The Missing Link

26 Sep

As I listen to radio it bothers me that something is missing.

Now I know that the role of the jock has changed dramatically.

You can blame me as much as anyone for that because of our work with voice tracking at StarSystem.

People, as in normal listeners, try to describe this lack of ‘something’, too.

No one seems able to put their finger on it.

Most listeners  know jocks are voice tracked today.  Even some live talents are accused of being tracked.

That’s a whole different set of problems.

Some of the group heads at the NAB last week said radio has a perception problem.

I agree.

Radio consultants and researchers like to say , ‘perception is reality’.

So I guess the perception that radio has some problems would actually be ‘reality’.

I think.

In any case do some listening and you’ll hear some problems.

This week we had meetings in a major southwestern city.  It’s a ‘dry heat’ there so in my free time I stayed inside and scanned the dial.

Like the non radio types that say something is missing, I could feel it too.  But what?

So I decided to try to figure it out.

Recently I’ve listened to a number of Country stations in several cities.

All were highly rated at one time, but now they’re settling into the middle of the pack in their markets.

First, I’ll tell you that to my ear,  the format has serious music problems.

I wonder do PDs have time to review the music log today or are they so busy they cant take time for  that  attention to detail?

The problems go well beyond how the music is mixed, and deep into what is being selected for the play list.

Enough of that.

We can argue about individual titles and artists all day.  The problem is bigger than music.

Let’s remember that music is only part of the reason people use radio.

The Country format functions a little differently than say, AC might even for people in the same age group.

But music isn’t the sole reason these stations are declining in ratings.

The Country format is more than just music for its listeners.

It’s more than jocks who are able to deliver a nice liner and the weather.

Country is about companionship.

I think that is the key reason the format has thrived over the years.

The lack of companionship on air today is why stations are in decline.

Think about how listeners describe their favorite station and how they respond to the people on air.

There is a very personal connection that bonds a listener like the station is family.

That’s why it can be so hard to beat a heritage station.

They don’t have to be good, or slick.

Folksy and plain beat highly produced almost every time.

Most of the jocks I’ve heard recently are tracked.  Problem is they leave tell tale signs that give them away.

Good tracking requires effort and preparation, and attention to detail.

Let’s face it for most stations it is a business reality.  So there’s no reason to have the, “we need live jocks discussion.

Most listeners can’t tell that a jock is tracked, at least not on a conscience level.  They know it from something deeper and perhaps more dangerous.

It is something you just feel.

Often it comes through when the jock attempts content but misses the mark.

A listener in Phoenix won’t care Craig Morgan is playing a show tonight in Illinois.  So why talk about it?

But do enough of this type of  break and your listeners will feel at arms length from the station.

These little ‘disconnects’ add up, until finally the connection is lost.

Listen to your station with a different set of ears.

Imagine for a moment that you are not in radio.  You live alone and listening to the radio is your only contact with the world for six hours.

Is the jock someone you want to spend time with?

What are you getting from the relationship?

Drill down, past all the format rules,  music rotations,  and call letter mentions to really see if your station is doing the one thing that really makes Country such a powerful format.

Think about how important companionship is right now.

We have two wars, massive financial problems, high gas prices,  and people losing their homes. People are looking for a friendly voice, but in a way that connects with them.

Country ratings should be going through the roof right now.  But instead shares are dropping.

Be a good companion first.  Everything else is a distant second.


Posted by on September 26, 2008 in Radio programming


Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 responses to “The Missing Link

  1. bill oxley

    September 26, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    I agree.

    All social research I’ve read that has addressed the issue of why people listen to the radio identifies “companionship” or similar characteristics often as the number one reason that folks listen.

    “Companionship” doesn’t translate to the expense side of the ledger, so the bean counters can cut live jocks in favor of tracked jocks.

    THAT is the cancer which contributes most strongly to the erosion of radio listening and revenues.

  2. Harry Helms

    September 26, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    It’s the little things that give away voice tracking. Things like the DJ failing to mention that big thunderstorm which just passed through or how bad traffic was this morning because of a truck wreck on the interstate. It’s not dropping local references into announcements and not telling jokes that have a local politician as part of the punch line.

    Voice tracked DJs come from “somewhere” instead of from “here.” It’s like when you call an 800 number for customer service and you get someone with a thick Indian accent who says her name is “Rachel Jones.” You know you’re being lied to, and you can’t help but resent it.

    The same thing happens when a guy in Dallas is pretending he’s in Des Moines. . . . . . or Danville. . . . . . . or wherever you are listening to the radio. Listeners know they are being lied to, and they don’t like being lied to.

  3. Phil Beckman

    September 26, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    HH is right. The soul has left radio. The little asides and comments that made the air talent seem like a friend or neighbor just can’t be there if the station in Des Moines is voice tracked by someone in Denver (to invent an example). Ever since radio began to be controlled by ‘bean counters’ rather than those who believed radio was ‘show biz’, with the resulting Draconian cuts in staff and budgets, the blandness, sameness and non-localness has increased across the board. I hope it hasn’t gotten to the point of no return.
    Also, I have to agree with Alan on the sad state of what passes for country music, too.

  4. John

    September 27, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Two things happened to me at my last station. The weekday talent voice tracked both Saturday and Sunday shifts. It sounded like we never slept. And listeners would ask us that question. With a little bit of planning you could make the tracks sound day-and-date live. The first thing that happened was a question from the President of the company who was monitoring the station. He e-mailed, “were you live yesterday?” No, I was voice tracked. I felt pretty good about giving a live feel that captured the attention of a highly tuned ear. The second thing that happened was a track I did that aired Sunday morning at 8:45 a.m. The GM and the PD both made it a point to tell me Monday how funny that track was…that they laughed out loud. Gee, 2-and-0. Nope. In both cases I was told to “cut it out…the music is the star.” We’re talking about 15 second tracks over song intros played during “52 minute music hours.” It’s great when the Dan Mason’s of the world use the word “personality.” The reality is quite often the opposite at the station level. Trickle down management and vision must be getting derailed someplace in these major groups. So, instead of being 2-and-0, I was 0-for-2, but that’s not important. The audience ultimately lost when future voice tracking sounded like it could be from St. Louis, Seattle or Bangor, Maine, and have no relevance to any place on earth, Oh, that number one station I worked for is now in third place and dropping like a rock. Now, THAT would make a funny voice track. And it would sound live, too!

  5. Allen

    October 6, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Voicetracking can work and it does work. You don’t HAVE to be boring and generic. You need to do your part by researching, reading the local papers online, learning how to pronounce the surrounding towns and streets etc. You need good info from the PD to make it work well. Some PDs I’ve tracked for gave absolutely NOTHING to the VT jocks. No liner schedule, no contest or morning show info, hell, not even a positioning statement. A lot of those tracks DID sound generic. I worked for StarSystem and have seen the good and bad of voice tracking in the last 10 years. I’m in a major market now and still track 2 other stations. I lived and work in both of the cities I currently track for so it’s a lil bit easier than a “cold” vt gig.

    As for in house VTing….It’s a great thing when I remember the old days and a boss asking “You want Christmas or Thanksgiving off this year”. But it’s been greatly abused and made us lazy. I see no excuse for in house tracks to miss the T’storm or other weather events. In my part of the country, weather can and does change VERY quickly. You can go from sunny and 95 to a tornado warning in half an hour. That means you better be willing to get your butt back up there and go live. Or it’s up to management to have a plan in place when the talent is tracked but out of town or just unavailable. This is where we really suffer IMO. A major market 5 station cluster will have no live jocks available and a 21 year old board op watching all 5 stations when all hell can break loose.

    The major markets are tracking more than ever. Some in-house and some imported. It’s gonna be iteresting to see what wins in the PPM world. Creative contesting and compelling content generating ratings and revenue, or the $$$ saved by having even 40% of a major market cluster VTd. Even if you do a great job researching and VTing to sound as good as possible, there still isn’t much more you can do than take caller 9 for contesting. Not terribly compelling.


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