Category Archives: Programming

Editorial: Is Radio Milking The Wrong Callers?

Sean Ross webBy: Sean Ross
[email protected]
Twitter: @RossOnRadio

It is a seemingly inevitable moment in any call-to-win contest, especially for a prize of any significance.

You will hear the caller before the correct number caller. Sometimes it will be a quick groan of frustration when they’re informed. Sometimes the on-air personality feels the need to play with them, dragging out the suspense, even when the caller doesn’t think they’re the right number. If they can’t be sure of getting the winning caller to scream appropriately at the office, they can at least milk some extra agony from the loser before hand.

There are multiple variants on the “call before the winner” call.

  • There’s the “I’m sorry, we already got a winner, but don’t worry, because there’s more cash in four hours” call.
  • There’s the “I’m not giving away anything right now, but don’t worry, because there’s more cash in four hours” call.
  • There’s the “I’m sorry, you’re listening for a different Taylor Swift song, but don’t worry because something by Taylor is coming up again in 20 minutes” call.

Airing these calls comes out of an absolutely correct programmers’ instinct, or several. Generate the most possible excitement about your cash contest. Tell people what you’re going to do, then do it, then tell them that you did it. Set appointments. Don’t let a hundred dollars’ worth of excitement be over in just a few seconds, much less a larger amount.

Hearing a contest milked, well or badly, is also a function of jock nature: “We’re giving away money on my shift.” You can generally count on that kind of excitement for any prize greater than the $50-gift-certificate-from-a-jeweler-that-doesn’t-actually-buy-anything.

Jocks also seem to think it’s okay in particular to make fun of any listener stupid or greedy enough to call when nothing’s actually being given away. For the most part, however, the bulk of the losing callers are doing the thing a station told them to do—listen longer and call to win.

I always feel bad for the caller-before-the-correct caller. I particularly feel bad when there’s any level of sadism on the jock’s part. That might just be me. Listeners love prank phone calls. I don’t want to hear the person on the other end squirm, even when they’re an actor and it’s a set-up.

Beyond that, after enough “you didn’t win” phone calls, I also find myself wondering about the message being sent.  Do enough of those unintentionally brand a station as the place where people don’t win money? Isn’t radio station money supposed to be easier to win than, say, Powerball money? I hear an increasing number of stations during a big Powerball jackpot making fun of the unlikelihood of winning.

So, what’s the right balance between milking excitement and sending the wrong message?

For starters, I’ve come to believe that if you’re taking caller number 109, there should always be a little something for caller 108. And, maybe for caller 110. Station swag would do it, but imagine what message a modest, unexpected cash prize (before the big one) would send about your station. You’re not just giving away money, you’re giving away extra, unsolicited money. Think of Oprah Winfrey and the power of unexpected winning.

I’ve also come to think stations aren’t getting enough from the actual winner. In many cases, the jock briefly tries to negotiate a scream from the winner-who-can’t-scream-because-they’re-on-the-job. Maybe there’s a quick “so what are you going to do with the money?” or “who are you going to take with you to the concert?”  Then they’re gone until the winner promo, and you’re back to hearing the other callers.

One station that got me thinking about the power of having the winners hang around is CFXL (XL103) Calgary. Like a lot of other “Greatest Hits” (or Classic Rock) stations, their signature promotion has become the daily payroll game in which a winner continues to rack up cash until somebody else hears their name called and displaces them. The contest isn’t new, but XL gets more out of it than many stations I’ve heard.

Often, middayer Buzz Bishop and afternoon host Bob Steele effectively make the current winner into the hour’s co-host. You get to know them. They are often coached into doing talk-ups over intros that are sometimes better than our own first airchecks. They do shtick with the next winner after being “fired.” By the end of the hour, they are “people just like you” who won money.

The payroll game structure lends itself to a winner sticking around, of course. But who’s to say that anybody who just won cash wouldn’t be happy to visit with the host for a few more breaks? The callers aren’t necessarily people with inherently mesmerizing on-air personalities, but the same work that goes into extending a contest payoff with losing callers goes into making the winners sound great.

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions of the above article do not necessarily reflect those of the MAB. Contact the MAB for information on the MAB’s official editorial policy.

Editorial: The Perfect Break

JohnLund_200By: John C. Lund
The Lund Consultants, Inc.

Programmers and talents often discuss what makes a perfect break. We think it’s the proper mix of branding, engagement, and commitment – measured on the audience’s terms.

Branding is essential to get ratings credit, even with PPM. Learn from the masters like Coke and Starbucks, where being top-of-mind is everything. Sell your brand and tattoo your station on the listener’s mind. Be consistent with how your brand is sold.

Engagement covers many areas. It’s content that listeners want, and it’s the companionship that makes a station essential to each user. For content, begin with the essentials (morning time checks, song information, weather, and listener’s plans) and add the other items that register with your audience. This is where content gets tricky. Aim for your target and not what your talent thinks is interesting. Get to the point and pay off quickly. Your time to engage or lose interest is measured in scant seconds. Don’t waste it with silly filler or meaningless inside talk. Engage quickly (3-seconds!) with a “hook” that builds continued listening.

Commitment includes teases of more reasons to listen, returning for another tune-in, and building partisanship. This is where you “buy” your next tune-in for improved ratings. Is your station a utility for that listener or a daily “requirement?” Building commitment is the key to growing your audience from within. Think about listener benefits here.

The Lund Marketing and Promotion Guide offers over 100 no-cost promotions and gives details on executing promotions and strengthening your branding. Sharpen your marketing focus with our marketing checklists and worksheets.

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions of the above article do not necessarily reflect those of the MAB. Contact the MAB for information on the MAB’s official editorial policy.

Editorial: The Radio Road Trip Lives

Sean Ross webBy: Sean Ross
[email protected]
Twitter: @RossOnRadio

You don’t have to go on a road trip to hear small-town radio anymore. Not every small-market station streams, but I come across interesting small-market stations in my various listening apps on a regular basis — often discovering them in the course of searching for some other station.

You don’t have to listen to small-market radio if you go on a road trip. If you’re a satellite subscriber, it’s likely that you’ve cheerfully given up on futzing around for a new station every hour. We drove from New York to Florida in December, and the song I’ll remember the trip by was not a current or developing hit, but “When I Was a Boy” by Jeff Lynne’s ELO, then being showcased on Sirius XM’s triple-A The Spectrum channel.

But, I recently drove the 5-1/2 hours from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. Both ways. Without satellite. Without streaming. That means about three hours each way with only small-market music FMs. Many people wouldn’t consider doing that now, but if you’re reading a Ross on Radio column, there’s a better-than-average chance that you would.

Just as there is still excitement in hearing an “oh wow” song on the radio — even if it’s a song readily available on your phone — there is still excitement in hearing local radio locally. A few weeks ago, I surfed across a station in Hazard, KY, talking about the difficulty of finding younger coal miners. There was ample and fascinating “sense of place” there, but it was still somewhere else. Large or small-market, it’s different knowing what you’re hearing represents the place you are.

To that point, there was also excitement in scanning across “Bohemian Like You” by Dandy Warhols, never a consistent hit on U.S. radio, in St. George, Utah. That moment of wondering “how would this song end up on the radio here, of all places,” was barely diminished by figuring out that it was the Dixie State University alternative station, KXDS (Radio Dixie 91.3), operating with a translator in the commercial frequencies. (To drive the Mountain West is to rarely have the frequency on your car radio match the dial position being given by the station.)

The Dixie State station had its own sense of place. The ads were for campus organizations. One tried to recruit students for chemistry club by promising, “You could be the next Walter Wh…,” before the announcer trailed off, and allowed that nobody would actually be breaking bad.

Some other observations from 5-1/2 hours spent largely off the grid:
There are always the stations covering multiple positions by necessity. CHR, Adult Top 40, and Hot AC are closer than ever, but KLGL (Eagle 94.5) Richfield, UT, which was positioned as a Hot AC, still played “Undone (The Sweater Song)” by Weezer, “Please Forgive Me” by Bryan Adams,” and “Alright” by Janet Jackson in the course of my listening.  To Eagle’s credit, it all flowed well. I kept listening for some provocative segue that I could include in “Radio’s Best & Worst,” and barely found one until “Alright” went into Thomas Rhett, “Die a Happy Man.” Weezer went into OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars,” which wasn’t jarring at all.

Radio road trips used to be defined by the unavoidable current song, or better yet by the developing song discovered in market after secondary market. That changed with the tightening of major-group-owned radio in medium markets, and although I certainly heard “Stressed Out” enough times, you are as likely to remember the trip for hearing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar, or some other reliably testing library title more than twice, even in the major-markets.

But, you also hear the records that have disappeared. I’ve heard “Getting Jiggy Wit It” three times this week. I heard “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie more than once. Of course, your chances of the latter have been bolstered by the recent boost in super-soft ACs. Las Vegas and Salt Lake City have had the format for years. But St. George has one, too. I heard at least four supersoft ACs.

You also really notice the rise of the Classic Country format on a road trip. It was the thing most often encountered on the handful of music AMs I came across, but it wasn’t only on AM. I would have been happy with either “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me” by Juice Newton or “Baby I Lied” by Deborah Allen. Within an hour, I’d heard both.

When you do hear recent songs that you wouldn’t hear in the major markets, they tend not to be brand new but mid-chart records that other stations have dropped. Ellie Goulding’s “Something in the Way You Move” disappeared almost instantly from major-market stations. I heard it repeatedly on this trip.

Some things don’t change. There is always that hour-or-so stretch where your only choice is one Country station and one station playing choral religious music. Also still true, the first other station you find after that sounds really good. Even if you’re traveling during the week, there will always be the station you can’t hear in regular format. I heard a “Greatest Hits” station playing Scott Shannon’s countdown on Sunday night. When I came back 24 hours later, it was running Tom Kent.

The biggest change is the consistent availability of big-sounding imaging. On a road trip of the past, a great legal or promo always helped establish a small-market station as something special, even if a weak part-timer came along to kill the vibe a few songs later. These days, everybody has good imaging, and you won’t necessarily hear any part-timer in a small-market or any part-timer in a large one. That said, one of the trip’s happiest moments was turning on KLUC Las Vegas at 8:35 on Sunday morning and hearing it hosted.

In fact, while there have been road trips where the small-market radio made the larger-market stations sound bad, just by being more essentially radio, the market sizes were pretty evenly matched this trip. Salt Lake City radio, in particular, impressed me. After decades as the most-overradioed market in America (the geography of Provo and Ogden essentially gave it enough radio stations for three cities), it’s a rare instance of competition truly making everybody better, not just bankrupt. I’m also prepared to declare KZHT vs. KUDD (Mix 105.1) the best CHR war of the moment.

That holiday drive to Florida was a disappointment, from a radio standpoint, because it didn’t stack up to similar versions of that trip from my formative radio years. This drive put me back in touch with some of the things I used to love about radio road trips. The marathon drive was more than worthwhile.

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions of the above article do not necessarily reflect those of the MAB. Contact the MAB for information on the MAB’s official editorial policy.

Programming/Promotions/Research/Social Sessions Preview – GLBC

GLBC’s sessions kick into high gear beginning with our opening session speaker on Tuesday Morning, Valerie Geller.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
8:30 – 9:30am

Valerie Geller Presents: Get, Keep and BUILD Your Audience!

Valerie Geller
Valerie Geller

Content is king and those who create your content are what set you apart from every other “screen” or speaker you compete with. Everyone can improve and move to the next level of performance to create powerful content for news & personality TV & Radio, and work more effectively across ALL platforms!

The key to staying the most relevant content source for your audience is all about becoming a more powerful communicator and storyteller. There are no boring stories, only boring storytellers. In this session, learn proven techniques to grow not only your talent, but your audience as well.

These proven “Powerful Communicator” methods, in use by top broadcasters throughout the world, are based on just three things: “Tell the Truth, Make it Matter, and NEVER be BORING.” Aircheck coaching, finding and developing talent and powerful storytelling techniques, on-air performance coaching techniques are all included. Each participant will come away with actionable techniques to become stronger, more compelling broadcasters, armed with techniques they can put into practice immediately to engage and grow their audiences.

10:00 – 11:00am
Becoming a Powerful Storyteller
Presented by Valerie Geller

Whether you’re writing news, producing, an on-air personality, or writing copy for promotion, sales or public service it all starts with good writing and powerful storytelling – in this session you’ll learn proven techniques in use by top broadcasters throughout the world.

10:00 – 11:00am
Techsurvey 12: Part 1
Presented by Fred Jacobs & Paul Jacobs, Jacobs Media

(L-R) Fred and Paul Jacobs
(L-R) Fred Jacobs and Paul Jacobs

For more than three decades, Jacobs Media has become synonymous with media innovation and results. From their roots in radio in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the company has broken ground in the digital space, excelling in the integration of digital, mobile, and social strategies with heritage media brands.

In this two-part session, be one of the first in the country to review the results of Jacobs Media’s Techsurvey 12, an annual national web survey that tracks a highly evolving and changing media environment.

Previous Jacobs’ Techsurveys have been uncanny in their ability to predict consumer behavior, while providing actionable data. From the “cell phone only problem” in the first survey, to the satellite radio slowdown, to the rise of smartphones and tablets along with the ascent of Pandora, these national research studies have been predictive and an important part of the digital planning process.

11:30am – 12:00pm
Developing Talent is a Talent
Presented by Valerie Geller

Secrets of Finding, Developing, Airchecking and Coaching, Talent: No matter where you are in your on-air career, EVERYONE can improve working across all platforms. Learn proven techniques to help each member of your on-air staff grow to the next level. And, if you are on-air, learn these “diamond polishing” and “self check” techniques.

11:30am – 12:30pm
Techsurvey 12: Part 2
Presented by Fred Jacobs & Paul Jacobs, Jacobs Media

Register on-site for GLBC if you haven’t registered in advance!

2:30 – 3:30pm
When Local Tragedy Strikes Overnight
Panelists include: Duane Alverson, MacDonald Broadcasting; Peter Tanz, Midwest Communications; Steve Koles, WWMT/CW7-TV

iStock_000023801866_SmallMany radio and some television stations cut back staff overnight, going down to a skeleton staff. Or, with new technology, may even lock the doors and go home with no one at the station. Others may have the minimum wage operator on duty. How do you handle a major local threat that is not weather related? Are you prepared? Do you have an emergency news coverage plan? How will you serve your listeners and viewers under great stress and with diminished experienced staff capability. Our panel will use the recent tragic shooting in Kalamazoo as an example of how to handle breaking news on a Saturday night. The panel will offer “best practices” on how to handle a multi-location event when staffing is generally the lowest of the week.

2:30 – 3:30pm
The Secrets to Content Marketing: Part 1
Presented by Seth Resler, Jacobs Media

Seth Resler
Seth Resler

Today, broadcasters find themselves drowning in a sea of tools that can be used to reach a mass audience. From Facebook and Twitter, to YouTube and blogs, to whatever brand new social network the intern invented using Kickstarter funds over the weekend, there’s always a “next big thing.” This situation is a far cry from just a few years ago when we were only required to have competence in our own medium. The learning curve today is steep, not necessarily because any one tool is difficult to use, but because of the sheer number of tools available to us. It is easy to get overwhelmed.

It’s even easier to lose sight of why all these tools matter. At the end of the day, how do our Instagram photos, cat meme videos, and our podcast episodes fit into the larger picture? What is the impact of a retweet on our bottom line?

Radio and television stations need a strategy that connects all of our online tools together. This strategy, called Content Marketing, weaves our different digital elements together into a single coherent plan. Content Marketing is a strategy that is widely used outside the broadcasting industry, but can easily be adapted by radio and television stations.

4:00 – 5:00pm
Nielsen Total Audience Measurement
Presented by Robbie Lopez, VP/ Account Director, Local TV Client Services & Mario A. Christino, Account Director, Client Solutions, Nielsen Audio

The Media Landscape continues to evolve as options for media consumption increase for consumers. Join Nielsen as they discuss the latest on Total Audience Measurement across TV/Radio/Digital. We will also share local market audience trends and provide updates on the latest initiatives on measuring the local audience.

Register on-site for GLBC if you haven’t registered in advance!

Editorial: Active Hits That Really Rock, And the Alternative

Sean Ross webBy: Sean Ross
[email protected]
Twitter: @RossOnRadio

If you’ve been watching the monitors of Active Rock stations, it’s no secret that they have grown more gold-based over the years. And, that the nature of the gold has evolved as well. It started with playing a little more AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. Then PDs decided that Jimi Hendrix was timeless. Then they decided that maybe Van Halen was still relevant. Now, a lot more mainstream Classic Rock is fair game—“We Will Rock You,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” even “More Than A Feeling.”

Active Rock was digging into Classic Rock by necessity. In the early 2000s, the current rock world was essentially one guitar-driven entity with two different charts. As Alternative radio moved back to the indie side, the existing harder currents that lived primarily at Active Rock no longer had the same sort of lateral support. Even the biggest Volbeat and Avenged Sevenfold current titles rarely survived to become long-term library titles. Disturbed’s high-concept cover of “The Sounds of Silence,” currently the format’s No. 1 song, will probably continue to test, thanks to its familiar hook, but it’s not a solution for the format, it’s a stunt (albeit an appealing one).

Existing Active Rock stations have had to try and finesse all these disparate pieces. Alternative stations famously found themselves unable to go “from Tool to Jewel” in the mid-‘90s, something that drove Active and Alternative Rock together. Now, Active rock stations have to figure out how to go from Hendrix to Halestorm.

The last few years have seen a handful of launches of library-based hard(ish)-rocking stations that don’t sweat the issue of recent music. They play harder classic rock, but they’re not just “Classic Rock that Really Rocks” because they play grunge, they can play Linkin Park, and they can play the handful of alternative ‘00s titles with guitars (e.g., “Seven Nation Army”). The iHeart Media “Man Up” stations, often translator-driven flanker stations, of recent years worked this territory.

Then, there was KFMB-FM San Diego, which launched early this year. The new “KFM-BFM” ticks all of the above boxes, and, because it’s San Diego, a heritage Alternative market. And, there’s no traditional Adult Hits station, they also play Soft Cell and Stray Cats. And, they played “Hate To Say I Told You So” by the Hives four times last week. Although KFM-BFM actually dropped the “Jack-FM” handle, think of the current format as “Active Jack That Really Rocks.”

Since I profiled it earlier this year, KFMB-FM has gotten fast traction, up 2.9 – 3.4 – 3.8 in its first two PPM monthlies. A few weeks ago, Seattle got a similar station, KVRQ (Rock 98.9). The new station doesn’t have San Diego’s pop/new wave component, but it does span the Doors through Linkin Park. In doing so, they’ve parked between heritage rocker KISW and Classic Rock KZOK.

I’m also a fan of KZTI (Z105.3) Reno, Nev., launched last September with its own version of harder classic rock. KZTI covers a similar era span, but it goes a little deeper into earlier generations of metal. I’ve always loved UFO’s “Too Hot to Handle,” but I’ve never heard it on the radio until Z105.3. And that song is from 1977.

Here’s a recent hour of KZTI from the station’s Website:

Rainbow, “Street of Dreams”
Ozzy Osbourne, “Shot in the Dark”
Sammy Hagar, “I’ll Fall In Love Again”
Skid Row, “I Remember You”
Foghat, “Fool for the City”
Soundgarden, “Spoonman”
Def Leppard, “Animal”
Creed, “Torn”
Judas Priest, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”
Smashing Pumpkins, “Cherub Rock”
Black Sabbath, “Fairies Wear Boots”
Warrant, “Cherry Pie”
AC/DC, “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”
Whitesnake, “Still of the Night”
Staind, “Mudshovel”

San Diego and Seattle will almost certainly not be the last launches of this type. And the impact of a gold-based format will probably be felt on those Active Rock stations that still play currents. A few Active Rock PDs might see this as an opportunity to stop worrying about Bad Company and embrace “Bat Country.” More likely, PDs are already shoring up their gold libraries as a pre-emptive strike. And if you need to be told that “Bat Country” was Avenged Sevenfold’s breakthrough song, well, that’s why.

If there’s another way forward for Active Rock, it seems to lie in what made the format successful a little more than a decade ago. Until the White Stripes, Strokes, and Killers set Alternative off on a path of its own, the two formats were both guitar-based and differed largely in reporting status. Active Rock played early grunge before many markets even had a significant Alternative station. Now a lot of the harder grunge is defaulting to Active Rock. But even “Loser” by Beck has been a playable record for Active Rock for a while.

In other words, Active Rock’s franchise could be as the continuation of guitar-based Alternative. That was the successful formula for stations like KTBZ (the Buzz) Houston in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, but the Buzz has experienced a ratings resurgence over the last year by rocking harder again. It’s still an Alternative reporter. The Lumineers, and Coldplay are still heard. But so are recent songs from Shinedown, Deftones, and Disturbed. Similarly, Cumulus’ Active Rock stations are taking more music from Alternative these days—Cold War Kids and Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride” most notably.

The late ‘90s paradigm in which most current-based stations were playing Active Rock, but reporting to the Alternative Rock chart (with its greater prestige) wasn’t entirely satisfying for listeners or PDs on either side. Alternative PDs got into the format to play the Smiths, not Trapt, and when the two formats diverged, both sides tended to default to the music that set them as far apart from each other as possible. And yet, when the two formats were more closely synched, the lateral exposure helped keep rock music more entrenched in the mainstream.

The ideal situation this time would be just enough overlap for two successful formats to exist, and for multi-format hits to emerge. There’s not a ton of music for Active to take from Alternative now, but we have certainly seen bands like Black Keys or Cage the Elephant, rooted in traditional rock but worked to Alternative first. AWOLNATION’s “Sail” initially seemed like a stretch to some Active Rock stations. But by the time they came to grips with it, Active Rock bands were already making songs that sounded like “Sail.”

I’ve really enjoyed the new handful of harder-rocking Classic Rock stations, particularly KZTI with its extra “oh-wow” factor. But it’s not where I want to see today’s rock radio end. In the late ‘80s, the rise of Classic Rock left existing “Album Rock” stations unsure how to react. Some became Classic Rock stations. Some found a path forward, once they were nudged.