All Was Calm – Until It Wasn’t
January 8, 2016
I'd like to use our precious early moments of 2016 here in “The ‘Ville” to man up and publicly apologize on both a personal and professional level to those closest to me. I’m deeply sorry for this week’s selfish display of righteous indignation whilst forced to work an exhaustingly full, eight hour day, for five (gasp!) consecutive days against my will, following a long and leisurely holiday break of eating, sleeping, drinking, 22 classic movies, 41 bowl games and countless board games. And let me add: guaranteed, a family feud over a six-hour Monopoly marathon is nothing compared to permanent emotional scars left behind after grinding your way to 10 measly points and a narrow victory playing Settlers Of Catan (hint: build roads and roll sevens).
Then again, I asked for it. Somewhere in that no man’s land – otherwise known as the week between Christmas and New Year’s – seven days of sleeping til eight, drinking coffee, watching and/or reading the news til 11a before deciding what the hell to do all day it hit me: I’m not ready for that life. I need purpose. I need vision. I need a deadline.
Further, it used to be that the new year casually, gradually ramped up – right? Come back to work on the first Monday of January, leisurely catch up on email, and soon things kind of heat up – a few weeks later. Sadly, those days are over. The year 2016 pounced on us like a wild, rabid animal that hasn’t eaten in months. Everyone I know in this business agrees: We went zero to 90mph in the first two hours of Monday, January 4th.
Case in point: Country Radio Seminar (CRS). As I write this, we’re exactly one month away from the format’s biggest, and possibly most important, gathering of the year. And, for CRS 2016, we should probably swap out the “C” from “Country,” to “Change,” as the seminar occurs earlier than ever (Feb. 8-10), with an unusual (for CRS) Monday-Wednesday schedule , and moves from the Renaissance to the Omni in downtown Nashville. It also comes one day after Super Bowl 50, meaning that if my Green Bay Packers somehow pull their heads out of their ass and go all the way, I may not be – shall we say – quite myself at opening ceremonies.
All that notwithstanding, there’s a lot to look forward to at #CRS2016, and during the next few weeks leading up to it, I’ll preview what I think could be pivotal sessions that people will be talking about long after this year’s seminar is over. Today we begin with, a preview of my preview, with detail, drill down, and insight from panelists and moderators to follow between now and February 8th. I guess you could call this my top five list of panels to watch for at CRS – although, the entire experience is well worth taking in. On that note, here’s a shameless plug: register for CRS 2016 immediately, right here before returning to our regularly scheduled shameless plugs of compelling and riveting content below.
1. Edison Research presents “What Content Makes Country Radio Matter" Tuesday, February 9th, 10a (CT). I’ll always put the research study at the top of my list – it’s #1 with a bullet, because informative, actionable data has been a hallmark of CRS for years now. In 2016, Edison President Larry Rosin and his team have surveyed more than 1500 people in three different markets, asking these questions about content on the radio: How can Country radio distinguish itself by being relevant? What do radio listeners want to hear when your talent cracks the mic? Is it live? Is it local? Is it community service? Is it continuous music? When listeners choose between all of the delivery systems available today, what motivates the decision? Is Country radio their companion by choice, by curation, by convenience, or by default? As Rosin explained, “At a time when there are more delivery systems available for content, this study truly breaks ground in determining the consumers’ primary content desires, and especially why they choose radio for that specific content delivery daily across America.” Next week, we’ll share a few tidbits about what they learned when we talk to Edison in greater detail. Check it out – and I’ll see you in the front row for this one at CRS.
Next, a series of panels designed to attack ourselves – which is always a good exercise, especially when you’re kicking ass like we are. Because as we all know, shit happens that is totally out of our control – and when it does, one is better off when one has the shit they do control COMPLETELY under control. With that defensive strategy in mind and perfectly articulated, here are three must-see sessions at CRS:
2. Radio As The Insurgent: What If “They” Were Here First? Tuesday, February 9th, 2pm (CT). Ahh, yes! the classic “attack our self” drill. I love it. How would we behave differently if Pandora, Spotify, Etc. were here before us and WE were the new game in town? The goal is to learn how to reinforce the bricks in our fortress and be true to our brands. Panelists include: Head of Digital (Electronic) Media for the University of Cincy, John Owens; Empire KRTY/San Jose GM/MD Nate Deaton; iHeartMedia SVP/Country Programming Rod Phillips; NuVoodoo Media co-founder Leigh Jacobs and Arista Nashville VP/Promotion Lesly Simon.
3. The Story Of The Tortoise And The Hare: Country Charts vs. Pop Charts Tuesday, February 9th, 4p (CT). No, this is NOT a nuts and bolts tutorial on how the charts in Country and Pop work and all the math and/or technical algorithm jargon that goes with it. This one sets out to examine whether the life cycle of a Country single – which can sometimes be glacial – is hurting radio and records. This panel will examine the radio charts of other formats to see what we can learn to do better, and what we are doing right. I think this is an incredibly relevant session, given how Country is now consistently competitive with 18-34 targeted formats – and in the case of Top 40 specifically, how that format is now steadily outperforming Country’s traditional 25-54 core.
4. From The Outside Looking In: Other Formats Give Their Take On Country Wednesday, February 10th, 2pm (CT). Full disclosure: I am moderating this one and admittedly, it’s another shameless plug. But I honestly believe it will also be a good hour of self-discovery and a great companion piece for the chart discussion. We tend to look at, and inside ourselves at CRS – and that’s important, no doubt. This time, top programmers from other formats – those which country shares audience with, and as mentioned above, are seeing a transformation among 18-34 and 25-54 shares – tell us what they’ve observed during Country’s recent boom years. I have sub-titled this panel: “Enough about me – let’s talk about YOU – What do YOU think about me?” Panelists include: iHeartMedia Top 40 KIIS/Los Angeles PD John Ivey; iHeartMedia SVP/Urban Programming and PD of Urban KRRL/Los Angeles Doc Wynter; Cumulus Corporate PD/Rock formats and PD of Alternative outlet WKQX/Chicago Troy Hanson; Cumulus Hot AC WPLJ/New York PD, a man known simply as Gillette.
5. Put Me In Coach – The Best Talent Coaches Converge Wednesday, February 10th, 10a (CT). This one is all about coaching talent, and not just radio talent. Exhibit A: One panelist is legendary football coach Barry Switzer, who won a college National Championship at Oklahoma and an NFL Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys. He’ll be joined by The Reynolds Group’s Steve Reynolds and iHeartMedia VP/Talent Development Dennis Clark. I think this also ties back to the research question – with more and more options for music and entertainment available, radio still has a unique opportunity to bring fun and unique talent to consumers. I think attendees will be surprised at some of the parallels between coaching world class athletes and world class radio personalities.
Again, on the run-up to CRS 2016, keep looking for “The ‘Ville” each week for a more comprehensive look at these panels. Hope you’re already having a great 2016.