For the past 12 years, Z104.3 has served Baltimore with Top 40 music. Prior to that, the frequency had gone through iterations of formats including Modern Rock, Smooth Jazz, Classic Rock, Classic Hits, and Soft AC.
Perhaps 104.3 was destined to return to CHR, a format that flourished when B104 ruled the Charm City from 1980 to 1992. Those who grew up in Baltimore in the 80s may remember B104 as a dominant brand that was part of their lives—and they almost certainly remember B104’s slogan:
B104 Means Music.
In 2021, it’s easy to write off “means music” as a generic, trite, and meaningless tag line. But in the early 1980s, many CHR stations were still on the AM dial, operating as full-service outlets with a lot of talk, interruptions, and noise. “B104 Means Music” spoke volumes about what listeners could expect from the brand—particularly when contrasted to the competition.
This doesn’t mean B104 didn’t have personality. Brian Wilson and Don O’Brien, known as Brian and O’Brien (there’s another branding lesson in the catchy name) regularly topped the morning ratings throughout the decade. But B104 understood that the first battle to win–to drive listeners to the station–was music, and it did.
There are powerful ways to add meaning to your brand and there are wimpy ways that never stick. Downplaying or soft-pedaling it, especially in today’s saturated world, is a recipe for disaster. You have to bring the sledgehammer.
Branding expert Laura Ries (daughter of branding legend Al Ries) explains this need for a sledgehammer in her book, “Battlecry: Winning the battle for the mind with a slogan that kills.” She details sonic tips to engage the brain when crafting a slogan, like rhyming: “Roto-Rooter, that’s the name. And away go troubles down the drain.” Or repetition: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” While the “visual hammer” references she makes (like the Aflac duck or the Tropicana orange with the straw) are trickier for audio brands, the lesson of the message is the same. Say what it is, say it loud, and make sure it means something.
Fast food may not be good for you, but the category sure delivers memorable slogans. Arby’s “We got the meats!” is stuck in my head these days.
Legendary programmer and voice talent Mark Driscoll whimsically positioned the original Rhythmic CHR incarnation of Q102/Philadelphia with the slogan “What the hell, here’s another hit…” The words came out of nowhere, magically setting up the off-center attitude of the station, and stuck in people’s heads like that song lyric that just won’t go away. The “#1 Hit Music Station” slogan serves an important strategic purpose, but nobody is going to repeat it or laugh about it on a Zoom Happy Hour.
To this day, for thousands and thousands of people, when you say B104, they’ll say “means music” either in their head or out loud. They’re still buying the shirts on eBay.
So when it comes to your slogan, don’t come to the battle unprepared. Bring the sledgehammer.
In the past, I have used this blog to write about WVBR, the first stop in my radio career. The station, in Ithaca, New York, has a commercial FM license and is owned by a non-profit corporation consisting of students at Cornell University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. I spent four years as an air personality on WVBR and I was the station’s general manager from 1985 to 1987, where I had a team that included iHeartMedia’s Tom Poleman, SiriusXM’s Steve Blatter, CNBC’s Jessica Ettinger, and syndicated host Todd Schnitt helping me run the station.
WVBR is still going strong today, staffed by a dedicated group of Cornell students and community volunteers, and offers an Alternative music format during the week and a wide array of weekend specialty programming. I have remained an active alumnus of the organization and—after serving on its board of directors from 2006 to 2014—currently serve in an informal advisory role.
When the pandemic lockdowns hit, WVBR faced a crisis, as many of the student volunteers who normally hold down air shifts would be unable to do so. This created an opportunity for alumni and other non-student volunteers to step up and provide at least a minimal level of personality for the station’s now-automated programming via voice tracking. With a lot more time on my hands while the pandemic kept me working from home and not spending my usual eight to ten nights a month in hotel rooms while traveling for business, I decided to seize the opportunity. Thus, more than three decades after I hung up my headphones, I was back on the air, hosting a weekly four-hour show of Alternative music from my home more than 500 miles away in North Carolina!
A picture of a much younger version of me, when voice tracking didn’t exist
I am pleased to report that “Wednesday With Warren” is still growing strong and tomorrow marks the 29th week in a row I’ve hosted the show! As I reflect on the past six months, I’ve learned a few things about using voice tracking:
It takes a lot more time to do a good show than I realized. When I volunteered to do this, I incorrectly assumed that it would not require much of a time commitment. I quickly learned, however, that if I wanted to do the show right—in other words, go beyond reading liners, station promos, and song introductions and talk with knowledge about the music I’m playing and relevant events in the community—it required a good deal of preparation. I am getting more efficient as the weeks pass, but I still find that I must put a minimum of two hours into the show each week, even if recording the breaks themselves takes me less than 30 minutes.
Nothing replaces listening to the show live. I can listen to my recorded breaks repeatedly before I upload them to the station, but nothing helps me get better at this than listening to how they fit into the overall live flow of the radio station. Since work commitments often prevent me from listening to my show live, I use DAR.fm to record all four hours of my show and listen to the full playback, critiquing myself along the way and making notes for things I should try to do better the follow week.
It can be a lot of fun! I find myself talking about my show with many of my friends, describing it as my “passion project.” Even when my crazy business travel life resumes, I intend to keep the show going for as long as WVBR needs me to do so.
I made a very smart career decision in 1987. This experience has added to my respect for air personalities; it is hard to do this well and only the most talented and dedicated people can create compelling content, especially when using voice tracking. There was a time when I naively believed that an on-air role was going to lead me to my career goals. Thank goodness I made the move to the research side of the business all those years ago!
I don’t believe anything will ever be as powerful for radio stations as truly compelling and highly entertaining personalities who are “live and local,” but I am enough of a realist to recognize that voice tracking is here to stay. My experience with it over the last six months has convinced me that with effort and preparation, any air personality dedicated to their craft—and possessing more talent than me!—can use the technology to create compelling radio.
You can listen to “Wednesday With Warren” on WVBR between 9AM and 1PM Eastern time on 93.5 FM in the Ithaca area, wvbr.com, Live365, or TuneIn.
This is the second of our two-part blog series focusing on a roundtable discussion about the impact of 2020’s upheaval on the audio entertainment industry. Last week’s post focused on what the social justice movement, the election, and the pandemic meant for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.
In this second installment, our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts on nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.
Coleman Insights Senior Consultants (L-R) Sam Milkman, Warren Kurtzman, and John Boyne
This was already true to some extent before all of 2020’s craziness, but we enter 2021 with the sense that the margin for error is slimmer than ever. Hyper fragmentation and democratization of the media was already making it challenging for audio entertainment brands to cut through; now with economic uncertainty and so much of what we’ve always known to be true about how and why consumers use audio entertainment potentially changing, every client we work with really must get things right as often as possible.
Personality content is going to be more important; there is a race to create unique unduplicatable content that is happening in radio, with podcasts, and even the streaming platforms focusing on this, too.
We used to talk about how crucial developing nonmusical content was for radio, but now it’s vital for all audio brands. And it’s not just about the brand value of personalities; developing unique, compelling personality content is expensive, and understanding the behavioral impact personality content can have—whether it drives consumers to use an audio brand—is going to be more important as audio companies make ROI decisions on this content.
As personalities become a bigger part of the strategy of almost every audio brand, how do you make sure that you are truly reflecting what your audience wants both in terms of content and tone? For example, we saw many Hip Hop radio morning shows adapt to the heaviness of 2020 with less of a focus on comedy and celebrities and greater emphasis on social issues.
It’s important to have great talent and unique content, but more than ever, our clients are demanding more sophistication in the development and execution of that talent and content. That’s where qualitative research and content testing are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business.
Right, John. That’s where the discussion about the Hip Hop shows Sam mentioned continues. Many shows adjusted their content based on the gut instincts of some very talented hosts and producers who are successful because they are in touch with the audiences they serve. But now, they must refine what they offer. Have all of these shows got the balance between entertainment and issues exactly right? Are they truly reflecting what the audience wants from them right now and will that change over time? Will it be different when we’re no longer in a presidential election year or after the pandemic ends?
I think this extends well beyond radio morning shows. Our podcasting clients are going to need to get a handle on how their audiences are responding to their content if they want to keep growing.
There’s so much room for growth with podcasting. We don’t know what the ceiling will be.
Let’s stop treating podcasting like it’s a nascent category; it’s part of the lives of so many people.
Yet there are still so many people who haven’t tried it yet.
But it is now a big business. Look at how companies like iHeartMedia, Spotify, Entercom, Amazon, SiriusXM, etc. have snatched up podcasts and podcasting companies. That’s happening because it’s growing and starting to generate revenues in a big way.
Which is my point. We anticipate doing more and more research for podcasters who recognize they’re in a big business. They need to measure the health of their brands, and they need to do content testing to see what works and doesn’t work with their audience.
All three of us having been doing this for a long time, and as I reflect on that, it’s striking how much more complex and challenging things are than when our business almost exclusively consisted of perceptual studies and music tests for radio stations. It’s invigorating and I know all three of us—in fact, our whole team at Coleman Insights—can’t wait to get to work on exciting opportunities for our clients in 2021.
Every time we turn over the calendar to a new year, it makes me think of thoughtful innovation. This may be truer this year, as we emerge from the pandemic and look for new opportunities. We do a lot of research on how consumers feel about and perceive things that exist; I’m hopeful that 2021 will include more work on innovations that audio companies could potentially offer to listeners.
Agreed. This harkens back to many of the points our founder Jon Coleman made in his “Should Radio Go Back To Normal?” blog post in December. I hope that many of our clients pursue Blue Ocean Strategy ideas in 2021 and that we have many opportunities to provide them with the insights they need to make those ideas succeed.
It’s debate season!!! Where presidential and vice-presidential candidates face off in a public forum! Issues! Moderators! More back-and-forth neck action than a tennis match!
I love a good debate. I was captain of the debate team in high school (no, no one is surprised by that). My first solid memories of politics are from the 1988 Democratic debates and lately I even find myself dropping that classic from 1992, “Who am I? Why am I here?” (Admiral Stockdale, you are kind of missed…) Debates are great for raising awareness, hearing directly from candidates, and creating cultural reference points.
And debates are great for radio. It’s a real shame that television leads as a debate medium, because the elements TV adds can be distracting. We start to focus on hair, clothing, and, as recent events show, plexiglass and insects. If you’re shying away from covering a debate—about anything, not just The Big Race—on your station, stream, or podcast because you think people are only interested in watching people argue, I urge you to think again.
Television rocked the debate world (such as it is) in 1960 during the presidential campaign. You know the story: Nixon debates Kennedy, and it’s the start of a new era. Kennedy looks young and fresh and tan while Nixon looks weak and sweaty (poor man was running a fever and had just left the hospital after being very ill with an infection). And in that moment Kennedy became a shining, unbeatable political star, poised and handsome, while then-vice president Nixon lost a lot of his political momentum.
Popular legend maintains that Kennedy won the 1960 debate with TV viewers, while Nixon won with radio listeners.
Well, that’s not the whole story for radio listeners. In 1960, television was widely available in quite a few homes, but radio still played a big part in the consumption of news and major events.
There is a persistent myth that radio listeners either thought the two did an equally good job or they gave the win to Nixon, while TV viewers thought Kennedy had won. According to this article, the legend about the TV/radio disconnect was based on a survey of 2100 respondents, only 282 of whom listened to the debates on the radio. So the “conventional wisdom” that Kennedy trounced Nixon on TV and Nixon carried the day on radio isn’t really accurate.
But don’t let that deter you. Let’s note that in 2003 a political scientist conducted a study and concluded that TV viewers judged the participants on their personalities alone while radio listeners judged “on both issues and personality.” And Lyndon Johnson thought Jack Kennedy lost the debate—he listened to it on the radio.
TV, for all its wonderful characteristics, is built on distractions. What does the set look like? What is Senator Harris wearing? What color is President Trump’s tie? Whose makeup is messed up? What is up with those weird split screens, which wouldn’t be so weird if the candidates weren’t standing in front of the Declaration of Independence—which is a great document, but it’s, you know, made of words. Words do not a good TV set make, my friends.
All the buzz surrounding this year’s VP debate was about the fly that landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head, seen by television viewers.
But radio… now, there’s a medium for the imagination and for focus. Listeners can focus on what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, why they’re saying it. There is no audience to get a glimpse of. No errant fly to draw attention from the issues at hand. We can imagine our favorite candidate looking especially good, even if he or she suffers from a crooked tie or a weirdly placed lapel pin. We can listen closely to plans around policy and opinions on issues.
Lest you think I’m only referring to big national debates between candidates for major national office, I urge you to think beyond that. Local races can also reap the benefits of reaching radio listeners. Issues affecting your local audience are just as important. Why not bring people into your studio to debate a hot or critical concern for the community you serve?
There are other, more practical advantages to airing debates on the radio. According to Nielsen’s Ballot Box Breakdown, radio reaches 95% of Hispanic Americans and 91% of Black Americans—huge numbers, especially when you consider that Hispanic Americans spend less time watching TV than Black or White Americans. And think of the advertising! Radio is, after all, this country’s #1 reach medium. Engaged listeners are great targets.
Since 1960, we have become so accustomed to television that we have forgotten the beauty and benefits of listening to and discussing political events on the radio. Image is everything, right? But when we’re choosing our leaders or wondering how we should vote on an important issue, do we care more about a tan and a good haircut… or about intelligent discussion of the issues we find most important?
For the next debate? Lead them to the radio before you send them to the polls.
Coleman Insights rarely comments on politics, but today we are going to dissect a current political strategy. The goal is to think about how it might fit into our thinking about programming and marketing initiatives executed by radio stations.
There are a couple of important strategic lessons from Biden’s move. First, in politics and radio, it is usually best to focus on the things consumers care about. Secondly, it is critical to understand how you rank with your constituency on the same issues consumers care about–the issues of importance.
Political research has been suggesting that Biden’s strengths right now are his image for “being able to deal with COVID-19” and the image for “how to deal with social justice issues,” among other political issues currently on the minds of voters. Where he has either lagged behind President Trump or been merely competitive with him has been on how voters perceive Biden in comparison to Trump on “dealing with the economy.”
One of President Trump’s perceptual strengths has been the economy. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
In marketing, there are concepts called “points of parity” and “points of difference.” The premise is that a candidate or radio station needs to win or be perceptually equal (at parity) to other stations on those issues consumers care about, the things that they value when making choices. Since the economy is always high on lists ranking issues important to voters, it is critical for a candidate to do well there. They need to have strong images for being the best candidate to deal with the economy. A candidate who loses that image will likely lose the election. If they cannot win the “good for the economy image” they must get as close to parity as possible. Without being on a level of parity, a candidate is at a big disadvantage.
Points of difference are those areas or images when one candidate or radio station has a stronger image than its competitor. However, having great image “points of difference” does not help you win elections or ratings battles if the points of difference where you win aren’t important to voters or listeners.
So, it appears Biden sees his weakness as the economy, while his “points of difference” are on other issues, like COVID-19. Biden seems to be trying to get to parity on the economy while maintaining his advantage in other areas.
Vice President Biden is attempting to limit Trump’s advantage on the economy by achieving perceptual parity.
Why not focus on his strengths all the way until November 3? Perhaps Biden realizes that he cannot ride to victory just on COVID-19, especially if the economy bounces back.
There are clear analogies in radio. Radio’s most important offerings are music and talk/sports talk programming. Achieving victory or parity on images dealing with music or talk images is critical. A radio station’s points of difference are things like “entertaining morning shows,” “great contests,” “specialty programming,” etc. These programming and image strengths can be great ratings drivers.
So, in radio, when do you focus your imaging on achieving parity or victory on base Image PyramidSM images of music or talk and when do you focus on your points of difference?
The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid dictates that radio stations should work on wining their base music or talk position before focusing on other layers.
For example, let’s say you program a radio station that has a dominant morning show both in ratings and image but research indicates your station’s music images are only good and not great. What do you do if a new competitor comes into the market? Where do you focus your on- and off-air imaging? Do you double down on your morning show, the show that drives your outsized ratings? Do you continue to stay focused on the very same thing that you have been marketing for the last few years, or do you move to marketing your music identity? It likely will depend on which is more important to listeners.
If Vice President Biden’s campaign managers were advising you, they would consider which components matter most to your target audience. They would likely focus your imaging and marketing on your music, even though you previously won big by focusing on your morning show. If music is more important to the target than morning entertainment, Biden’s advisors will conclude that they cannot permit the new competitor to become the leading music station in your format and move to win or maintain parity on that music image by marketing music.
Just as political campaigns aim to gain a deeper understanding of potential voters, you should aim to gain a deeper understanding of your radio station’s target audience. Determine what matters most. Where your station is strong in areas of importance, step on the gas pedal. If your radio station is weak in areas important to the listener, set a goal of achieving parity. The other components won’t matter until your perceptions are strong enough where it matters most.
When you hear the name Ford Bronco, some of us likely think of the full-sized, white getaway vehicle used by “The Juice” more than 25 years ago.
The fifth generation of the Ford Bronco made infamous in the O.J. Simpson chase bore little resemblance to the original model. (Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux/Liaison)
Those more familiar with the brand may recall the adventurous first generation model introduced as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and the International Harvester Scout, the OGs of off-roading.
The first generation of the Ford Bronco was built as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5.
As Ford reintroduced the new models, it produced a very compelling brand story in a series of short videos.
“On August 11th, 1965 Ford Motor Company introduced the world to the Ford Bronco, America’s first SUV. A vehicle that reshaped the 4 x 4 landscape forever. And today, it’s going to do it again.”
Amid images of the American West, wild horses and footage of the Bronco models in action, a narrator tells us the images we should associate with the rebrand:
Built to take on the toughest terrain you can find
Built with adventure in mind
Built to take Americans back into the wild
Built to be the future of off-roading
Bronco: Built Wild
It appears Ford Motor Company deliberately side-stepped its more recent brand history to take the Bronco back to its off-roading roots to make us all believe that we need a Bronco in our stable.
As I watched the Bronco rollout, I couldn’t help but think of radio. Like the Bronco, radio has a rich history and faces more competition than ever (streaming, podcasting, etc.). What if the radio industry launched a campaign to remind people of its place in today’s complicated audio landscape? The medium is certainly bigger than any one radio station. How might radio tell its brand story to replant itself in the mind of listeners?
If we told radio’s brand story, we could include images of radio towers, pre-television living rooms with the family huddled around the radio, a woman listening at work, a man stuck in traffic getting a live traffic report, a woman running with headphones, or a family listening at the beach on their Bluetooth speaker.
Radio has a deep, emotional brand story to tell.
What would the narrator say? Radio was there for you when you…
Got your first kiss
Had the best summer of your life
Mourned your first break up
Drove your first car
Heard about the planes that hit the towers on 9/11.
And radio is here for you today when you…
Need a laugh or a mood boost
Hear breaking news
Are late to work and need to get around a traffic jam
Win tickets to see your favorite band in concert
Hear that your kids will or will not be going back into classrooms this fall.
Today, radio continues to occupy an important position in our society. It is one of the easiest places to find immediate, local information and human companionship.
Just as Bronco is America’s first SUV, Radio is America’s first audio medium. Maybe as an industry it’s time to boast about the incredible relationships radio has shared with audiences for years and showcase its strengths today. “Radio. We’re free. We’re in your community. We’re here helping you get through your day, every single day.”
What if every station told Radio’s brand story on their website and on-air?
Michael O’Shea is the President and General Manager of Sonoma Media Group in Santa Rosa, California. Many years ago, he told me something about how radio stations attempt to impact ratings that has stuck with me to this day. I’ll paraphrase a bit.
There are two numbers in the ratings share of every station—the number to the left of the decimal (as in the 4 in a 4.3 share) and the number to the right of the decimal (as in the 3 in a 4.3 share). The number to the right is impacted by the things radio stations spend the vast majority of their time on. Tweaking the music. Adding or removing a talk break. Giving away concert tickets. These are the tactical things that may take a station from a 4.3 to a 4.5 or maybe a 4.7.
What moves the number to the left of the decimal point–that is, what gets your station to make big improvements in its ratings? Strengthening your brand. Major marketing. A big format debut. A morning personality crossing a threshold of impactful connection with the audience. Large, momentum-shifting, buzzworthy things. That’s how stations go from a 4.3 to a 5.3.
Recent history draws our attention to two momentum-shifting examples in politics. In 2016, Hillary Clinton had well-produced campaign ads, high-profile endorsements, and, seemingly, a victory well in hand. But it was Donald Trump’s ability to shift perception through consistent repetition that changed the momentum and the outcome of the race. He did not and could not have won if he had dealt with typical things candidates do; e.g., policy papers and carefully crafted messages to appeal to the voters in the middle.
More recently, few expected Joe Biden to emerge as the 2020 Democratic candidate. Again, it wasn’t a snappy ad or one-liner at a debate that changed the game. Biden utilized a groundswell of support in South Carolina to shift perception of his electability.
Rather than just managing the minutia, I’d like to see the radio industry focus on impacting the public conversation.
Is this more challenging than ever? Yes. Does ratings compaction, particularly in PPM markets, make impacting the number to the left of the decimal point even more difficult? Absolutely.
If I owned or managed a radio station today, I would hire a marketing specialist specifically charged with getting media coverage. I’d make it a mission that my morning show would be such market authorities on pop culture and music that other media outlets would look to it for leadership. Last Friday morning, Charlamagne Tha God from The Breakfast Club, the morning show based at Power 105.1 in New York, interviewed Joe Biden. As usual, the show posted the interview on social media (The Breakfast Club has 4.4 million YouTube subscribers) and on its podcast. Towards the end of the interview, Biden says, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” This led to a controversy over his comments, regarding whether or not he is taking the African American vote for granted.
Sure, The Breakfast Club has massive reach now through its many channels, but the syndicated Urban juggernaut started as a local morning show ten years ago. It did not build a following and its influential sphere of influence by mirroring the template of other morning shows. The Breakfast Club made interviews a core part of the show design. Guests know that, as The New York Times writes, “No one who enters the studio or, now, joins a video call with any member of the hosting trio is safe from commentary and criticism.” The Breakfast Club calls itself “The World’s Most Dangerous Morning Show.” Safe companionship may be just fine for some morning shows. But The Breakfast Club knows even the chance something controversial and real could happen at any time is what creates lasting buzz and loyalty.
If your promotions staff spends too much time concerning itself with the prize closet or database emails, maybe it’s time to refocus. Maybe now, while there are no remotes, is as good a time as any.
The reason we track brand perception in our research is that perception is what matters. It’s what’s always mattered and always will.
Worry less about minutia. Make big, strategic brand decisions. Control the conversation. Change perceptions. The number to the left of the decimal point will follow.
What a difference a few weeks, days and hours makes.
Before the travel bans, before sports and concerts cancelled and before schools closed, I paid a visit to Syracuse University for my college radio station’s 35th annual reunion. I returned from that trip just nine days ago.
During the session, Brent brought up a principle that guides his show planning, called the POKE scale. As with many others in the industry, his brand stretches across platforms including hosting his own podcast. I wanted to know how Brent is using POKE to build his brand, develop compelling and engaging content and demonstrate differentiation as a reason for listening.
Just last Wednesday, we spent some time on the phone discussing it. Syracuse was set to play the University of North Carolina in the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament later that night. While we knew sports would soon be played without fans in the venues, the thought of cancelling them altogether hadn’t yet crossed our minds.
That was six days ago.
Brent and I discussed how POKE plays a role in his daily planning, including the way he covered Coronavirus on his sports talk show up to that point.
Perhaps there’s value now, more than ever, in applying the POKE scale to show prep–certainly in a format (Sports) built around something that currently, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist. In addition, as Brent explains, it is equally important to recognize when to make adjustments.
Read an edited transcript or listen to the entire interview below.
When I saw you in Syracuse, you mentioned the POKE scale. Talk about the acronym and what each letter means.
Passion, Opinion, Knowledge and Entertainment. I write my show notes on a legal pad. Every day on the top of the legal pad I write the date of the show and POKE. If you’re accomplishing those four things, particularly in the type of show I do, you’re checking the box.
Let’s start with Passion. The number one thing my listeners say to me is they appreciate my passion. They might not agree with what I’m saying, but they enjoy the manner in which I’m delivering it.
Opinion. Listeners are looking for you to have a defined, clear take. As we speak, Syracuse is getting ready to play in the ACC Tournament. They have to win to go to the NCAA Tournament. The discussion on the show is, “If they don’t win, is it a failed season?” If I don’t think it’s a failed season, I have to explain why.
Knowledge is prepping. And when you work in this industry, you’re constantly prepping. When you’re watching sports, you’re debating with yourself. First it’s, “Am I going to talk about this?” If the answer is yes, then it’s “How?” And how do I keep it entertaining for those that aren’t hard core sports fans?
Are you putting each topic through the POKE filter to determine how each break works within that structure?
I try to. The other day I talked about Coronavirus and I broke the Opinion rule. I said, it’s my job to have an opinion here, but this is a case where we don’t know enough to have a firm opinion. You can have an opinion, but you have to clarify it sometimes when it’s beyond the scale. This is real life interfering with sports, so I’ll be honest with my listeners. When I came on, I said, I’m not an expert, I know what I know, here’s the information we have, and let’s go from there. That’s where putting it through the filter doesn’t always work. I heard a call from Bob Costas who was talking about sports talk radio and the “First Take” shows of the world and podcasts, and Bob said you can’t possibly be that opinionated about something for three hours a day, five days a week. And he’s right. When I look at the four things in the POKE scale, (I might say) I can’t entertain you today. Coronavirus is a serious discussion. You’ve got to know when to break the rules and let people know that today’s a little different.
So many shows right now are trying to figure out how to handle approaching the Coronavirus. If you had handled it with updates like a hard news station, it would be out of left field and not consistent with your brand.
And that’s where Knowledge comes into play and applies to guests. If I don’t know, get somebody on that does. It’s growing so many different layers. Schools cancelling classes. Events that are being cancelled. What do I do as a fan? Do I go to games? This is not going anywhere anytime soon, so knowledge becomes important. Trusting sources, getting people on the air with you that can explain it. If you’re not knowledgeable about it – in this case it’s Coronavirus but it could be a 2-3 zone defense – get somebody on who is knowledgeable.
Do you think authenticity goes part and parcel with Passion?
Yes. You can’t control authenticity. Your audience is making that judgement. You’ve got to be authentic and people will appreciate that more.
Many hosts are afraid to give their opinion, whether it be because they fear it will be controversial or taken the wrong way. Do you always say what you believe or do you sometimes take an opinion you feel will be good for the show?
It’s important to me that my opinion–going back to that word we used a minute ago–is authentic. The opinion I give someone in public better be the same as it is on the radio.
On the topic of brand development, listeners will see through it if it doesn’t match the brand perception of who you are.
I’ve been doing radio in Syracuse since 1996. My listeners know certain things about me. I’ve had an opinion for years that Pete Rose should not be in the Hall of Fame and nothing has come along to change my opinion. So every time Hall of Fame voting comes around, I hear from people. “You still feel this way?” It can help build a brand and build awareness when people know what your opinion is.
Does the POKE scale work outside of Sports? Like for a morning show on a CHR or Hot AC station, for example?
Yes. For example, you need to be passionate about the market you work in. That’s essential. Having an opinion and gathering other opinions is important. Knowledge speaks for itself and we’re all entertainers! That’s what I love about the POKE scale. It does apply to just about everything you can do in this business.
We send our thanks to Brent for taking the time to share the principles of the POKE scale, and applaud every radio personality going above and beyond to serve their listeners in important, crucial and memorable ways.
We consider ourselves fortunate to work with some of the most strategic minds in the audio entertainment space. But even the most seasoned strategists fall into the trap of what we call “Inside Thinking”—when you get too close to the product for your own good and are unable to see it through the lens of your customers.
In contrast, “Outside Thinkers” adopt a more strategic perspective. They understand that customers lead busy, distracted lives and their products are generally not nearly as important as Inside Thinkers may believe. While this is an ongoing challenge for those working in every industry, not just radio, we see examples of Inside Thinking continue to manifest themselves in the radio industry. Many are simply force of habit.
We have collected a list of things Inside Thinkers tell us. We call them deadly sins because if you really believe them they will lead you to damnation as a programmer. Radio people have said these things for decades and just continue to do so. But these examples are also dangerously unstrategic and create unnecessary friction and obstacles to growth.
So, without further adieu, here’s a countdown of the seven deadly sins of nonstrategic thinking (as Casey would say, we’re working our way to #1!):
“As soon as we did that, our numbers went up.”
There are some pretty fantastic tools to analyze your ratings, and it’s just human nature to want to prove in short order that something worked. You added a new song category every hour. You ran a social media campaign. You debuted a contest. You put a new jock on the air.
There are instances of clear correlation and causation between on-air product and ratings. Major weather events often result in bumps for news stations. Local sports teams in playoffs and championships often result in a ratings kiss for sports stations.
But far too often, a correlation is made between more subtle moves and ratings success in which no causation exists.
“But it tested great in our music test.”
If “Stairway to Heaven” tests great for an Urban station, should the station play it? Should an AC station play “Sweet Child of Mine” if it tests?
You should not just throw anything into your music test. Ideally, the songs you choose to test will be guided by a strategy determined in perceptual research. But even in the absence of perceptual research, the songs in the test should be guided by your vision or strategic design of the station. Just because it tested great does not mean listeners want to hear it on your station.
“The morning show is gaining traction. I can feel it.”
Programmers generally should (and do) have an instinctual feel for whether or not the shows on their stations are hitting the mark or not. But when this phrase is uttered just weeks or months into a show’s development as it relates to ratings results, it is unstrategic. Shows take time to develop and the true measure of whether or not a show is gaining traction will take at least a year or two.
“Ratings went down, so we made some music adjustments.”
First, you should generally not make any programming decisions, whether in regards to music or talent, based on one ratings period. Always keep your strategy in mind and make decisions based on that design. Ideally it will be informed by strategic research, but either way, ratings should be evaluated over a longer stretch of time that accounts for wobbles.
“We just play the hits, that’s what I was taught!”
Similar the point in #6, it’s far more complicated than playing the hits. Not every hit will fit your station’s strategic design. Yes, you want to play the best songs. But you want to play the right best songs. “Hits for who?” one of my favorite bosses used to ask.
“My wife/daughter/brother doesn’t like it.”
Think twice before saying this to someone in the programming department at a radio station as your rationale for wanting something changed, like a song, contest or piece of imaging. Sure, organic feedback is great. But using an example or two, especially if it is a relative, as a reason for a programming change, is a big no-no. Conducting “unfocused” groups at your dinner table will only ensure that the real target audience is overlooked.
“Of course the audience knows that.”
A classic mistake of Inside Thinkers assumes your consumer is aware of something because you are. Your listeners spend far less time with your radio station than you and are less likely to know the names of your air talent, be familiar with your contests, recognize a benchmark, be aware of subtle branding changes, and so on. All the audience really knows, if you are lucky, is they turn on this station for Rock or that one for Country. Never assume they are sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to hear what you have to say next.
There you have ‘em, the Seven Deadly Sins of Nonstrategic Thinking. The sin of it is, we have all said something along these lines over the years. Our hope is that we all go “outside” and eliminate these phrases, shall we? I promise nobody will miss them.
On the one hand, the version of this meme that popped up on my Facebook feed over the weekend is easily my favorite:
Unsurprisingly, many of my radio friends liked the post because, like me, they’ve lived the post.
I can’t possibly tell you how many times I’ve had this exchange with a listener on the request line over the years. The exact verbiage, of course, may differ. I might have said:
“I’ll try and get that on for you.”
“It might be coming up in the next hour.”
“I’ll give it my best shot.”
Little did the listener know I had a music log in front of me and I was well aware of whether or not it was coming up. And, if I used one of those responses, you can be assured it was not coming up.
While everyone who’s ever cracked a mic at a radio station can relate, I feel some guilt about it now. In addition, it’s not a practice today’s radio stations can continue.
When you wanted to hear your favorite song pre-streaming, you had to own the recording. If you didn’t, the radio station could provide that service, hence the request line.
Today if a listener calls the request line and is told, “I’ll see what I can do” or “It’s coming up” and it doesn’t come up, there is no leverage for the station. That angry and disappointed listener that waited and waited for their song can easily stream it on-demand.
We know the percentage of listeners that will ever call a radio station’s request line is very low. So is the percentage of listeners that will agree to carry a meter or fill out a ratings diary.
If someone takes the time to call a request line, they should be treated like royalty.
If you can’t play the song that’s requested, instead of saying “I’ll see what I can do,” maybe find out what other songs and artists she likes.
Ask what she likes most about your station. Or, ask what she thinks the station could do better.
Ask how long she’s been listening. Ask where she works. Find out who her favorite artists are. Learn if she plays your contests.
It’s not about trying to gather actionable data. You’ll want a research study with a representative sample to achieve that.
But if the goal is to provide outstanding engagement and customer service when the consumer has countless other options to choose from, dropping “I’ll see what I can do” from the vocabulary is probably a good place to start.
BRANDING, CONTENT & RESEARCH STRATEGY
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