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Play It, Say It - A Research Perspective

Posted: Mon Jun 06, 2011 12:59 pm
by rogerwimmer
Doc: I'm new to radio, so please bear with me if I ask something that is too simple or something that I should already know. In the June 2 "Net News" posting here on AllAccess.com, there was a story about Play It, Say It , where Dan Mason, President/CEO of CBS Radio, explained a new company policy for its radio stations where they would now start to tell the artists and song titles of the songs the stations play. My question is: Is there research that supports this decision or is that just something that CBS developed? Thanks in advance. - RK

RK: First, you'll notice that I edited your question a little. I don't think I changed the meaning of your question, but let me know if I did. Second, you should never hesitate to ask a question about something you don't understand or something where you just need more information. That's how we all learn. OK, on to your question . . .

You would like a research perspective on the "Play It, Say It" campaign, eh? No problem, but you better get a 6-pack of your favorite drink because this isn't going to be a short answer.

When I conducted my first professional music radio research study in 1976, I included a few open-ended questions in the questionnaire. One question was, "What do you like MOST about the radio station you choose to listen to most often?" A second question was, "What do you like LEAST about the radio station you choose to listen to most often?" A third question was for respondents who no longer listened to the client radio station or who never listened to the radio station, and asked, "Why [don't you OR do you no longer] listen to Station WAAA?"

There were, as you might expect, a list of answers from the respondents, but there was something similar among the three questions - they all included a variation of "tells/says the artists and titles of the songs they play." Like most? "They always tell the artists and titles of songs they play." Like least? "They never tell the artists and titles of songs they play." No longer listen/Don't listen? "They never tell the artists and titles of songs they play." Hmmm.

Now, it doesn't take an Einstein-type person to figure out that telling the artists and titles of songs a radio station plays had some significance among music radio listeners, so I included the same three questions in the next few studies I conducted. Guess what? The artists/titles response showed up again.

At that time, I decided to develop a list of Programming Elements where respondents would rate the importance of each element on a 1-10 scale, where the higher the number, the more important the element was to them when they listened to the radio. Over a few years, I refined the list to 10-15 basic Elements and always included the importance of "Tells the artists and titles of songs they play" for all music radio research studies. And here is what I have learned during the past 35 years about the importance of the artists/titles Element . . .

Without exception . . . I'll say that again . . . without exception, the "Telling artists/titles" Programming Element is always in the Top 5 Elements rated by listeners, and is usually in the Top 3 Elements. This is true for males, females, all age cells, all formats, all areas of the country, and all market sizes. This has been documented in every music radio research study I have conducted that tested Programming Elements since 1976, and it was true in the study I just completed about one month ago. By the way, I have also found the same information in the few thousand focus groups I have conducted for music radio stations.

Now, I'm not sure how many research studies and focus groups I have conducted (or reviewed) since 1976 that included testing the Importance of Programming Elements, but I know it's a few thousand (combined). I think that after that many validations of the same information I can say without any hesitation (or exception) that "Telling artists and titles" is one of the most important Programming Elements for a music radio station.

OK, so what? Well, the "so what" is that if this information has been available (and repeatedly validated) since at least 1976 (and I know I'm not the only researcher who has found this information), then why would any music radio station NOT tell the artists and titles of songs they play? Good question.

As I have been saying since 1976, radio is basically a simple business not unlike any other consumer business and success is usually guaranteed when decision makers follow a three-step operating philosophy: (1) Find out what the listeners want; (2) Give it to them; and (3) Tell them that you gave it to them. That's it. If decision makers find out what listeners (consumers) want and give it to them in a creative way, failure is not an option.

So why have so many radio stations (PDs, GMs, owners, consultants, etc.) not included "Telling artists and titles" as a primary Programming Element? Generally speaking, I have heard two reasons: (1) The decision makers say something like, "Our listeners hear the same songs almost every day. They KNOW the artists' names and song titles;" and (2) Telling the artists and titles is "too much" talk and doesn't "fit" with the radio station's programming philosophy of reducing or eliminating unwanted talk and/or clutter. My answer to both reasons is: hogwash, and here is why.

"Our listeners hear the same songs almost every day. They KNOW the artists' names and song titles." Yes, that is true for some listeners. But how many listeners at any given time have forgotten the artists and titles? How many listeners tune to the radio station for the first time and don't know the music? How many listeners tune in at the end of music set and wonder which songs just played? Not one person on the planet can answer any of those questions. If no one can answer those questions, then why guess? That makes no sense.

In addition, why is it so terrible to tell the artists and titles? Music is THE product on a music radio station, so why is it so terrible to tell the listeners information about the product? Here is a good correlation . . . The TV game show Jeopardy has been on the air for most of the time since March 30, 1964 and has aired about 8,800 episodes. At the beginning of EVERY episode since 1964, the host (now Alex Trebek) says the same basic rule, "Your answer must be in the form of a question." If we use the artists/titles argument some PDs, GMs, or consultants (etc.) use, we would say that repeating the rule of Jeopardy at the beginning of the show is unnecessary because EVERYONE knows the rule. Well, the program doesn't skip the rule because the people who run the show NEVER know how many people will tune in for the first time. So why guess and only give the rule occasionally?

And the same is true for music radio stations. If music radio station listeners have been rating "telling artists and titles" at the top of the Programming Element Importance list for at least 35 years, they why would any PD/GM/consultant (etc.) NOT provide this information to the listeners? Makes no sense at all. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

A radio station's content should not be designed to satisfy the likes of PDs, GMs, consultants, jocks, talk show hosts, or anyone else at the radio station. A radio station's content should be designed to meet the likes of the listeners. Case closed.

Telling the artists and titles is "too much" talk and doesn't "fit" with the radio station's programming philosophy of reducing or eliminating unwanted talk and or clutter. Since 1976, I have never heard one radio station listener (male, female, all age cells, all formats, all areas of the country, and all market sizes) say that telling artists and titles is "too much talk" or "clutter." Not one. EVER! The "too much talk" and/or "clutter" is the perception of the decision makers, not the listeners. If listeners did consider artist and title information as "too much talk" and/or "clutter," they wouldn't rate "telling artists and titles of songs" so highly in the Programming Elements Ratings.

The decision to incorporate "telling artists and titles" isn't a difficult one, especially with 35+ years of research to support the decision.

In summary, "Telling artists names and song titles" has been rated in the Top 5 (usually the Top 3) in every music radio station research study I have conducted or reviewed since 1976. The listeners . . . ALL listeners . . . want the information. Listeners do not consider telling artists and titles as too much talk and/or clutter. With information that has been consistent for at least 35 years, why would any decision maker NOT provide artists and titles of songs? I can't answer that question.

So, Dan Mason at CBS said, "Effective immediately, CBS RADIO Contemporary, Rock, Urban and Country stations will increase the integration of title and artist information on new music releases in an effort to personalize, and drive sales of the product." That sounds like a good idea and has been a good idea since at least 1976. There may be people who are older than I am who would say that the idea has been a good one even before 1976. Better late than never?

Final Note: What's the best way to present artist and title information? This is the only area where there are differences among listeners, and it is especially sensitive for age and format. While some listeners like artist/title after each song, others like a backsell when all artists and titles in a music set are given at one time, and others like when a long music set is stopped in the middle to give the first few songs of the set followed by a backsell giving the last few songs in the set. In most cases, listeners don't like the presell approach.

Because there is no universally liked approach to providing artist and title information, each radio station should find out which approach their listeners prefer. This is extremely important.


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Re: Play It, Say It - A Research Perspective

Posted: Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:07 pm
by rogerwimmer
Doc: Thanks a lot for your answer. I think I now understand what's going on. I appreciate your help. - RK

RK: You're welcome. Remember . . . never hesitate to ask a question.

Re: Play It, Say It - A Research Perspective

Posted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 11:52 am
by rogerwimmer
I'm certain the answer to this is "you need to run a research study to find out," but I can't help but wonder: do Internet radio stations need to say the artist & title of songs they play as well, or does the player and the webpage listing the current title and artist give listeners what they want?

I could see it going either way: they don't need the information because they can see it on their player, or they need it because they don't want to have to stop and look at the player.

Have you had any experience that might suggest an audience bias either way that you can share? - Anonymous


Anon: Yes, I do have information about your question because I have asked this in a few perceptual studies I have conducted in the past few months. Here is what I know . . .

What I found is that many people, if not most people, go to an Internet radio station, or a terrestrial radio station's stream, and start listening to the music. They read what's on the screen and check to see if anything is new. Once they have read what they want to, many people, if not most people, minimize the music station, open another browser and do other things. If they don't minimize the music screen, many will do other things like read, work on hobbies, crafts, and countless other things that take their eyes off the screen. The Internet music plays in the background just like a typical terrestrial radio station.

Because most people use the Internet/terrestrial stream as background entertainment, it doesn't matter if the titles and artists of the songs played are shown because many of the listeners don't continually look at the screen. Therefore, to answer your question directly - people who listen to Internet radio stations and terrestrial radio station streams want to hear the titles and artists of the songs played just as they do for terrestrial radio station. The complaints about not saying the titles and artists of songs played on Internet radio stations are the same as the complaints for terrestrial radio stations. Listeners like to know the information regardless of the source of the music. It's that simple.

Re: Play It, Say It - A Research Perspective

Posted: Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:36 am
by rogerwimmer
Your answer makes complete sense, doesn't surprise me a bit, and confirms what I had suspected. Thanks so much for the information! - Anonymous

Anon: You're welcome.