August 6, 2013
Is There A Young Adult Connection For Urban AC?
There are some in our industry who believe that Urban and Urban AC formats are something akin to family. But are they first cousins or distant kissing cousins? Fortunately, today there are a handful of titles like Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" that work on both formats. Actually this jam worked on five formats!
We recognize both Urban and Urban AC formats' true strengths, but regardless, it's important to fill the "tank" with high-octane hits. The "music freaks" are out there listening in their cars along with those who are still listening at home and at work. Just like high -performance engines, radio "motors" run smoother and better on premium fuel. Keep the energy up and be aware that the changing demographics don't mean that adults don't want to have fun listening to the radio this fall. Bear in mind that the median age for the baby boomer is now 41.
Wallpaper Radio & Comfort Zones
Today's Urban audience doesn't want "wallpaper radio" even in middays. Perhaps the 18-34 target isn't as viable as it was a few years ago because that segment's large numbers no longer exist in many markets. That audience will want to hear the fresh new artists that most Urban AC programmers might feel only appeal to the young-end audience. Check this out: Jay Leno and David Letterman rarely book any musical acts with 35-plus appeal, yet their ratings are going up. A lot of the acts they schedule are artists whose music we play or could play.
Balance is important. So is that old adage "science vs. art." Both need to be revisited and utilized when trying to forecast potential changes. Decisions must be made by employing an agreed-upon filter -- and often gut becomes the tiebreaker. The secret is to carefully utilize the advantages of research without letting it misdirect the path of the station. If it doesn't make sense for your brand to play a certain song, then don't even test it. Even if you know it's a hit, certain songs can negatively impact the competitive goals of the station.
In a scenario where a mother walks around with her PPM at six in the evening in a household where young people are listening to an Urban station, the device is likely picking up encoded signals from both stations. In a diary world, mom would have written down the Urban AC station with which she is more firmly bonded. PPM has been making it very tough for some Urban stations, but the format is still working for stations like WEDR in Miami, WVEE in Atlanta, WERQ in Baltimore and KPRS in Kansas City.
Passiveness can be one of Urban Adult stations' most significant flaws. It's one of the dangers of "wallpaper radio." Transitioning some Urban AC stations slightly younger has enabled them to become somewhat more active. Embracing certain artists can be imperative for Urban AC programmers. While they may not be able to take the lead on too many new artists, it is great to be associated with a few, the right few.
Years ago, many of those occupying Urban AC programming chairs would typically wait until Urban escorted a certain song to the top ten before they would even consider adding it. Without question, that has become a highly effective strategy. However, songs do not always originate from multiple platforms. Urban AC programmers cannot afford to keep their heads in the sand any more.
The consensus is that the typical Urban AC station targets a 40-year-old female listener. In 2013 that person would have been born in 1973. Listeners typically build their passion for music when they are in the teens. If you add 13 years to 1973, that year becomes 1986. That is the year and those favorite songs are the jams that were playing on her music system, not those of her parents. Unfortunately, there are many Urban AC stations today that are playing songs that came out before then. That music is just not in their comfort zone. Urban AC stations today need to pay attention to that future and avoid "wallpaper radio."
How To Grab Some Male Listeners
One of our recommendations not to forget how important it is to attract some younger male listeners to your side of the dial. Does it really matter, you say? Absolutely. Are there major differences in the way males and females listen to radio? Most definitely. A woman uses both side of her brain simultaneously, while men use one side of their brain at a time. This is why females are so good at multi-tasking and men are so good at focusing. Females' hearing skills are keener. They feel comfortable with noise that's about 50% softer than a man's hearing comfort zone. Females also have a finer sense of hearing the megahertz where language exists.
Urban AC stations traditionally attract females, but they can definitely attract both. And for the first time since the mid-'00s, there are many markets with higher 18-24 males in-tabs than 25-54 males. Much of this we feel is due to the overwhelming acceptance of rap with males. For many non-African-Americans, it's the new music they use to piss off their parents -- instead of heavy metal. In these markets, the 25-34 male population is substantially larger. It appears that guys who were 18-24 between 1998 and 2007 still may not fill out and return a diary, or carry a meter. Programmers who target 25-34 adults should recognize that a 31-year-old probably graduated from high school in 2000 or 2002, and therefore listened to and was exposed to more hip-hop jams than their predecessors.
So what else can we do to boost our male numbers? Imaging comes to mind right after music. There are few secrets anymore ... but we know some. Everyone knows what everyone else is playing. You can copy the playlist of a successful station title for title and set up your clocks in the same manner. But what you can't easily duplicate is the glue that holds it all together. Often the station that understands what imaging and production appeals to males will score.
It appears that sex is a distinction when determining a station's focus. There is a gender dividing line between many Urban Adult stations that decide to focus more on 30+ men and many Urban AC PDs that are much more female-friendly. And that holds true for not only the music position of the station, but also the production, promotions and general stationality of those stations and who they're appealing to.
Many veteran programmers understand the goals of imaging: helping listeners identify who you are and what you're about. When executed effectively, however, imaging becomes the driving force that creates and defines the character of your station. It stirs emotions and influences listeners. It impacts your audience in ways that nothing else can. Once you get the music right, imaging can be the next most important weapon in your arsenal because it is persistent. Imaging affects listener loyalty, retention and overall numbers, yet it is often underutilized. One reason is that image production costs are a line-item expense that is not directly tied to a source of revenue.
Imaging is leverage. It can be used to capture listeners' attention, tease them through breaks and keep them listening longer. To attract males with your imaging, it should be clever, smart and creatively produced. It needs to be engaging. If done right, it will motivate your male listeners and reinforce their dedication to your station.
When strong stationality driven by superior image production is in place, male listener retention, TSL and listenership can all increase. It will re-dedicate your male P1s and possibly lure listeners away from your competition.
Fragmentation And Polarization
Fragmentation within the format has created a polarization; you either love it or hate it. Younger demos, for example, will support it as long it's fun and satisfies their expectations. When you have an 18-year-old male who loves Lil' Wayne and Young Jeezy and an 18-year-old female who's into Eric Benet, you have to figure out how to play both. Most times, because of the fragmentation, you don't. But this time you can and you should!
With rap music, it's important to remember that it tests well for your adults. A high percentage of rap music is strictly active. For rap hits, it works and works well. Rap songs add energy, freshness and vitality to the station. When you "set up for the fall, add an extra ingredient of SRP (strong rap power) to the tank and feel the surge."
Now let's look at the midday workplace. Here is where a lot of programmers, driven by plug-in research, fail. Today's workplaces are one of the major focuses for the cultural clash and one of the most troublesome spots in the present work world. The choice of what radio station is played on the system in many workplaces is also an area of daily conflict.
One Midwestern salesman, who had been on the job for more than 10 years, said, "I've been here all of my working life and now they have installed a music system so that we can listen to the radio while we work. I thought that since most of the staff in my department are black or Hispanic, we would be able to choose one of the Urban stations.
But we have been forced to listen to some 'white wallpaper station' that plays soft music that almost puts you to sleep, one that advertises clubs and restaurants in the suburbs where we're not welcome."
Another black female employee, who works in an office where the radio plays constantly, complains, "I keep my car radio tuned to an Urban station so that when I get off work and into my ride I can get an instant blast of black culture , whether it's rap, Chris Brown or Robin Thicke. If I'm angry, it calms me down. It (the radio) makes me realize there's another world out there."
With those dayparted diaries and meters Arbitron is passing out, some Urban stations could find themselves losing out to AC stations, News-Talk and Adult Top 40 stations whose sound is soft, but whose message may print on them, just as it does for the others for whom the format was really intended. The answer is to continue to be a "foreground" dayparted station that focuses on the "heavy users."
A look at the heavy users shows that most of the quarter-hours credited to a station come from a relatively small percentage of listeners. In most cases, 60% of the average quarter-hours (AQH) come from 20% of the cume. So if you concentrate on satisfying the listeners most likely to value your product, the quarter-hours will take care of themselves.
When you evaluate your impact on a weekly basis in a given survey, you must consider the week's total in-tab. You may have seen many stations mentioned on a week-by-week basis. But this pyramid of prized diaries and meters doesn't necessarily mean your latest contest or new syndicated show scored. Unless you take time to sort out how many total meters or diaries came in during a specific week, you can miss the point completely.
Understanding The System
Under the Arbitron dairy system, most stations used to attempt to target special events for Thursday, the first day of the new diary week. This practice means nothing with the PPM. Even though some say Thursday is still the most listened-to day of the week, there is only a slight shift in reported listening percentage for all weekdays. You can throw the whole Thursday concept out the window with PPM.
For those programmers, music directors and consultants who think they have fooled their adult audience into believing that a steady diet of tired, often untested gold songs and ballads is really what they want to hear, guess what? They're not trying to hear that.
So what's really up? First of all, much of what must be done cannot be done with an owner or a company who is not totally committed to winning. The consultant, corporate PD and GM must all be on the same page. Then the entire programming staff must be committed to getting it done better than anyone else on the dial, every day.
Risks Of Research-itis
Another "kissing cousin" challenge is to avoid "research-itis." You know, like when your consultant and researcher are not sure what songs to play, so they test all kinds of different songs and then play whatever tests. The problem is that a lot of the songs that test well do not fit the radio station. Ideally, it gets down to basics. Ask 'em what they want. Give it to them in generous quantities and in a manner that ensures they'll come back tomorrow and tell their friends.
Thoroughly tested music, in a careful rotation, along with strong attitude liners combined with vibrant, entertaining personalities are still the answer. Beware of the possibility of erosion in TSL, especially in the 25-plus cell. This is a predictable occurrence when you have many signals clawing for every crumb of the demo pie. What you may want to do is go through your library and "rest" some of those classic cuts that everybody's research found. They may be burned out from continuous play by you and your competitors.
Finally, if you really want to understand how to lure those "kissin' cousins" to your side of the dial, you want yours to be known as the cool station by your listeners. Pour in some originality and give it some time to develop. Remember, programming has no limitations except the ones you make.