Bro Country? There's A Code For That
May 1, 2014
Bob Richards and Fritz Moser have a Bro Code.
Before you start reeling off clever one-liners, Mr. Snarky-Pants, let's be clear: This code is all about music balance and nothing to do with Barney Stinson, the fictional character on "How I Met Your Mother."
That's not to say Richards and Moser don't strictly obey rule #1 of the universal Bro Code: "You must always have your bro's back. No exceptions."
But I digress.
Richards is VP/Programming for Emmis/Indianapolis, which includes Country WLHK (HANK-FM); Moser is HANK's PD. During a recent audit of sound codes for the station's music library, they discovered the time had come to regulate a growing number of songs now popularly characterized as "Bro Country."
"We noticed there wasn't a real category to be had for the Florida Georgia Line and Chase Rice-kind-of acts," Moser recalls. "Yes, they're pop, but a different kind of Pop/Country. We just made up a code - literally 'Bro-Code,' thanks to 'How I Met Your Mother.'"
But it was more than that, adds Richards. "It also came about by hearing music sweeps on the station that had a lot of songs with that influence. It didn't represent the balance we were looking for because there wasn't anything from a rule standpoint to separate them; that's what helped put this on our radar."
Coding music is a subjective thing of course; when done on a regular basis, it can also be a moving target. So I asked Bob and Fritz how they defined this newly created designation.
"It depends upon the feel of the song," explained Moser. "Lyrical content is a part of it, but so is the production value. There's a certain sound that a lot of these songs have and it can be hard to describe. I don't think we have any Jason Aldean in there; some Luke Bryan songs have it and some don't."
Okay, I said to Bob and Fritz, this looks like a song-by-song decision, where speaking of Luke Bryan "That's My Kind Of Night" IS coded this way, but "Play It Again" is not ... right?
"Just like any other artist with a wide catalog of music, who has different influences in each song ... those are coded differently too," answered Richards.
By the way, Richards wanted to assure anyone thinking some kind of negative attribute might be associated with "Bro-Country," or its new code at HANK, "There's none of that here. This is just us, allowing a song in that category - which could be a great thing because of its popularity - but we want to be sure we have a mix in our menu so people get a representation of what the station is, and not just that sound."
And the net result with this new code, once their music audit was done? Relatively small, according to Moser. "I'd say there are 20 or so titles spread across different categories: gold, current, power, regular and secondary recurrent." Added Richards, "The likelihood of these playing back-to-back was getting greater. With that, came the bro-code."
As for a rule on separation, Moser told me it's at least two songs, explaining, "In this day and age, we're so current you don't want to separate them too much. After all, that's what our audience wants; it's still a popular micro-genre of Country music."
Now that HANK's library makeover is complete and Moser has cycled through it several times in the past couple weeks, I wondered just how scheduling/editing sessions are going - any noticeable differences?
"It's had a small effect," he said. "Any time you add another code or rule, especially one that could affect your recurrents, you see some open slots when you edit the log. That's when the 'art' of what we do takes over and you have to find the best alternative."
And, back to the aforementioned #1 rule of the universal bro code, Richards took the opportunity to not only cover, but pat Moser's back. "I'll give Fritz props here," said Richards. "Our music system is set up is very well; it's a 'less is more' approach. We're not overloaded with codes, tempos and textures that clog things up. It's a well-thought-out coded system. We don't get a ton of unscheduled with things bumping up against one another. That's an area he has focused on and has the library in great shape."
Moser shared a tip for anybody considering this exercise: "We often would not only look at songs but listen to them, to see what code they belonged in," he said. Additionally, Moser and Richards recruited another valuable set of ears: HANK midday personality JD Cannon, a Country Radio Hall of Famer who has previously served as a Music Director during his extensive radio career.
When listening, Richards, Moser and Cannon heard primarily song intros, but often verse and chorus, too. "Sometimes you forget what they feel like and what sound they represent." said Moser.
Oh, and remember my point about codes often being a moving target?
"Some songs that previously had a rock code a few years ago probably don't today," Moser added.
Finally, I wanted to ask these two programming "bros" for their take on the current state of this musical phenomenon sweeping the nation. In talking with radio weekly, I get the impression that while PDs are just about up to here with "Bro-Country," listeners aren't yet. Is that the case in Indy?
"From everything we see with HANK FM listeners," said Richards, "We are seeing fatigue -- not the type of music, but rather songs like 'Cruise,' which was played on seven different stations in the market, and in heavy rotation in multiple formats. So we see burn on some songs. I don't equate that to burn with 'Bro-Country,' I relate it to the song and how much it's been played. I don't think we have enough information to make that judgment, that an entire "micro-genre" of country, as Fritz has called it, is beginning to burn. The other measures that we have - ticket sales, record sales - are all on fire. Luke [Bryan] just sold out two shows here in a day-and-a-half. That's amazing."
After my chat with Bob and Fritz, I wondered how many other stations have incorporated a specific code for Bro-Country songs. PDs and MDs out there: Does your library warrant this?
As we learned, the total song count for HANK is small and according to Moser, the effect on scheduling slight. But hey, often it's a series of small nuances in a music library that combine to create a perfectly tuned, great-sounding music blend.
Also, how is this musical texture holding up in your market? Richards hasn't noticed any global fatigue on the "Bro-Country" sound so far and doesn't see any on the horizon.
That said, every market is different, so please share what you're seeing out there. Send me an e-mail at: email@example.com or in the comments section below.