Tag Archives: radio station

Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station?

Tuesdays With Coleman

For radio program directors, the question of which songs to play and which to leave out is as old as the medium itself.  If it was only about playing popular songs, radio stations would be broader than they are.  Why is that?  Well, just like restaurants don’t all serve the same popular foods and generally must choose what to serve, radio stations also focus on types, styles and eras of music.

Pizza Hut doesn’t sell hamburgers. CHR stations don’t play country.

Outback Steakhouse doesn’t sell Chinese food. Rock stations don’t play pop music.

Chipotle doesn’t sell pancakes. Hip Hop stations don’t play Taylor Swift.

These choices seem obvious, but are they always?  How can a program director think about what to play when consumers listen to popular music and music that seems right for the format?  How can they know when to stretch beyond the narrowest definition of their format?  When can they take chances and when should they play it safe?

Just as they choose restaurants and most brands based on simplistic image perceptions, consumers also select radio stations based on an image they have of that station.

As we’ve illustrated in our explanations of Outside Thinking, that image may be formulated based on Type (like Rock, Country or Hip Hop); Era (like 80s, 90s or 00s); or Texture (like Hard, Soft or Upbeat).

But in the real world, not every song a station plays will meet the pure definition of the brand it represents to its audience.

Sometimes, a program director will want to throw in a song just to “freshen things up.”

Other times a song will reach such a high level of popularity in the zeitgeist, a program director may feel compelled to play it even if it is outside the format lane.

Program directors will fill their music tests with “fishing expeditions” to see what happens.

Every program director and music director is faced with the decision of whether or not to play songs on their stations and is left questioning if it was the right choice because of Fit.

So, when to play and when not to play?

Don Benson, the former President and CEO of Lincoln Financial Media, put it something like this:

You can be entrepreneurial in your own lane. You can’t be entrepreneurial in your fringe lanes.

What Don means by that is your format lane gives you license to introduce your audience to songs and even sounds they haven’t heard. When you play outside your lane, you risk losing listeners and may encourage brand erosion.

For most listeners, this isn’t a conscious thought process. In the moment, if they really like it, a listener may sit through a song that feels out of sync with the brand and wait for the radio station to return to expectation. If they don’t really like it, and it’s out of sync, the listener is less likely to stay.

The real danger here is, if a station plays out-of-sync songs too often—songs that aren’t consistent with its brand perception—the listener will lose confidence in the station’s ability to deliver what the listener wants.

The Coleman Insights Brand-Content MatrixSM dictates that the success of great radio stations is the result of two dimensions. First, the station’s brand strength—its top of mind awareness and perception. Second, its in-the-moment content strength—a function of how compelling the content is. The Brand-Content Matrix shows the most successful radio stations marry high-quality content with a well-established brand.

Brand Content Matrix

In many ways, the decision-making process on whether or not to play a song on your radio station can be handled in much the same way…using an Acceptance-Fit Matrix.

Acceptance Fit Matrix

Ideally, your radio station will play a high percentage of songs that test well (High Acceptance) and fit your station’s brand (High Fit).

But, there always will be moments of questioning.

In the late 80s and very early 90s, for example, pop music took a milder, less edgy turn. During this period, artists like Richard Marx, Mike and the Mechanics, Wilson Phillips and Michael Bolton topped the charts.

Michael Bolton Soul Provider

How was CHR supposed to live without Michael Bolton?

For CHR stations, playing too much of this fringe ACish sound risked undermining their brand expectation. The expectations were edgier and had more tempo. The center-lane pop was from artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna.

Stations had to be careful how quickly and deeply to move into the fringe sound—not just for fear of brand erosion, but also the risk of making themselves vulnerable to attack by more focused formats like Hot AC or edgier stations like Hip Hop.

As the Acceptance-Fit Matrix indicates, if a song is outside your own lane, it had better be exceptionally popular to play it.  A song that is exceptionally popular but not in the center lane is in the lower right quadrant. You may be able to get away with that. But, if it is only moderately popular it will be a tune out and will hurt your image.

Our recommendation is to evaluate every song in your library in terms of both Acceptance and Fit.

Aim for highly popular songs that are a great fit with your brand.

The less it fits your brand, the more selective you should be.

So when it’s time to ask “should I play that song on my radio station?”

Be smart.

Be thoughtful.

Be strategic.

And, be entrepreneurial.

Just do it in your own lane.

Preparing Your Radio Station for U2

Tuesdays With Coleman

On Friday, October 2, 2009, I was programming 96rock in Raleigh, NC and preparing the station for a major live broadcast the next day. U2 was set to play nearby Carter-Finley Stadium as part of its 360 Tour, and there were a number of last-minute logistics to run through. That’s when the phone rang.

It was the regional rep for Interscope, U2’s record label.

“Jay, I have a few questions for you.”

I was intensely focused on what I was doing, but, “Sure, what’s up?”

Interscope rep: “How long does it take to get from the venue to your radio station?”

Me: “15 minutes.”

Interscope rep: “How long does it take to get from the airport to your radio station?”

Me: “25 minutes.”

Interscope rep: “How long does it take to get from the airport to the venue?”

Me: “10 minutes.”

Interscope rep: “Ok, thanks.”


My mind started racing and I was freaking out, and here’s why:

I knew on the day before U2 kicked off the North American leg of their 360 Tour in Chicago, they had conducted radio station interviews and visits at several stations, including 93.1XRT and Q101, and had donated a VIP concert experience to 101.9 The Mix for its fundraiser.

A week later, the band popped into the studios of 102.1 The Edge in Toronto with just a few hours’ notice.

U2 The Edge CFNY Toronto

Now, my Interscope rep had left me a cryptic message and I’m certain U2 is going to come by the studio for a visit.

That overwhelmingly thrilling concept led to this thought:

“Oh no, what if U2 comes by the studio for a visit.”

Was the studio in an acceptable condition to host U2?

Could we mobilize a security infrastructure fast enough once the word got out?

Did we have the right people in place to handle everything that comes with a visit like this? Could we turn around production pieces immediately? Would we be able to maximize the PR opportunity? Would we be ready to utilize our digital assets right away? Could we come up with some memorable questions they hadn’t heard before?

And so, we mobilized like U2 was coming to visit. Fortunately, I do believe we were prepared for the special moment if, in fact, the band decided to grace us with their presence at the last minute.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

On the other hand, it was a great opportunity to ensure we had all our ducks in a row.

In many ways, we work in the preparation business.

Among many other things, perceptual research can identify the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities both for your station and for the radio market as a whole.

Stations we work with often evaluate various potential scenarios and determine which actions to take based on the insights.

Although you can’t predict every scenario, you can prepare.

So, prepare like U2’s going to drop by this afternoon.

Don’t Change Your Radio Station

Tuesdays With Coleman

There are times in the lifespan of a radio station when making changes makes sense. Often, these changes are guided by research. A library music test is a great opportunity to freshen up the sound of the station. A perceptual study may indicate that a shift in music strategy or positioning would be a sound move.

On the other hand, high value propositions from radio research studies can manifest themselves in learning what not to change on your station. Sometimes research indicates the audience is picking up on an image you’re trying to build, like “The Alternative Station.” It may tell you that a new morning show feature has relatively low familiarity but has high excellent scores among those familiar with it.

In “How Brands Grow” by Byron Sharp, the author writes “Again and again it appears in numerous product categories, markets and countries that there is a fundamental law of brand size. Big brands have markedly large customer bases.”

How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp

Therein lies the ultimate goal of media research. Use the data to build a bigger brand to draw a bigger audience.

One problem. Humans like to change things.

I was a radio program director and sometimes fell into the trap of Inside Thinking. This is when you think like someone who works for the radio station, rather than putting yourself in the shoes of your listener. When I put a sweeper or promo on the air, I generally used my gut to determine when to take it off, which was usually when it sounded like it was “getting burned.”

Of course, I didn’t listen the way my listeners did. My TSL—or time spent listening—was way higher. When something sounded burned to me, it was probably nowhere near ready to come off.

Outside Thinking would have dictated patience with that sweeper or promo.

A program director may implement a positioner on the air, like “The Best Variety of the 80s, 90s and Today”, knowing from the research that’s an image the station should build. At first, the line is delivered multiple times an hour. Then, the jocks aren’t saying it as much. Some of the new sweepers have the slogan in them and some don’t. You’re feeling “burned” on the line.

Your listener isn’t feeling burned on the line. Unless it is a strong, established image, your listener barely knows you’re saying it.

Building images takes time. Outside Thinking dictates you’re probably not saying it enough.

“That promotion isn’t working.” How often did you run it and for how long?

“That feature isn’t working.” Did you give enough time for the audience to get familiar with it?

Why do we constantly feel the need to change things?

There are a few iconic brands in every category and there isn’t much changing going on. Big iconic brands understand it takes time to build images. Once an image is built, you don’t change things for the sake of change.

A Coke can is red and the McDonalds arches are yellow. If it were the other way around tomorrow, your brain might melt.

Coca Cola McDonalds Logo

Big iconic brands don’t often change logos and colors.

Sure, there are times when a radio station needs to change its logo and colors. But, it shouldn’t be just for the sake of change. Can you think of some radio brands that have kept the same logo for a long time? Chances are they’re big brands.

McDonald’s has kept the same slogan (“I’m lovin it”) for the past 15 years.

Get your singing voice ready. “Nationwide is on your side.”

Radio station listeners generally consume your brand the same way they do other brands.

If a key message is “Traffic and Weather Together”, don’t get tired of saying it.

If you’ve got a catchy jingle they sing back to you, don’t get tired of playing it.

If a key promotion is the Workday Payday, don’t get tired of running it.

If a key artist for your station is Justin Timberlake, don’t get tired of all those Justin promos.

“I’m burned on all those Justin promos. The listeners will get sick of them.”

No they won’t.

Don’t change for the sake of change.

Be an Outside Thinker.

How Will Your Radio Station Use Outside Thinking?

Tuesdays With Coleman

Later this week, we’ll be in Hollywood to present “Outside Thinking: Flip The Script On How You Think About Your Radio Station” to the Worldwide Radio Summit.

What is Outside Thinking?

Let’s face it. Most of us in the radio industry don’t listen like a typical listener—we inadvertently practice Inside Thinking. We believe listeners hang on our every word, adjust their schedules to play our contests and choose to listen to our stations because of a deep bond they have with our brand. The reality is quite the opposite.

But radio is hardly the only industry that wrestles with getting stuck in an Inside Thinking mindset.

The film industry, centered in Hollywood where we’ll do our presentation this week, also risks succumbing to Inside Thinking.

In his new book, “The Big Picture: The Fight For The Future Of Movies”, author Ben Fritz gives examples of how Hollywood has shifted its thinking over the past few years.

In the past, Fritz writes, “no other industry pumped out so many products so frequently with so little foreknowledge of whether they would be any good. The only feasible business strategy, it appeared, was to sign up the best creative talent, trust your strongest hunches about what looked likely to appeal to millions of people, and hope you ended up with Back to the Future instead of Ishtar.”

Hollywood’s shift to Outside Thinking has resulted in what Fritz calls “The Branded Franchise Era”. Rather than focusing on putting out films they hope will be successful, Hollywood has hedged its bets more often with proven franchises. Marvel, Fast and Furious, and Despicable Me are examples of franchises that regularly take in over $1 billion at the global box office. Pixar will release Incredibles 2 this summer and Toy Story 4 next summer.  This is an example of Outside Thinking because not only does this strategy minimize risk, it feeds audience demand. Hollywood moved from releasing the movies they thought they should put out for any number of reasons (artistic, contractual, etc.) to movies audiences wanted them to put out.  Outside Thinking means walking in the customer’s shoes.

Outside Thinking in Hollywood goes well beyond selecting which films to produce. As Hollywood alters its content, the moviegoing experience is also changing. This change is often driven by disruptors who have adopted Outside Thinking.

Outside Thinking led to the development of Alamo Drafthouse. Noticing how frustrated customers were getting with endless ads, a limited selection of sugary concessions and frequent rudeness from their fellow patrons, Alamo aims to vastly improve the experience of attending a film. The chain features over 30 beers on tap and comfortable recliners, refuses to show commercials before the feature presentation and has a strict no-texting-or-talking policy that will get you kicked out after one warning.

Alamo Drafthouse Texting Policy

Customers love it.

Inside Thinking is raising movie prices again because it’s what’s always been done. All the while, more and more entertainment options from streaming services encourage those who used to be regular moviegoers to stay home.

Outside Thinking is MoviePass, whose latest offering is a $9.99/month plan that gets you tickets to four movies a month (they claim over 91% of theaters participate) and a subscription to iHeartRadio.


So this week, we’ll bring a taste of Outside Thinking to Hollywood for radio’s consideration.

At the core of Outside Thinking for radio stations is understanding why listeners choose your station in the first place. This can impact everything from how you deliver your messaging to the way you execute your contesting.

During our presentation, we’ll illustrate:

  • The differences between Inside and Outside Thinking;
  • What factors drive listeners to choose your station at specific moments in time
  • Specific examples of Inside Thinking to avoid at your radio station

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share Outside Thinking tidbits with you so you can face the future the way your listener will.

It’s time to flip the script.

Reducing Friction On Your Radio Station – Part 2

Tuesdays With Coleman

Where do you go when it’s time to brainstorm and talk shop?

Recently, the Coleman Insights brain trust found itself where it often does on a random Friday afternoon.


Just before the server took our orders, I noticed our dining musical accompaniment featured the ambient beats of “Jive Talkin’”, which had seamlessly faded into “Got to Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn.

“Huh”, I remarked. “Disco Friday at Chili’s”.

Donna Summer came on after Cheryl. It was indeed Disco Friday.

This led to a conversation my colleague Jessica relayed to me later in the week, during which she was asked, “Does any radio station play disco anymore? And if so, who would?”

As you know, if you’re on the hunt for an all-disco station, it’s gonna be slim pickins on the prairie. That doesn’t mean there aren’t stations that play disco titles. Where would you hear it?

Last week’s blog discussed obstacles to the customer experience, sometimes referred to as friction. I mentioned some of the ways radio stations have traditionally dealt with listeners, and whether some should be re-examined in 2018.

Another kind of friction can occur when expectations of the brand don’t mesh with what the brand is delivering.

Does a little disco make sense on a Classic Hits station? Adult Contemporary? Adult Hits?

The answer could be yes in all those instances, but it could be tough to determine how much to play. Does the market see disco as a fit with your brand? Does it work with the core sounds you’re playing on the station? Or, should it perhaps be relegated to a specialty show or not played at all?

A Classic Rock station’s core may be 60s and 70s Classic Rock. How far this station can deviate from that core differs by station and market. Is the spice 70s and 80s Pop? Can it delve into 90s Alternative Rock?

How much can a Hot Adult Contemporary station rooted in contemporary sounds play in the 80s or 90s? How does it mesh with popularity and brand perception?

Zappos used to sell only shoes. Now, they sell shoes, clothes and accessories. This isn’t unusual for a shoe brand, but if they started selling televisions that may cause some friction.

In 1990 Coors figured they’d get in the water business because, you know, the water in their beer was so good.

Didn’t work.

Cartoon Network was known for showing kid-oriented cartoons but had developed a more adult slate of programming at night. Research guided them to spin their “Adult Swim” into its own network. This allowed each network to stay in its lane. Same with Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite.

Research can help answer questions like these. When brands have a clear understanding of their core proposition, they can better focus on delivering their product and know how to explain it to current and potential customers. They know what lanes to stay in, where there’s room to add spice to the recipe and which spices to add. We use measurements such as Fit and Compatibility to assist our clients in this process.

Aim for a focused, cohesive, consistent product.

Aim to reduce friction.

What if Bill Belichick Programmed Your Radio Station?

Tuesdays With Coleman

Let’s imagine, this Super Bowl week, what it would be like if New England head coach Bill Belichick wasn’t the leader of the Patriots.

In fact, let’s imagine him out of football completely.

What if Bill Belichick was the program director of a radio station?

What would those aircheck sessions look like?

Radio Station Studio

Belichick would dissect each break into pieces like game film. Do you think Belichick would rely on the same few clichés PDs have used for decades, like “One thought per break” or “Stop puking”?

Or would Belichick explain to you not just what you did right or wrong, but why? Do you think he’d just tell you how you forgot to sell station benefits or would he get you to buy in to the strategic vision?

If Bill Belichick designed clocks in Selector or Music Master, do you think he would know the exact layout of every clock of his competition? Of course he would.

If Bill Belichick showed up to a station remote, what would he think of a station banner hastily hung behind a bored jock eating a cheeseburger?

I’m betting the display would be perfect, the jock would never sit down, and feedback about the radio station would have been solicited from every employee and listener that stopped by.

I’m also certain the jock showing up to the remote on Belichick’s watch would have known almost as much if not more about the business than the manager on duty.

Belichick says the only sign the Patriots have in their locker room is a quote from The Art of War: ‘Every battle is won before it is fought’”.

Every Battle is Won Before it is Fought

Many radio station personnel have long held the viewpoint that a certain amount of spontaneity is good, that perhaps too much preparation takes away from that “anything can happen” feel of a live show.


Sure, true spontaneity happens and can be great. But great programmers and personalities can give the illusion of spontaneity because they planned so effectively.  Spontaneity on the radio would be like Tom Brady rolling out of the pocket on a busted pass play.  He and the receiver would spontaneously find a new way to connect, but even that would be within defined boundaries of when and how to be spontaneous.

Preparation is always the key.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman explains it this way: “You never go into a week thinking you’re not prepared. Even if it’s the one play that the (opposing) defensive coordinator had when he was a graduate assistant at Louisiana Tech, you’re going to see that play and you’re going to be ready for it.”

Think about that for a minute. He’s implying the Patriots studied a play that an opposing coach ran once when he was a graduate assistant in college.

That’s preparation.

I have a feeling few things would ever surprise employees at a Bill Belichick-run radio station.

Morning shows would diligently plan the next day’s show, but they would also be prepared to adapt to any situation. They would have a strategy in place for hypotheticals ranging from how they would handle a tornado touching down during the show to what they would do if a celebrity like Bruno Mars called the hotline.

New England Patriots players talk about how Belichick will quiz them on strategy in the hallways and how nervous they get when he approaches with a question out-of-the-blue. Over time, players became less nervous. Because they were more prepared.

If Belichick programmed a Hot AC station and the competition added 20 percent more 80s, he’d have a plan for that.

If he programmed a CHR and the competition just launched a big new morning show, he’d have a plan for that, too.

Sports talk hosts would be able to anticipate every question from every caller on just about any topic before they called.

Do you work at a radio station where the answer to why something is done a certain way is, “Because we’ve always done it that way”?

One of the most important characteristics Belichick would bring to a radio station is always looking toward the future.

Belichick was asked in April 2017 if he was still celebrating the team’s Super Bowl win two months earlier (incidentally, that reporter would never work for Belichick).

“We’re on to 2017. No one cares about 2016 anymore. We talk about today, and we talk about the next game. That’s all we can really control.”

Great radio stations are prepared radio stations. Great personalities are prepared personalities. Great program directors are prepared program directors.

You don’t have to like the Patriots or be a fan of Bill Belichick, but you can adopt the most important tenet of his success – be prepared.

Google My Radio Station

Tuesdays With Coleman

When it comes to building, managing, and protecting their brand identities, radio stations rightfully tend to focus on the most important thing—the on-air product. The reputation management services help one manage and get a peek into how many stations are represented in the digital space indicates some areas of opportunity, both in brand management and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

One easy step stations can take is to simply search for variations of the station name in Google. Use the street name, call letters, and city.  Is the station represented the way it should be?

The title tag is the headline that grabs the attention of the user. Does the title tag show the correct name and the message you want to send? For example, does the title tag indicate your station plays rock music…when you’re a talk station?

A meta description is the text underneath the title tag that follows each search listing. Are you populating this with key features you want the user to remember (music, personalities, contesting), or are you allowing Google to populate this for you?

There are character limits for both the title tag and meta descriptions. Google generally displays the first 50-60 characters of the title tag, and they increased the meta description limit to 300 characters in December, 2017. Exceed the character limit, and you could fall victim to the dreaded “…” before the end of the sentence.

Title tag and meta description Google

There are free tools available like the Title Tag Preview Tool on Moz.com.  The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress is one of a number of tools that can help you easily navigate character limits, see previews on search engines, and assist with keyword optimization.

Is your station utilizing Google My Business (GMB)?

Google My Business

If not, you may be at the mercy of what Google shows in that expanded box to the right of the search results. Here, Google often pulls information from Wikipedia (which, as you know, is always correct) and Google Images – which can (and often does) show old station logos. These can include old positioning statements or even pre-format flip station names. Setting up a Google My Business account allows you to control that content, and can help you organically improve your SEO (read: free!). Radio stations have some distinct advantages that can be used to their advantage in GMB.

  • Images. Google likes when businesses upload lots of photos to their GMB page to “personalize” the company. Many businesses struggle with this. “How many photos can we upload of our boring office?”  Radio stations can give listeners a virtual behind-the-scenes tour.  How many pictures do you have of the lobby, studios, concerts, and remotes? How about highlighting pictures of important artists at the station or backstage standing in front of the logo?

These photos can be a great digital “teaser” to get more visitors to your landing page and can help your SEO efforts. 360 degree tours has even become a business in and of itself.

  • Reviews. When a listener utilizes Google Maps for directions to your station, they’ll see reviews from other listeners. How about encouraging listeners to write a review when you see them picking up a prize or when they stop by a remote?

Here’s an example of a florist in Raleigh, NC that is utilizing GMB. Notice how they’ve got reviews and photos to grab your attention, as well as business information. The box on the right is the length of about nine search listings. Many radio stations, without a proper GMB listing, get a brief description of about three or four listings.

Google My Business

Microsoft also has a free product available, called “Bing Places for Business”.   Here you can also set up a free account to better optimize your search results on Bing.

Radio stations are local businesses with large numbers of customers who utilize their product. If other local businesses are successfully using Google My Business, radio stations should as well.

We encourage our client stations to follow the tenets of the Image Pyramid – and to take great care that their brand is represented properly.

There’s no reason why that this shouldn’t be extended to all branding in the digital space.

Is Inside Thinking Blurring Your Strategic Vision?

Tuesdays With Coleman

If you work at a radio station (or in any business, for that matter), it’s easy to get caught up in Inside Thinking. We sometimes get too close to the product for our own good, and are unable to see it through the lens of our customers. When you’re the manager of a radio station, this can lead to blurred strategic vision, exemplified by statements such as, “We just need to know what’s most popular with 25- to 39-year old men because that is our target.”

Is that really enough?

This is the final installment of a four-part series that revisits a Radio & Records column I wrote in 1999. It describes scenarios I ran into when speaking with radio station managers about research projects. All of these scenarios, including Scenario 4 – No Strategic Vision, still come up with regularity 18 years later.

The inability of some managers to look at their stations from any other perspective than from inside the stations’ walls manifests itself in Inside Thinking. These managers believe that listeners:

  • Care deeply about radio
  • Are paying close attention to our stations
  • Can be manipulated

Conversely, Outside Thinkers believe the opposite. They understand that listeners’ station choices are:

  • Driven substantially by habit
  • A result of instantaneous need fulfillment
  • Based on a simplistic set of perceptions they have of different stations
  • Impacted by the role of language
  • Determined by their lifestyle

Listening to radio station

This very different mindset leads Outside Thinkers to approach research with a much more strategic point of view rather than simply trying to find out what listeners do and do not like. They use research to ask questions like:

  • What is my station’s awareness level in the market?
  • How different is my actual product and what people perceive my product to be?
  • Where do the musical tastes of my market really lie and are they moving in the direction that I believe they are?
  • Does the fact that my target demo share dropped by 25% over the last two Nielsen books really mean that my position in the market has weakened?
  • Am I focusing my energy and my resources on the right things?

Our suggestion that radio managers take the Outside Thinking approach to their stations—and their research—provides a good final thought for this four-part blog series. Our previous installments warned against obsessing over methodology, not investing in research when your station is successful and confusing tactical and strategic research. Outside Thinkers rarely make these mistakes, and as a result, their stations are far more likely to enjoy long-term success.