The Soul Of The Season
January 4, 2011
With 2010 in the rear view mirror, with images of a sluggish economy, job losses and all the things that happened, we still have much to be thankful for ... including a career that most can only dream about. And yes, there are many among us for whom '09 was a tumultuous year. But we must keep our hopes and dreams alive. These are those kinds of times; ours is that kind of business.
Too often people squelch their talent, trash their opportunities and fail to count their blessings. Some feel held back by layoffs, needless firings, self-doubt and imagined difficulties. Few people have it easy, and almost none of us feels that we have gotten all we have paid for, regardless of the price or even how payment was made.
If you want to have success in the radio and music industries, you're going to have to be willing to push forward and not let other people's delusions, faith or inability to perform hold you back or put you down and make you feel bad about the career decision you've made. Even family and those who claim to love us may not fully understand what drives us. You must learn to move forward and keep the people with you who really want to stay.
As we look back at 2010, we find that it was a year in which some Urban stations finally realized the value of a strong morning show, whether it was local or syndicated. It was a year when we found we could do more with less. We had no choice.
Now let's briefly look at what has happened with Urban radio in 2010. In some major markets, there were two or three different versions of Urban and Urban AC formats. Eventually it was whittled down, and the strongest player or players survived and the others changed. This kind of thing continues right up to today and is the reason for the many so-called Smooth Jazz stations fading away. This is going to continue to happen with these formats, particularly in PPM-measured markets, until "they get it right."
Maybe it's important that they keep trying because if they discover something newer, faster or more compelling, we could all benefit. Not so, you say? Well, consider this: The format's architects would like nothing better than to employ some of us in key slots if the format survives. And don't be surprised if one or two programming slots open up as well. Could all these positive things happen? Yes, and we may find that 2011 is another year in which there may be new opportunities in non-traditional places.
By The Dawn's Early Light
One of the ongoing axioms of our industry is "as mornings go, so goes the station." Yet while most formats have developed either a local or syndicated morning show, the blueprint or personality archetype for Urban radio is still developing. In other words, we have not yet developed a complete system for developing strong local morning shows for the future.
Like those in other formats, Urban programmers continue to say things like, "The music is really the product. Let's just get the music right and let it do the talking. We can hire or import a morning show, and we'll be all right." That philosophy and attitude in a world with no competition might have been able to generate some numbers in the past, but for those of us dealing with the real world ... where there are strong, well-financed stations hammering at us from all sides ... it doesn't take much to figure out that you got to have a "killer" morning show to be competitive. And not all syndicated morning shows work in all markets.
There's really no question about the power of a strong morning show on Urban radio, though. What changed this year was the recognition that morning humor really comes from character. Nationally syndicated morning shows from Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Russ Parr and Rickey Smiley have proven this.
There was a time in Urban radio, just like general-market radio, when we obsessed on morning show benchmarks. We were totally into games and bits. Games and bits may be icing on the cake, but they're not what make great morning shows work. Everything that's funny about successful Urban morning shows comes from the characters of the individuals and the way they mesh, or even clash.
Humor comes from truth -- reflecting on life -- and the way these morning shows relate to the audience they were designed to reach. The harder your morning show has to try for laughs, the fewer laughs it deserves. Character doesn't come in a can. It comes from truth.
Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's funnier. Truth avoids the perils of patterns.
Although we kind of always knew it, in 2010 some of us rediscovered that noisy neighbors, a series of canned jokes, stale contests and forced phone topics just wouldn't get it.
The other thing that emerged is that humor often comes from editing. In this less-is-more age, the new generation audience wants its humor condensed and packaged. This means editing. That's a role that the morning show producer must play. It's a role that really came into its own in 2010.
The morning show producer role is becoming more and more important, even with local morning shows. Editing really means making choices and that requires that there be a lot of stuff to choose from. It also means your morning show needs the freedom to try a lot of new things. Some will be great, and the rest will never be heard again. It means your morning show should take the creative initiative and want to try new stuff.
Not all morning shows work in all markets. You could bring in a morning show that got great numbers in a similar market ... and it could fail. Audiences are fickle and might not take to a new morning show right away (if they take to it at all). That's happening right now in all-sized markets. What happens in mornings affects the state of the format. Recent studies have shown that it can take a year or more for a new morning show to develop. Most stations and managers won't give it that long -- especially in a market measured by the meter.
Tricks Of The Trade
What we see is not always what they hear. Sonic tricks of the trade can defy reality and flaunt the truth. Clever radio programmers have played into these clever deceptions over the years with engaging works that insist we look at the familiar with a new point of view. The results are often disappointing and have been known to cause cascading cume.
While most general-market stations have found their formats fragmenting in recent years, Urban radio has its own set of unseen problems, particularly Urban AC radio. The decline of total audience in some markets is also impacted by the increasing disaffection for our core audience of women 25-49 in middays.
This trend is not related so much to the vagaries of research, but to improper programming. Stations are suffering from image problems. They were perceived as being too laid back, much like the Smooth Jazz-formatted stations, which realized that if they were to remain true to their causes, they would have to accept a much smaller slice of the ratings pie.
Now what we have to do as we prepare for 2011 is combine all these elements and then leverage what the audience remembers best in order to capture new cume from those meter wearers or diary mentions from Arbitron. People recall "snapshots" that stand out in their recent memories. They don't remember every consistent moment, no matter how consistent those moments were. In television, a show, game or movie is remembered for its highlights. Artists are remembered for their hits. A hit is remembered for its hook, and a station is remembered for its "audio snapshots." So being consistently good is really a lot less important than being occasionally great.
Being occasionally great means taking full advantage of new technologies. We seldom legislate new technologies into being. They emerge and we plunge with them into whatever vortices of change they generate. We legislate after the fact, in a perpetual game of catch-up, as best we can, while our new technologies redefine us, as surely and perhaps as often as we've been redefined.
As we wrap another busy year here at All Access, we remind you don't stop believing, in yourselves or in the format. And as always, we wish for each of you a joyous holiday season.