Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My (Bad) Judgment Is Showing

You might subtitle this cautionary tale “do what I say, not what I did.”

With the arrival of NASH-Icons and Collin Raye’s recent Fox News Op-Ed calling a halt to “Bro-Country” and imploring Nashville label execs to return to a style of song that he feels is “true country” I've been asked what I think about it a lot lately.

For my 40 years in the format it seems that about every decade or so someone comes up with a “real,” “classic,” “pure,” “legends” approach to the music with the goal of appealing to older folks who don’t like the current direction the younger demos are pulling the format.

I enjoy this discussion, having led literally thousands of focus groups with every possible narrow demo niche within the spectrum of country music radio fans.  I often explain the key point I have taken away for all of this listening to passionate fans of the music is that older folks take the time to understand the tastes of young ones, whereas younger folks have no desire to figure out what makes their elders’ preferences.

Certainly, 45+ country radio listeners have the memory of at least two or three decades of songs that 18 to 44 year olds do not and they do like a number of those tune, yet - surprisingly and unlike any other format - the majority of upper end country fans seem to like the new music as much or more than they like the more familiar past favorites.

This has kept country music radio from meaningfully fragmenting in spite of predictions from very wise radio experts with experience in multiple formats.

Given the size of the leading edge boom generation it’s logical to believe that perhaps this time is different that past target evolutions.  So, when a personalty or programmer starts to forecast a new opportunity for upper-demo targeted country along the lines of mainstream vs hot ac, I often say “your age is showing” and share my experience to the contrary with them.  

This week, a 50 year old personality I greatly respect called me on that phrase.

“Jaye, I pride myself on staying relevant and plan to work in this format as long as you have (I will be 71 in July).  Telling me that my age is showing feels like age discrimination to me and is a cheap shot.  I have very good 18 to 34 listenership numbers.  You are stereotyping me based on the least important thing you know about me.”

I had to admit that my client and friend was absolutely correct.

In fact, I have long prided myself on helping to launch, brand and maintain many very successful “younger country” stations whose listeners were at least two or three generations my junior.

I guess that means MY age wasn’t showing?  Or, better, that the age of the programmer or personality doesn't matter as long as they resonate with the values of the target.

I’d never want anyone to discriminate against me based on my age.

It’s long past time for ME to start treating other folks the same way.

If I ever forget that fact again, please be like my client and friend and remind me.  Before I get sued for age discrimination.

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"Here's the key to being free from the stranglehold of past failures and mistakes: learn the lesson and forget the details."
An Unknown Author