Tag Archives: the breakfast club

How to Move the Ratings Needle

Tuesdays With Coleman

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 stationthe 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 Show Is Everyone Talking About?

Tuesdays With Coleman

What are you watching?

What are you listening to?

If you ask your friends these questions, you will get a broad array of answers. Maybe that was always the case, but I feel like I am finding it harder and harder to find something to talk about with my friends that all of us watch or listen to regularly. I mean, like every episode or every day.

And as a result, there’s less to talk about other than “you should check out Evil Genius on Netflix, it is really good.” Or The Final Year on HBO—a documentary about the last year of the Obama administration.

Evil Genius Netflix

While “Evil Genius” on Netflix may garner buzz, it’s reaching a small fraction of the population.

Music or podcasts? The list of things we’re all listening to gets shorter and shorter while the list of offerings gets longer and longer. That may be my subjective feeling, but I don’t think I am alone. Yeah, most of my friends listened to Serial. Not much anymore.

To me, this makes it harder to connect with some people. We watch and listen to different things, and so we can share “lists”.  But we’re not having deeper conversations about what we thought or learned.

Again, maybe it was always the case. But I remember a time in New York when if you weren’t listening to the Morning Zoo on Z100 you really felt out of it.

Z100 morning zoo whtz new york

Sorry to get nostalgic, but I remember when “Must See TV” actually meant something.

The number one show on TV at the end of May was NCIS with a 7 rating. In 1998, the top of the list was filled with ER, Friends, and Frasier – each of which had a 15 rating or higher. There was simply a better (in fact, double) opportunity for water cooler commonality.

What a difference 20 years makes.

What can we do as broadcasters to “make the list” of stations or shows people talk about and recommend to their friends?

It has to start with an understanding of what the audience really wants. And the creative work to come up with something so unique and memorable that people want to talk about it.

The Sopranos took television to a higher level and arguably changed how we consume it. The Sopranos:

  • Gave us serial storytelling;
  • Delivered higher production values than we were used to seeing;
  • Singlehandedly changed the fortunes of a network and inspired the launch of other pay-TV networks and original programming.
The Sopranos HBO

“The Sopranos” was a paradigm-changing television program.

Making something everyone will talk about is easier said than done. There are a few things I believe transformative breakthroughs have in common:

  1. It sounds or looks like something you’ve never heard or seen before.

At first, it may even feel wrong or out of place. There are too many examples of Howard Stern’s innovations to list here, but Howard regularly challenged the audience with what they knew about personality radio. This ranges from authenticity and transparency to topic choices and interviewing technique.

  1. The people making it are psychotically passionate about it.

The authentic, intense and passionate dialogue between Mike and the Mad Dog co-hosts Mike Francesa and Chris Russo not only led to a long run in New York, it had a significant impact on the medium of radio.

Mike and the Mad Dog WFAN New York

When it launched in July 1987, WFAN billed itself as the first radio station completely dedicated to sports talk. Thanks in large part to the success of Mike and the Mad Dog, the number of sports formatted stations grew to 500 by 2005 and to 790 today (with many markets featuring multiple sports stations).

  1. It changes the paradigm.

The Breakfast Club, based at Power 105.1 in New York, has altered the way radio programming is consumed in the digital landscape.

The Breakfast Club Power 105.1 New York

Their YouTube channel has over 2.2 million subscribers. Their interview in which hip- hop artist Birdman furiously leaves the studio because he didn’t like the line of questioning by co-host Charlemagne Tha God, has over 14 million views and counting.

The show has garnered recognition and a following beyond the way people have traditionally recognized and interacted with radio personalities.

In our experience with radio research, we look for brands to show up as highly recognized and favorable. We want to see personalities are well-liked and memorable.

These things often lead to strong lasting ratings performance for the station.

So, we’re at a crossroads. We can give up and say the world is too fragmented.

Or, we can double down and create never heard before, “paradigm changing” experiences that everyone will be talking about.

We vote for the latter.