them,” he says. “I don’t want to make someone like me.  But if they’re coming to the party, I really want to show them a good time.”
So, what's the big deal?

To overcome the smaller proportion of 35-44 in both the general population and country's audience comp, the format must increase it's share of both Generation X and Generation Y listening above current levels.

The national country format average share 35-44 was up from 2011 to 2012 from a 12.2 to a 12.8, but then slipped to a 12.6 this year. 

The majority of country stations tracked by Nielsen this year cut a smaller slice of a shrinking pie. 

Turning that slight dip around by the time the next annual format report emerges in 2014 will lay the necessary groundwork for both a solid medium- and long-term future.  

Failing to do so will mean we'll need to wait for the average age of 18-49 and 25-54 to come down, which census data forecasts won't happen for a decade.  

Getting it "right" between now and then requires targeting more discretely than the standard ten year demo cells, growing new coalitions based on more than the mix of age or gender that worked for the format in the past.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Broadcasting Is What You Make It

Contributed by guest blogger Kevin Fodor, Dayton, Ohio, ( who as a high school student in love with radio hung around my nightly remote broadcasts all summer back in 1969 from The Dayton Mall on WAVI-AM 1210.  He not only makes me very proud today, but is also a great reminder to mentor promising young people you encounter:
I’ve been reading blogs on the web and on Facebook asking, “What would you say to a person considering radio as a career?”. And, what follows, sadly is post after post after post from people who say, basically, “Don’t even bother trying.”

Now, I don’t agree with every decision that’s been made by the corporate biggies (though some of the changes over the years have had positive outcomes). Nor do I think the FCC has always ruled in the public interest. (I think to some degree, they threw the baby out with the bathwater in the 90’s rewrite of the Telecom Act.)

But, I have to take a stand here.  What I’m reading on these blogs makes me feel that a lot of people are just, in effect, stepping on people’s dreams…because theirs didn’t necessarily turn out the way they hoped.

It’s not easy to get into broadcasting these days.  Memo to both young…and old:  IT NEVER WAS!

It’s not like it was “in the good old days” of slip cueing vinyl, loading carts into machines and 24 hour “live and local”. Agreed.  But, some are seeing that, for their station or stations, some of what’s been done in consolidation needs to change.  And others will, too…in the right situations.

The thing, I think, that a lot of people forget these days…is that radio, and television, too…was then and is now…still show business.  For every person working in a broadcast station these days, there’s a hundred or more who would like those jobs.  It’s always been that way.  And, I don’t think that’s going to change.  Just as for every person working on a network TV series or show, there’s hundreds of dishwashers in New York and L.A. trying to get one of those jobs.

Sadly, this business can be a “boulevard of broken dreams”.  Just like show business.

People lament the “frightful insecurity” of this business.  But, show me a business…any business…in America these days where job security is guaranteed.

There are ways, though to decrease the chances that the spotlight will fall on you at budget cutting time. If early on in one’s career, you learn everything you can learn about the business… Learn to be an on-air personality, learn to write a good, concise news story and how to properly deliver it.  Learn to be a good audio editor, learn to write and produce good commercials. If you can do it all, and do it well, the chance that you will be a “statistic” on the “boulevard of broken dreams” will be minimal.

I’ve been in radio now for 39 years.  I’ve only been officially unemployed for 7 days of those 39 years. Yes, that’s unusual. I know that, and I’m grateful for it. I did what I did and learned what I learned because I never took the attitude that I wanted to be just a “disc jockey”.  I wanted to be a “broadcaster”.

I started out as a DJ in 1974. A few years later, I transitioned over to journalism as a radio news reporter, anchor and News Director.  Did that for about 5 years.  Didn’t like the job prospects in radio news after the FCC rule changes that took away the requirement for owners to pledge a percentage of air time for news and public affairs programming. So, I went back to being a jock . Then, I wanted to program stations.  Did that twice and was successful as a PD.  Got tired of the corporate BS in management and went back to being an “employee”.

Today, I work for Cox - a station group in a top 75 market where I get to use all my skills.  I jock on a music station.  I do mid-day news on a sister news-talker. I am part of the programming team.  I produce spots and promos…and my voice is used as a commercial talent on our sister TV station. And, just to keep my programming “chops” up to speed, I volunteer as a program director for an LP-FM that has grown to about 100 underwriters in a small community nearby.  I also teach radio broadcasting as a sideline. And, I even offer my services as a quasi-consultant for small town and small non-commercial stations whenever someone asks my opinion.

What do I tell students who tell me they want to get in the business?  I tell them the truth.  It’s not easy to get into.  You’ll likely start part time.  You may have to work two jobs (a full time and a part time one) to get by for a number of years.  Or else, you’ll have to get creative and start your own DJ or voiceover business out of your home.

But, I also tell them if they apply themselves to the job, if they learn as a new employee and work hard to hone their skills and be willing to take every opportunity offered them to learn new things…they will eventually find success.

I tell them, though…to expect to be laid off or fired at least once in their lives.  Maybe more than once. In this business, that’s not necessarily a sign of personal failure, One thing I’ve learned is that when one door closes, another opens and you have to be ready to walk through it when it does.

I tell them the truth about salaries in radio.  Anywhere from about 20-grand on up. Get on a live morning show at a decently rated station in a decently sized market, and you can make from 50 grand on up. Become really big, and the sky’s the limit.

I tell them everyone who has made a career in this business has had their days when dinner was Campbell’s Soup and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. When “dinner out” was McDonalds and steak was out of the question.  His politics aside, I tell them in the early 70’s Rush Limbaugh was a $150 a week (or thereabouts) disc jockey who certainly knew what it meant to not have a lot of money.  But, he makes 20 million a year now…all because he can attract large numbers of people by talking on the radio. Howard Stern?  Same, too.

Long ago when I was just out of high school, I knew a young guy who had followed my lead into the radio station I had helped to build there. Turns out he thought I was a pretty talented guy, followed my career and, years later I learned, really looked up to me. He followed me into the business. Today, he’s the PD of a major station in New York City.

I’m 57 today.  And I know that kind of gig will now not likely ever come my way. But, I guarantee you, I go to sleep at night proud of him.  And the fact that he scaled the heights of the business and made it to the rarified air of Gotham…and credits me with playing a small part in his success…makes me think that maybe I did accomplish something good in my life.

You see, I am a broadcaster.  Not a “DJ”, a “news guy”, a “sales weasel” or a “suit”.  I happen to think it’s a pretty noble occupation.  I still believe in serving the public interest, convenience and necessity.  And if I manage to entertain along the way, so much the better.

And for the next generation coming down the pike, I suggest they follow the wisdom of the late Mercury Astronaut (and astronaut “boss”), Donald K. “Deke” Slayton who once offered this advice to young people, “Decide what it is that you really want to do”, he said. “Then, never give up until you accomplish it.”  You see, he had to work 18 years in his gig before he ever got to look at Earth from over 100 miles up.

I would respectfully submit, that a lot of people inside and outside the business would do well to encourage young people to go for the brass rings as far as they can grab them, rather than give advice steeped in the bitterness of “what once was” and “what might have been”.  Success is not always a 7 or 8 figure bank account, a mansion or an expensive car. Sometimes, it’s just taking pride in what you do every day. And persistently knocking down the barriers that get in the way.  I'm still the 13 year old radio geek you met way back when.  I always dreamed of having a radio station in my bedroom to play with.  I've kinda accomplished that.  I'm programming an LP-FM and I program it from my office PC at home, and update it on the fly from a notebook computer I carry with me. I'm going to be helping a small, 550 watt non-comm class A FM soon.  So I guess that makes me kind of a consultant....

A personal PS:  Kevin is now looking at hitting his 40th year in radio next year, still loving this business, getting out of bed at 2:30 am for WHIO's morning show, teaching broadcasting several times a week).  He says:  "Maybe I have gotten to the point where I've made a difference.  Hope so, anyway."