Unleashing Your Full Potential
March 19, 2013
As we prepare for the 2013 Spring Arbitron sweeps, perhaps we should take time to reflect on the biggest challenges we face. This year promises to be a pivotal one in building the future of traditional local radio as we know it. That said, a few of you got so busy you missed a few classes and really need to sign-up for make-up courses. With this editorial we are going to attempt to immerse you an environment that is continually focused on the future to help you gain the vision and the skills to lead change, drive innovation and unleash your full potential.
While Urban radio faces many challenges, the format has an opportunity to score by refining its music, local air talent (what's left of them), promotion and production. Some Urban programmers whose stations target 18-34 females are successful because they met the expectations of their listeners. Doing this consistently will allow our stations to continue to deliver on the audience's expectations -- play the jams both males and females favor and represent a variety of music styles within the genre.
One problem that refuses to go away is our inability to obtain reliable samples and target more passionate listeners with traditional callout. Why? One of the reasons is that in order to save costs, the sample has been greatly reduced so that it is less reliable. Because of that, callout results are often extremely limited (meaning fewer songs get tested and by even fewer people). Chances are, this may only get worse, causing results to be less reliable.
At one time, programmers looked at callout research to help determine the hits. Then they projected songs into power rotations based on a combination of charts and callout scores. Many top-10 tracks were just "turntable hits" based simply on the amount of spins and callout scores they received. Because Urban callout is so slow and limited these days, and because many labels are releasing records too quickly for most stations to absorb, the problem is exacerbated.
Labels continue playing the chart game and jamming stations for spins. As a result, spin maintenance is now the name of the new game. It's often just as important as getting the add. With programmers jumping on songs based on national ranks, we run the risk of the national charts deluding us into believing songs are huge hits that are really not.
If you're a programmer or music director who plays that game and moves songs up in rotation for any reasons other than feeling that it will build or maintain audience, you're taking a huge risk. That's not only hurting your station, it's hurting the format and Urban radio overall.
If we want to remain format leaders in this creative industry, it's important that programmers are given the freedom to program their stations -- and part of that responsibility is their interpretation of what jams to play and how to balance their playlists.
Balance is becoming even more important as terrestrial radio becomes an aging medium. With the agency focus over the last two decades being towards the 25-54 year-old listeners, there has come a concurrent decline in younger age tuning. This has led to a change in how radio is perceived by younger listeners.
No longer is radio the top source for new music choice. With the explosion of satellite radio, downloading, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartradio and various other music sources, it has become relatively easy for consumers to build their own radio stations on their personal listening devices. This fundamental change in technology will continue to erode radio's natural ability to lure new listeners.
There is some hope, however, that agencies may be beginning to see the need to expand their reach of advertising into younger demos. This may lead many radio clusters to consider a younger-end option among their choices of radio offerings. These younger-based formats will have to be less rigid and more adventurous to be successful, as today's young people have so many choices on where they spend their entertainment time.
In short, youth-based radio will have to become compelling again. This leads to still another problem, which is overcoming the 18-34 male sample problem. Arbitron has had the problem for years. Arbitron's 18-34 ethnic samples invariably fall short of their proportion of the population. The solutions vary from weighting the numbers (meaning they assign greater value to them) to redesigning the packaging, increased incentives, and the placing of additional diaries or meters in a given household. Since so many of these solutions for increasing the samples have had little effect, Arbitron has been forced to continue to weight its surveys so they equal the proportion of the population. As a result, the lower sample in the 18-34 males demographics has resulted in a dip in reliability and huge wobbles often with a few isolated heavy listening areas.
One of the biggest complaints we hear from listeners in today's format-tight world is our inability to keep the entertainment momentum moving forward. The day of boring "10 in a row" jukebox radio should be over. Listeners are hip to the fact that the price they pay for 10 in a row is often 15 in a row (as in ... 15 commercials in a row). They simply won't go for that anymore, so we should put a ban on boring radio and seek more compelling strategies.
We may be surprised, but we shouldn't be. Every situation hits critical mass sooner or later. For us that moment has now become sooner rather than later. The small percentage declines in Time Spent Listening over the last decade will increase and become greater until an effective remedy is put in place.
It is time for the calculated risk-takers. Time for Urban stations to become more adventurous and to put some emphasis on personality and creativity. It is time to stop talking about all the things we shouldn't do and to begin focusing on things that we can and should try.
The policy of restricting our air personalities (the few true, local ones who are still left) to back-sells and liners has led to a less-than-compelling product overall. We risk continuing to lose our place as a primary medium unless we take the boredom out and replace it with something our listeners really want to hear.
The Urban stations that invest in and cultivate personality and creativity will score in the future. They will also be the ones whose programmers hopefully will be able to find, attract and keep the most creative personalities in the business.
Finally, we have to realize because of the fast pace we are forced to keep, we are going to miss some classes. So we have to ask ourselves -- are we prepared to attend make-up classes in order to grab the grades we want? This editorial is a make-up class. Remember, part of unleashing our full potential means staying on top of our game with make-up classes. And one of their first lessons reveals that victory still belongs to the calculated risk takers because the fruits of success always contain the seeds of destruction.