Tag Archives: radio stations

Three Reasons You Don’t Win the Variety Image by How Many Songs You Play

On the surface, the premise makes sense. To give listeners the most variety, you need to play more songs, right?


To understand why, let’s explore three factors to consider in image building. If all three are not executed properly, winning the image will be that much more challenging. For this example, we’ll use variety as the image.

  1. The Type

Listeners won’t notice how many songs you play; they’ll notice how you deliver it. Era variety is generally the most obvious, but there are other ways to achieve the variety image through the product you deliver. A AAA station may offer more depth within certain strategic sounds. An Adult Hits station may offer more style/texture variety, with genres that listeners don’t generally expect to go together.

  1. The Recipe

An Adult Hits station may claim to “play everything,” but of course it doesn’t. And the most successful ones have a method to their madness. For example, stations in this format often play mostly 80s and have a Pop Rock lean. Research may dictate a different strategy based on the market and competitive landscape. The crucial element is that the songs need to be cohesive enough to hold an audience. Understanding the strategic lane for the format allows the station to go deeper on strategically important sounds while staying shallower in sounds that live on the strategic periphery.

Adult Hits stations like JACK FM give the illusion of playing everything, but the most successful ones have a strategically cohesive music recipe

  1. The Marketing

Radio station listeners are not paying close enough attention to recognize that your station plays the best variety. That’s why the right strategic messaging must accompany the product strategy. Doing it is not enough, you must tell them about it. Use clear, distinct, and memorable language to help build the image. When you think you’ve said it too much, keep doing it. You haven’t. Moreover, look for opportunities to spread your message externally, to people who aren’t already listening to your station.

While this example focuses on variety, the process is the same for any image you want to win.

Utilize research to determine the optimal strategy, execute the strategy according to the plan, and deliver consistent messaging on-air and off-air to drive the image perception forward.

Six Lessons Learned from One Year of Campfire Online Discussion Groups


This week marks a full year since we debuted our CampfireSM Online Discussion Groups, and we have learned a lot through this new platform. For those of you not familiar with Campfire, it is a research tool that enables us to engage with listeners in an online community setting, probing deeply into brand perceptions and usage through direct questioning and discussions. The insights from these studies have been immensely valuable to our clients.

Coleman Insights has conducted Campfire studies on a wide range of topics since the launch of the service. We’ve studied heritage morning and afternoon shows that are striving to remain relevant, as well as authentic and new radio shows in development mode looking for a read on audience perceptions of cast members and the overall theme of the program. We’ve partnered with News/Talk stations looking for feedback on hosts, programs, and the best way to approach the news in this highly volatile political climate. And, we have studied the relationship between radio and digital platforms, looking for intel on how usage has shifted and why.

In honor of Campfire’s first birthday, we present six of our biggest takeaways to share from these fascinating qualitative studies.

#1 Pandemic disruption to radio listening is a wash

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw sweeping, overnight changes to Cume listening levels. And while we have seen a slow climb back to near pre-COVID levels, there is a general feeling that radio listening remains lower than before and that habits have moved away from radio due to workforce changes and the shift toward working from home.

Our 2021 Campfire studies have told a different story. Regardless of format and age target, we found that a majority of listeners feel they are listening to radio the same amount that they were prior to the pandemic. The small percentages of people reporting more or less listening generally attribute the change to their personal situation (e.g., “I can listen in the background all day now that I’m no longer in the office”) rather than shifts in preference toward or away from radio. Perception is not always reality, but it is encouraging that most radio listeners perceive themselves to be just as engaged with radio as they were a few years ago.


#2 Younger listeners are much more sensitive to “noise”

Radio has been in the habit of creating an intro sound or jingle for each feature or show, while air personalities often use sound bites to emphasize something or to inject humor. These elements can create a vibe and add personality to a station but can also be distracting. The heavy use of production elements is also frequently heard in the commercials created for radio.

In our Campfire studies targeting younger listeners, one recurring theme has been the dislike of and lack of patience for these types of production “noise.” In a world where consumers are also listening to digital platforms devoid of all but music and clean breaks, the excessive use of production elements can make radio can sound cluttered and dated.

Which leads me to number three…


#3 Radio, as a category has an age appeal issue

This may seem like common sense when talking to younger music listeners, but we’ve found that radio’s age relevance challenges exist even with listeners in their 40s and 50s, including those listening to Gold-based music formats and/or spoken word formats. In study after study, we have repeatedly heard comments like “I listen to the radio, but I don’t know that anyone else my age really does these days.”

If so many radio listeners perceive that radio is for someone older than them and they are the lone person in their demographic still listening, what does that tell us? It means that radio managers must be sensitive to everything the stations they oversee—and the medium overall—do that make radio sound “old” and do everything they can to balance those components with relevant, timely content and production. See number four…


#4 Entertainment is king

Radio consumers are media savvy. They have a lot of choices when it comes to entertainment—audio or otherwise—and they know it. Because there are so many choices out there, radio stations cannot just go through the motions. Younger listeners are unimpressed with birthday callouts and A-Z games and want edge-of-your-seat entertainment. The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s bestselling books—one of my favorite books on changing business paradigms—says it all: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

The good news is…


#5 Listeners form deep relationships with the personalities and shows they connect with

We have conducted Campfire studies for a variety of music and spoken word stations and one thing that has been very encouraging across all formats is the depth of connection listeners have with the hosts and shows they love. The audience can describe in detail the overall theme of a show, the roles each of the cast members play, and the strengths and weaknesses of the hosts. This type of information cannot be gleaned from a quantitative study. Campfire has provided us with numerous opportunities to witness this depth of understanding and connection, as well as situations where audio brands, shows, podcasts, etc. fail to achieve the necessary levels of engagement.


#6 Awareness is radio’s greatest foe

This last takeaway is from both our Campfire studies and many Plan Developer strategic studies conducted in the past year and piggybacks on my first point. While radio listeners believe they are listening just as much as they were pre-pandemic, there has been a general softening of recall overall—recall of stations, morning shows, talk show hosts, etc.—in this time of COVID.  That may be because consumers have a lot on their minds; rules are changing every day and their lives are in a constant state of upheaval. But it also has a lot to do with branding and marketing. In hectic times such as these, audio brands need to send loud, clear messages about who they are and what they offer. Radio won’t grow more listenership from those already listening; there are too many other platforms out there competing for consumers’ time. Radio stations and other audio brands need to reach out to those people in their target audiences who like what these brands have to offer but that have no idea they exist.


I’m thrilled with the results we are getting from the Campfire Online Discussion Group platform and invite you to reach out to us about putting Campfire to work for you and your brands.

COVID-19 Lessons from Superstorm Sandy

Tuesdays With Coleman

I grew up in Island Park, New York, a very small island town in one of the bays off Long Island’s south shore. When Superstorm Sandy struck the Northeast in the fall of 2012, my little hometown—where my parents still live in the home they raised my sister and I in—was devastated.

Looking back, I can classify each of the roughly 3,000 homes in my hometown into four different groups. The first group was the small number of homes that suffered little damage. Group two included my parents’ house, which suffered considerable damage, but which was covered by flood insurance and eventually repaired. A third group consisted of severely damaged homes that required significant reinvestments by their owners to not only be habitable once again, but which required improvements to reduce the risk of being damaged again in future storms. The fourth group was the most upsetting; it included severely damaged homes owned by people who had insufficient insurance coverage and lacked the means to repair them. Many homeowners in this fourth group were forced to sell their damaged homes at steep discounts, and some of their homes remain uninhabitable today.

Warren Kurtzman's dad in front of a flooded playground during Superstorm Sandy

Here’s my dad standing in front of the flooded schoolyard where I made my Little League debut.

It struck me this week that there are clear parallels between what my hometown went through as a result of Sandy and the financial challenges so many radio stations are facing as advertisers cut spending due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are some companies whose radio stations are predominately located in areas that have been minimally impacted by the pandemic and where businesses have not been ordered to close. As with the homes in my hometown, there are very few examples of this; the impact of the pandemic on the radio business has been severe and my Coleman Insights colleagues and I feel the pain that many of our clients are suffering.

A second group of companies have some degree of insurance against current conditions, much like how my parents didn’t skimp on the coverage they had on their home. Sure, their stations’ revenues have plummeted like many of their peers, but they are poised to emerge from the current crisis stronger than most because they have spent years investing in their people, conducting research, externally marketing their stations and connecting with their local communities. These broadcasters have a stable of strong brands that listeners are most likely to return to when their listening behavior more closely resembles what consumers were doing before the pandemic.

Group three is like the second group, but their commitment to building strong brands has been less consistent, with more voice-tracked air shifts, fielding research studies only when necessary, sporadic external marketing and unpaid interns handling community outreach. These broadcasters have, however, responded to the challenge of the pandemic by recognizing the important role they can play in their listeners’ lives during this crucial time and have dedicated their stations to being sources of important information and doing things like working with advertisers to help medical personnel and those who have lost their jobs during the crisis. Besides taking their commitment to serve their communities seriously, the managers at these stations are betting on the goodwill their efforts are generating to benefit them when some sense of normalcy returns.

By now, you know where I am going with the fourth group of stations. Few of the unfortunate people who worked for them have avoided being laid off, leaving the remaining staff members to cover multiple roles. Nearly round-the-clock automation has become the norm and all investments in the future—research, marketing, etc.—have not been put on hold, they have been cancelled. For those with cash burning holes in their pockets, many of these stations should be available at bargain prices in the not-too-distant future.

I recognize these are challenging times for many of you reading this. Much as we are facing at Coleman Insights, the damage to your businesses caused by the decline in economic activity during this crisis is severe, even if we successfully “flatten the curve” and get the economy moving again by the third quarter. Massive amounts of revenue have been lost and it is likely that the revenue will not only not be made up in the second half of the year, but that the second half of the year will feature less revenue than called for in everyone’s annual budgets.

For many, the initial—and very understandable—inclination in such an environment is to make as many cuts as possible. While some cuts are unavoidable, there is ample evidence that firms that invest in their businesses during economic downturns outperform their peers during times of recovery. Some quick reads I can recommend on the subject include a great piece from Fortune last September and an outstanding blog from my friend and former colleague Pierre Bouvard of Cumulus Media/Westwood One. Much as these pieces align with the efforts that many radio salespeople are making right now to convince advertisers of the need to keep spending or be prepared to spend in advance of their businesses reopening, radio stations need to follow the same advice and be ready to invest in people, research and marketing to the greatest extent possible so that their brands can thrive when the economy recovers. In other words, radio has an opportunity to set the example for its clients.

As nearly everyone in the audio entertainment space faces tough decisions about managing their businesses during this challenging time, we urge those making those decisions to learn from what we have learned during past downturns and from what my hometown learned from Superstorm Sandy. If your business hasn’t been severely damaged or if you’ve insured it as much as possible against the challenges presented by crises like these, congratulations. If, however, you are scrambling to figure out how to get through this period of unprecedented challenge, look past the next few weeks and focus on actions you can take—and investments you can make in your people and your brands—to emerge as strongly positioned as possible and better prepared to withstand the next storm on the horizon.

Flippant About Formats

Tuesdays With ColemanEver feel like you’re chasing formats?

Sometimes you hear about radio stations that change formats after trying one for a year or two, or even after just a few months. You may know of stations that have flipped formats multiple times in a calendar year. Maybe this time the lucky number will come up.

One thing the COVID-19 crisis should remind us of is the power of brands.

As always, listeners choose stations based on the need the brand fulfills, a choice often based on perceptions built over time. This can be even more noticeable in times like this, when many listeners are relying on radio to get them through.

You can’t expect stations that stay in one format for short periods of time to be able to build deep, lasting brand perceptions that influence behavior.

Images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode. That also means a station that served one need for a long time but then made a programming change is subject to pre-learned interference. That’s when a brand has trouble developing new images because its existing images are so ingrained.

That’s also why it is so challenging for a station to try to make significant programming shifts while keeping the same name. If you went to buy Velveeta and found the label on a block of real, authentic organic cheddar cheese, you probably wouldn’t buy it. That’s not what you expect from Velveeta.

If Velveeta decided it was strategically committed to becoming an organic product, it would need to devote a significant amount of energy and money to re-branding itself. Most of all, assuming it was a good product, it would need to give customers time to get used to associating Velveeta with organic cheese. So radio stations, just like the hypothetical Velveeta, have to think carefully about: a) how critical and potentially beneficial the change is; b) if it can be effectively done without a name change, even with large resources; and c) whether it is worth the return on investment.

Remember how precious your brand is. You see it in this moment as listeners choose “the most trusted” news station or the “most relaxing” Adult Contemporary station or the Hip Hop station “most connected to the community.” They don’t choose fleeting brands, they choose brands that mean something to them. As we outlined in How to Connect With Your Audience in a Crisis, you absolutely should be modifying your programming during this time. But, it is important to consider the role of your brand in those modifications.

This crisis will pass, but the need for strong brands will not. Always make informed decisions about your format and brand carefully, with the understanding that being flippant about formats is never the road to long-lasting success.

What’s Your Word?

Tuesdays With Coleman

My favorite marketing book of all-time is “Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It” by strategist Al Ries, and one of the most important lessons in the book involves one simple question.

Focus Al Ries

What’s your word?

Consumers make product decisions on words, not visuals.

When you look at or think about products, you don’t spend as much time evaluating them as you might think. You gravitate to the products that fit what you think you need and select the one that is most strongly associated with the need. This is where owning a word can drive a decision.

Words can determine how you’re perceived within your category or if you are perceived at all. In automotive, for example, Lexus is luxury. Volvo is safety. Despite the fact that many cars are just as safe as Volvo and some have done better in safety tests, Volvo still owns the word. My son just bought one, without even looking at other brands.

Sometimes a big brand owns the most important word for a category, like Starbucks for coffee. In that case, you need an idea that differentiates you and the best way to do that is with a single word, not a long drawn out concept.

Domino’s was second in pizza to Pizza Hut until it took the word “fast”. That was great until it got scared off by issues of driver safety. Jimmy John’s now owns the word “fast” for delivery because Domino’s gave it up.

Word association works for radio stations, too. For music stations, your word needs to be the first to come to mind.

There’s a reason why so many stations in the Adult Contemporary universe use the name “Mix”. The name itself can aid the perception of variety.

Whether in name or positioning, the word listeners use to define your station must be simple and clear. “That’s the variety station.” “That’s the oldies station.” “That’s the rock station.”

When your brand is strong and you own a word, it becomes synonymous with the category.

If your radio station is solidly known as the variety station, it will be extremely difficult for another station to take the position away.

If you don’t have a word, think about words that might still be available that radio stations have never pursued or walked away from. Words that were once considered “too narrow” may be perfect for our modern over-communicated world.

If the format leader owns the category word, there are other options. Your station can have a word to own for part of the category.

For example, two Adult Contemporary stations can’t own the Mix/variety image. So perhaps it’s a word like “soft” or “easy” or “lite” or “upbeat” (e.g., “makes you feel good.”)

It may be challenging to own the word “Rock” but perhaps you can own “Classic Rock,” or “Hard Rock” or 80s and 90s Rock.

Your morning show might well be served to own a word too, and it starts by determining what image you want it to own.

Do you want it to be thought of as the funniest? Most outrageous? The most authentic?

To do this, you have to use the same Outside Thinking principles that guide station images. For example, if your station has an image for playing 80s music and you’re trying to capture 90s images, adding an extra 90s song or two won’t do it. You must use specific language that tells the audience the station now plays 90s music.

In the same way, it is not enough for a morning show to be funny. The word needs to dominate sweepers, promos, the show open and close, and so on. It might be “the funniest morning show in Phoenix.” Or, “now, more from Denver’s laugh-out-loud morning show.” Or, “The (name) Morning Show. The one that makes you LOL.”

If the show is meant to be a friendly companion, say that. Controversial? Say that.

And, say it with enough regularity to matter. There is not enough time in your listeners’ busy lives to think they will pick up subtlety.

Once your show owns a word, a show that tries to compete for the same image will be seen as an inferior copycat.

The importance of owning a word is more important than ever.

As digital media consumption increases, you may find your word begin to show up in places other than AM/FM radio.

If you don’t defend your word…or worse, if you don’t have one at all, it’s time to head for the hills.

Nobody Home on the Request Line

Tuesdays With Coleman

I was driving my 13-year-old son Teddy to school about a month ago and listening to the morning show on one of our local radio stations. Out of nowhere, he turned to me and said, “Let’s call the station.” Turns out he was interested in requesting a song and seeing if there was a contest to play.

Radio DNA – My son Teddy trying on my Sony MDR-V600 headphones at a station remote in 2009.

This question surprised me on a number of levels.

  • Like many teenagers, he’s generally more invested in watching videos on YouTube than listening to the radio;
  • When he does listen to music, it usually involves navigating his Spotify playlist or playing records (yes, records) at home;
  • He’s never expressed interest in calling a radio station before.

He further surprised me by knowing the phone numbers of the stations by heart. He punched in the number of the one we were listening to. Knowing the possibilities on the other end of the line, I prepped him a bit. “Morning shows are really busy, so it’s possible they won’t answer.”

Ring…ring…ring…and that’s what happened with the first station. No answer, no voicemail, no nothing. Just ringing.

He mentioned another station and asked to call that show. Sure, why not.

Ring…ring…ring…no answer. No voicemail.

Rinse and repeat with a few other stations until there were no other stations the boy was interested in talking to.

In every single instance that morning, at every radio station he called, there was no response. Just ringing.

My first reaction was disappointment for him. When I was his age, I called radio stations all the time for the same reason. And usually, someone picked up the phone. I made requests on the CHR stations. Gave opinions on the sports talk station. Some of my idols were DJs. Those phone calls inspired me to want to be one of them.

When I got out of school each day, I would listen to Rick Chase afternoons at KMEL/San Francisco.

So here we are in 2020, trying to figure out ways to keep radio relevant for younger generations. Meanwhile, a 13-year-old gets the urge to call a local radio station and no one picks up. Guess how many times he’s tried again since?

You know the answer.

This really struck me when I arrived at the office and discussed this with Matt Bailey of Integr8 Research, our sister company. It’s not the fact that no one was available to answer the phone that bothered us – that’s unavoidable.

It’s the fact that, despite all the tech we have available now, radio stations are just letting the phone ring when a listener is actually calling to engage!

I covered radio’s long-standing “I’ll see what I can do” attitude in a December blog post, challenging stations to do better when listeners make requests. But now I wonder, just how many opportunities to engage listeners are we leaving on the table?

What if, when a listener calls your radio station and the jock is unavailable, it goes to a recording of whoever is on-air at that time (schedule the recordings in sync with the air schedule) letting the caller know they can’t pick up the call right away but encouraging the caller to leave a message with a request? Or a question? Or feedback? Why aren’t we taking this opportunity to record testimonials for promos?

This can be customized. The jocks can toggle between being available to talk live and when they need the voicemail backup. Instead of voicemail, if it won’t be long, ask the caller to wait on hold for a minute. During that hold, the caller can listen live or listen to a promo.

Can your station app have a “Talk to Control Room” button that automatically allows for this recording if the station can’t be reached? Or one that goes to chat instead?

Keeping consumers interested in radio must involve dissecting every point of contact and removing points of possible friction. The request line is one friction point.

Hopefully, my son will get the urge to call a station again. But I guarantee if he just gets ringing, there won’t be a third time.

Programming Radio to the Masses in a Personalized World

Tuesdays With Coleman

As you listen to songs on Spotify, it learns your behavior and makes recommendations.

Up to six Daily Mixes include your regular listens and Spotify’s suggestions.

“Discover Weekly” and “Release Radar” list songs and new releases based on your listening habits.

Radio stations, meanwhile, program to the masses—a curated blend of songs chosen for…a lot of people.

Years ago, we developed a tool at Coleman Insights called Format Coalition Builder® that we utilize in our Plan Developer studies to create strategic road maps for radio stations.

We used to simply measure the appeal of music styles by having listeners rank each song montage individually. Programmers started asking us to think in terms of broadening the music as much as possible. While they wanted to play many different styles of music, the goal was to ensure that the coalition of music styles and eras they designed didn’t become too broad, ending up neither appealing to the narrow core or the occasional listener.

But we realized we had no ammunition about how to precisely answer this question; we had no clear way to measure which music styles were most important relative to each other. We wondered if we could look at the montages overlapping if we could discover how to reach the most available audience while at the same time alienating the fewest.

Rather than trying to play as many genres as you possibly can, there is an ideal combination that will reach the most people with the least polarization.

We designed Format Coalition Builder to focus on the extremes: Those listeners who are narrow core and the fringe who are not core but might Cume the station—the people most likely to love a music style and those most likely to hate it—and build coalitions based on it. In order to do this, Format Coalition Builder looks at the tastes of these listeners and creates an optimal coalition based on a determination of how much overall appeal each music style can generate, building on the appeal of the other music styles in the coalition. From this exercise of coalition building, we learn what the key styles are that we should be playing, and where to draw the line. Are there any that fall of a cliff? Which ones should we keep but play less?

Come to think of it, Format Coalition Builder and Spotify’s recommendations have a lot in common. To make a truly appealing and effective Daily Mix, Spotify needs more listening data than just one song or one artist. The more data it has to work with, the better the mixes get and the more daily mixes you have available. It learns what your coalitions are to make the best strategic recommendations possible.

In this increasingly personalized landscape, having the benefit of coalitions is perhaps more important than ever for radio. Coalition building prevents you from reaching too far or too narrow. You may be reaching too far, for example, if you play 10 styles. But you may be too narrow if you play two, and you won’t reach your maximum audience potential.

Of course, it’s not just Spotify that focuses on personalization—we see it in our lives everywhere. Spotify and other services use algorithms to figure out what its consumers want.

Pandora builds recommendations utilizing its massively comprehensive Music Genome Project.

Netflix suggests movies and TV shows based on your viewing habits. Sometimes Netflix gets it right.

Netflix recommendations based on viewing habits

If you bought a blender on Amazon, I’ll bet they have just the right protein shake recommendation… even if you have never made a protein shake in your life.

Format Coalition Builder, however, isn’t an algorithm; it requires research specific to your station and strategy based on the expertise of the Coleman Insights team that is working on your project.

As 2020 gets underway, it is a good time for an evaluation. Are you A) programming your radio station to the masses? Or are you B) strategically curating the optimal listening experience for your audience based on actionable data?

I believe those who answer B will be in a much stronger competitive position.



Making Your Brand a Habit

Tuesdays With Coleman

I recently moved to a new city in a new state (well, a new district, if we’re being pedantic, because I moved to Washington, DC). If you’ve ever made a long-distance move, you know there are a bunch of things you have to do to establish habits in your new home. You learn which day is trash day, you find the best places to walk your dog, you locate the nearest gym (or Crossfit box because this is DC), you figure out the fastest route to the best supermarket, you find the best place for cocktails and… you find your new go-to local radio station.

But do you?

I listened almost exclusively to one Raleigh radio station for the five years I lived there. I got in my car and put on that station, and once I got to my office I opened my browser and listened to that station until the local morning news was finished.

And then I moved. And even though I’m in a different city, it’s hard to break that local Raleigh station habit. After all, it’s so easy to open that familiar webpage and hear those familiar voices.

Of course, now I have different basic needs. The weather in DC isn’t the weather in Raleigh. The traffic is very (VERY) different. There are Metro delays to think about. And then there’s the local news.

But are these service elements reason enough for me to start a new radio habit? What’s stopping me from going online to find my local information and continuing to listen to my beloved Raleigh station?

Local radio stations have a big advantage over streaming services and national networks—they’re local. If I want to fully integrate myself into my new community and learn what makes my new city tick, I have to listen to local radio.

The trouble is, it’s hard to form new habits, and technology is constantly offering ways for us to keep our old ones. Pandora and Spotify want to be in my car, which gives me a reason not to find a local station so I can have music on my morning commute. Amazon’s already in there with the Echo Auto, so now Alexa comes along for the ride and finds whatever music I ask her for. Apps are there to tell me what the temperature is like outside, and Siri famously tells us all whether it’s raining or not so we don’t even need to stick our faces out the window. I can stream almost any radio station anywhere in the world as long as I have a device and a WiFi connection.

Apple Car Play

What’s more, I don’t even know which radio station to pick! I’m not going to sit in my car and hit the seek button over and over, especially if I’m trying to pay attention to traffic. I’m in a unique position because the nature of my job means I know which stations are available here in DC, but most newcomers don’t have that knowledge. Where are all the radio ads urging me to make their stations my new daily habit?

Radio doesn’t have to get lost in all of the options. Radio should be the habit. Radio should be the first thing people think of when they get in their cars in the morning. Make local radio the destination when people want to know why Route 29 is completely backed up until 495. That’s the easy part.

The less easy part—and I say this because it’s far from impossible—is getting listeners to stick around. Make your local radio station a habit for newcomers and long-term residents alike. Bring people in with interesting content as well as their favorite music. Schedule your contests for specific days and times. Remember to promote your station as much as possible, on the air and externally.

I realize this doesn’t sound much different from the usual advice, and it’s not. But it’s important to always remember that every day, listeners have more options for their daily needs. And someone who is new to your city may not know that you’re even there, so make it your goal to introduce yourself.

Make yourself their new habit in their new home.

When Radio Stations Underperform Their Images

Tuesdays With Coleman

In the course of our research, we sometimes encounter brands that are experiencing a lack of balance. For example, a station will have what looks like a strong brand—it’s known for being “the Rock station” or “the Oldies station” or “the Old School station,” whatever its Base Music Position might be. Its music images—that is, the styles listeners associate with the station—might even be dominant, meaning that no other station in the market competes. Based on these measures alone, the station is doing really well.

But listenership shows a different story. Ratings are stagnant or even down. The station fights for recognition. It’s not top-of-mind. Listeners don’t think of it for much beyond its music, and they aren’t really listening, even if they’re fans of the music the station is primarily known for playing.

Weird, right?

Well, not exactly. This isn’t an everyday occurrence, but it’s not completely rare, either. This imbalance is an indication that something might be up with a station’s execution. A station might, for example, be…

  • Playing the “wrong” Rock music on “the Rock station”—maybe you’ve gone too new or too hard, away from what your core audience loves


  • Running too many contests and giveaways, especially ones that don’t directly connect with your music—the “Old School station” can absolutely give away tickets to the Teddy Riley Tour featuring Keith Sweat and Guy (note: this does not exist but it should), but should be wary of giveaways with confusing brand messages or no connection to its Base Music Position


  • Airing a morning show that doesn’t connect with the Base Music Position or its fans—maybe the hosts are much older than the audience of “the Hits station” and they talk about things the audience doesn’t care about, or perhaps the morning show on a Classic Rock station plays next to no music when that’s what its listeners have told us in the past that they want

Imagine a Starbucks that had so much success with non-coffee drinks that it stopped serving coffee altogether. While it’s true that many Starbucks customers go there for the green tea and the Unicorn Frappuccinos, Starbucks is, at its heart—its “base”—a coffee shop. A Starbucks without Pike Place would likely alienate its core audience; they would probably still associate Starbucks with coffee, but they would go elsewhere for their basic brew.

That’s what happens to a radio station that underperforms its music images. Too much misalignment of the brand and its expectations and the audience will drift away.

What’s the remedy? While it’s different for every station that experiences this discrepancy, there are a few approaches, and they all involve getting back to basics:

  1. Focus on the music mix. Are you playing the right titles? Too much new music, not enough Gold? Vice versa? Are you playing too much of a style that doesn’t appeal to fans of the music you’re most associated with? Perceptual research can help guide the strategy, while music testing can ensure you’re playing the right songs based on that strategy.


  1. Focus on the music—period. Don’t get caught up in too many contests. Or, bring the music back into the contests.


  1. Make sure your morning show is hitting the right notes with your listeners—are the hosts working with your core audience, talking to them on their level? Is there too much music during the show, or maybe too little?


  1. Once your music position is solid, you can focus more on building your brand. Look to the Coleman Insights Image Pyramid. Become known first for your music, then you can add on, but remember that your Base Music Position is the core of your brand, and everything else should be built upon it.

A Frappuccino is really nice and all, but your core listeners see a Frappuccino as just a way to add stuff to what they ultimately want—a good cup of coffee.

The Misguided Allure of Deep Tracks

Tuesdays With Coleman

Don’t get radio talent coach Steve Reynolds started on deep tracks. Wait, it’s too late. It all started June 2nd at 11:53am on his Facebook page, when he posted this:

“Dear Yacht Rock Radio on SiriusXM: welcome back, happy summer, missed you, but…you’re playing lots of unfamiliar music and songs that are stiffs. Please get back to the cheesy, known songs only.”

That initial post regarding the seasonal soft rock channel inspired 41 comments, including chime-ins from some pretty big name radio people.

But Steve was just getting started. An hour later he posted this:

Sirius XM Yacht Rock Radio

A few days later, he asked his followers to “report all non-yacht songs heard on Yacht Rock Radio,” a post that resulted in 80 comments.

To date, the topic has generated hundreds of comments. We were intrigued enough to cover the topic in this week’s blog.

Steve takes issue with two separate points in his posts. One is the playing of “stiffs”, or unfamiliar songs, and the other is songs that he feels don’t make sense on the station.

The Fit measurement we use in our FACT360 Strategic Music Tests can tell you when a song may not be in sync with your brand. I covered this topic in the blog, “Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station”.

When it comes to the former issue, whether or not to play deep tracks, here is an absolute truth—every radio program director or music director, at some point or another, has felt the allure of playing lesser-known songs or songs that weren’t hits on their station. It may be a caller on the request line, a salesperson or the programmer questioning himself. And when a PD has to make the decision on whether a deeper track makes sense, the first questions to ask are:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Why are they listening to you and what are their expectations?

SiriusXM, for example, has a deep tracks channel, where the perception Steve noted on the Yacht Rock channel would be reversed. If you hear a hit on the deep tracks channel, that would not be delivering to expectation.

This aligns with the very reason why Steve explains he was inspired to write the post in the first place.

“Yacht Rock brings me back to a happy, carefree time,” he says. “The role of the Yacht Rock channel for me is nostalgia. When a comfortable, familiar song like ‘Deacon Blues’ by Steely Dan comes on, for example, it makes me smile. I don’t want to have to use brainpower when I’m in this state. When a song comes on I’ve never heard of in this context, now I’m using parts of my brain to think about whether I know it and what I think of it. That’s not why I’m there.”

Sirius XM Yacht Rock Radio

Rupert Holmes has one hit with staying power. This isn’t it.

Context plays a crucial role. AAA stations often have perception of more depth that may allow them to go deeper than a Hot AC station, for example.

If listeners expect their favorite songs on your radio station, the only way to satisfy them is by playing something familiar. But with deep tracks you can’t do that because the very premise of a “deep track” is that you can’t find one that appeals to everyone.

Here’s another example:

Years ago, I drove across the country listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival. I love CCR. My deep is CCR, so I can listen to songs that are unfamiliar to most. For a Classic Rock fan, someone else’s deep may be The Eagles and another’s may be Aerosmith. For a hit music station, the expectation, of course, is hit music.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

We are in the business of satisfying customers (listeners) that come to our stores (stations).

We know through research that you can’t find any song—even the biggest, most popular hit song—that appeals to all your listeners.

And you certainly can’t find a deep track that appeals to all of them. Why would you minimize the percentage of customers that are likely to be satisfied?

Steve Reynolds makes a living coaching radio personalities, and he sees a parallel between program directors deciding which music to play and air talent deciding which content to feature.

“As you’ve said many times, Jon, every song is a marketing decision. Is that the song you want representing your radio station? Not just some songs. Every song. I tell air talent, every second of time you have on the station is like beachfront property. You’re the developer. What will you erect on the property? Is it the 4-story home with panoramic views of the ocean and a pool or is it an apartment with no views? Are we selecting our very best, most appealing content every time? It’s the same thing with songs. Are we playing our best, most appealing songs every time? If not, why?”

This doesn’t mean that you never take chances and color outside the lines. As referenced in “Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station,” you can be entrepreneurial in your own lane. You can’t be entrepreneurial in your fringe lanes.

As Don Benson, the former CEO of Lincoln Financial Media puts it, 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.

So when it comes to deep tracks, determine:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Why are they listening to you?
  • What are their expectations?

If, in this framework, playing deep tracks makes sense, great.

If not (and it most cases it will be “not”), remember you’re in the customer service business. Providing the most appealing product is the key to success.