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COUNTRY RADIO’S BIG FIVE

Recently I listened to several major market country stations. It was kind of return to my radio roots after several years away programming news and talk.

The monitor startled me.

I have to wonder if anyone in country radio is listening with a critical ear?

It’s no surprise to read that ratings are down when you hear the music mix on these stations.

Programmers will be surprised, if not shocked at the message their station is sending.

I hear several glaring problems.

1. THE FORMAT IS NOT FEMALE FRIENDLY

I don’t mean there are too many male singers. I was surprised how some songs seemed sexist even sexually aggressive in nature

Country songs have had ‘sexy’ themes over the years. This is different.

2. THE FORMAT IS NOT SINGABLE.

Country successfully attracts women when the listener can sing along. Very few songs have that quality right now.

3. ALCOHOL FLOWS FREELY.

Alcohol is everywhere, sometimes three and four songs in a row.

4. THE FORMAT LACKS RELATABILTY. 

Song after song is about a guy driving down a dirt road in a pickup truck. How does a forty year old mom relate?

A twenty-minute ‘bull ride’ doesn’t speak to her either.

5. THE FORMAT LACKS VARIETY. 

That’s the bottom line.

Stations are not balancing tempo, textures and topics.

It’s an easy fix.

  • Focus on the mix.
  • Pay attention to the lyrics.
  • Spread out themes like alcohol and southern backroads.
  • Mix textures, male then female, then pop, then country.
  • Make sure everything passes the female filter test.

In short, balance the sound.

Be very picky about what you play.

And always, always keep the target listener in mind. .

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Country Isn’t First Anymore

The ratings for country stations are down this summer.

I’m no expert but having spent so much time in and around the format I have some theories.

The last job I had in radio was as head of Country Programming for a large chain that owned 45 or 50 stations in the format.

Prior to that I was a Senior VP Programming with Clear Channel (and AM/FM, Capstar) and we had tons of winning country stations.

I won’t bother you with all the details.  But I’ve ‘seen the elephant’ or been in battle with many a country station.

The WIFI radio in my office takes me to dozens of markets and stations without leaving town.  I’ve been doing a little listening.

Here’s my take.

The music is awful.

That’s it.  Fix the music and you fix the format.

To be successful in country you must appeal to women in large numbers.

You can’t fix the format so fix your station.

The music I’m hearing barely relates to women.

Country stations must have a ‘singable’ quality.  Fewer and fewer songs meet this criteria.

The secret formula for a winning country station is in mixing tempo and texture.

It’s up, down, male, female, pop, country.

Change tempos slow, fast, Change voices use females for relief and variety.  Change texture pop to twangy.

The other secret is keep the mix familiar.  Play  hits.

Nashville will tell you the answer is to play new songs.  Of course they say that, it’s their job.

Don’t listen to them. Create a mix that works for your station.

The music charts are meaningless!!

The format is filled with C and D level artists and songs.

The superstars like Brooks and Dunn and George Strait have been around forever. But who is coming up to replace them?

I’m not hearing the big songs, by the big artists enough on most country stations.

Radio still needs these people to provide a familiar and comfortable base each hour for the listener.

Now listen to the talent.

Country listeners relate to a station through the talent.  Cutting the heart out of morning shows at budget crunch time isn’t the answer.

I know managers don’t want to hear that, but go find your savings elsewhere.

Poor coaching of voice tracked jocks is killing stations.

I heard a jock in market #15 in the Southwest talking about a concert in Illinois.

They wonder why this once dominate station is getting it’s ass kicked.  The answer is coming through your radio.

The ‘heritage’ station is the place to be in a country battle.

The problem is many of these ‘heritage’ stations are losing ground because they haven’t had marketing in years.

New people are moving into cities all the time.  A station that dominated in 1995 is talking to a changing market today.

Phoenix for example was market #45 thirty or so years ago.  Today it is 15.

People have moved into town and have no idea of anybody’s ‘heritage’.  Are you listening KNIX? You too KASE?

There are many others in a similar situation.

If your station is showing some slippage in Arbitron this is where you should focus your attention.

  • Music.  Make the station singable.  Pick the right songs to fit your brand.  Drop songs that aren’t singable.  Be very tough on every song that makes it to your air.
  • Artists.  Make sure you have solid, well known voices around the newbies.
  • Texture. Avoid being too hard.  Mix pop and country.
  • Message.  What is the song saying?  Get rid of ‘dumb guy’ songs and anything that is degrading to women.  To help you these are often listed in your library under ‘Keith, Toby.’
  • Filter.  Every song must pass the ‘female filter’.  If women don’t like it, the song is gone.
  • The Music Log.  Edit.  Pay attention!  I hear tons of stations that clearly hit ‘F-10’ on Selector and NEVER review the log.
  • Talent.  Make them relate to your local market.  Preparation is required for voice trackers too.
  • Coach the talent.  Voice trackers are jocks too.  Regular air check reviews are necessary.
  • Imagining.  Listen carefully to your imaging and hear the message  and how you’re saying it.
  • Pay attention to the whole station.  Is the music log done well in advance for your voice trackers to have sufficient time to create good shows?
  • Review the computer log.  Make sure  the right elements are playing at the right place.  It’s laziness to have a Brooks and Dunn sweeper play into Rascal Flatts.  Pay attention to details!
  • Match the tempo of jingles to the songs they’re playing against.

In other words,  get back to basics.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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The Missing Link

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.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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