Remember those happy days of yesterday-year when radio was first to turn on young demos to new music, fads, and fashion?
Now, it’s dead last on anything related to popular culture.
By the time radio discovers something new, it’s already over with the masses.
Did you read last Friday’s Wall Street Journal?
There was that piece about Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Network compiling and pitching marketing data on the top illegal music downloads as a new tool to resolve flagging CHR and Urban playlists.
Radio’s still not reading the room and its dilemma with the space-time continuum has barely corrected itself after five years of aimless drifting.
Mediabase, a division of Premiere, one of two companies that tallies tangible radio airplay, is working with Big Champagne (http://www.bigchampagne.com/), a peer-to-peer researcher on the venture.
They’re even peddling their results to competitors in markets where they don’t have a direct CHR or Urban contemporary rival.
Premiere claims deals with over 100 stations for its illegal download compilations, including some owned by Radio One and Emmis.
They’re finally getting it, almost.
New songs illegally downloaded are the most popular, which means stations playing new and current music should be playing those tracks – and not necessarily having playlists frontloaded with those pimped by labels or scoring on their hopelessly dated call-out research.
Did I tell you the one about the PD who lived and died by call out? He went as far as to plan his playlist based on test scores alone. He didn’t want to know titles. He even hated the format. He was an automaton. I had no choice but suggest that he be shown to the elevator at the end of the hall.
After some major realignment (including hiring a highly innovative PD that got it) the station soared in both in ratings and revenue.
No guts, no glory.
What many in radio repudiate is that illegal downloads have already replaced radio as the source for hearing new music amongst those under 30.
Show me a naysayer and I’ll show you someone who fears change.
It was a perfect storm of circumstances falling into place at a moment when new media morphed into mainstream media.
That trend was perceptible five years ago when illegal downloading had come into its own with the proliferation of Broadband and file-swapping sites.
The radio industry ignored it and the record labels handed the market to the pirates. Their chieftains refused to learn and accept the new digital world.
They’ve been playing catch-up ever since and still can’t buy a clue.
How about the Universal Music Group and their threat to stop selling their music through the iTunes store?
Bono should be concerned, especially when his management was front-of-the-line when it came to recognizing where the audience was migrating. While Universal was occupied with churning out pussycats, Bono was releasing anything and everything his band ever recorded on to iTunes, including stuff Universal couldn’t be bothered with.
That silhouette spot they did for iTunes, which put “Vertigo” in heavy rotation on TV? They did it for free. Promote it and follow the money. Little wonder why U2’s one of the wealthiest bands on the planet.
For the past few years, the top downloaded titles were not analogous with terrestrial CHR and Urban radio playlists. The downloaders were ahead of radio’s curve – and they, instead of radio, began influencing their peers on new music, which, in turn made radio’s tardiness uncool to the demo.
That’s one of many reasons why radio feels like its getting a daily trampling by the bulls from Pamplona.
Illegal downloading charts and info are readily available from a number of sources, most of them free and on the Internet – for every format and then some. If you don’t know where they are – you’d better learn quickly.
We’re a country of haves and have nots. Those that can afford a computer and an iPod or reasonable facsimile are hearing new music first from downloading and Internet radio.
Those that can’t listen to radio.
Terrestrial radio will never be exactly as it once was when the world was quite different from what it is today – but it could still be viable. There’s an average of four per household. But, unless there’s good reason, the kids ain’t turning them on.
Would they listen to terrestrial radio more if it played the right music and was plugged in to today’s pop culture?
Why did young people migrate from radio?
You mean in addition to those clueless, corporate programmers that wear those ill-fitting suits, use fractured syntax, and rarely visit your market but make all the programming and marketing decisions for it?
Glad you asked.
Pay-for-play favored artists and labels willing to buy their way on to the charts, which is exactly what they did.
Since there are only so many slots for new adds, payola served as a tool to keep other songs, often those with greater appeal, off their playlists. As a result, radio ceased being the soundtrack for its listeners.
Those advocates for “legal payola” as a continuous source of non-traditional revenue did little more than set stations up for the inevitable fall.
I’d like to compare their memos to market managers to the ones Kenneth Lay and Ken Skilling wrote to their managers regarding Enron’s business ethics policy.
Some believe the recently exposed radio payola scandal provided another point in favor for Elliot Spitzer's gubernatorial victory in New York state.
Passive call-out research passed away when cell phones replaced land lines with younger demos. They were sooooo twentieth century and history years before radio figured it out.
Radio didn’t get the Internet either. I’ll never forget the GM that told me back in 1998 that “the Internet is the CB radio of the nineties" and spending anymore than five minutes a day on a station’s site is time wasted.
Say you do ensnare a live respondent on a land line. In today’s world, a young person having the time and willing to listen to twenty to thirty song hooks over a land line ought to get a life. Everyone else has.
Terrestrial radio needs to reach and influence the peer leaders. The first-one-on-the-block type. Just like the new music and trends they pass on to their peers – you’ve got to win this crowd over to promote your radio station as worthy.
They set the trends. They influence.
Let’s stop here for a moment so we’re clear on this.
Radio should not base a playlist solely on download results. You still need passive research – but unless you do it on-line you’re not going to get an accurate read.
There are active and passive zip codes. It’s knowing your market and which is which and how to reach the proper percentage of each on-line.
You also need chutzpah, forward-thinking and a little bit of futurist in you.
There are exceptions to the rule. AC and Classic Hits remain passive. Those formats are audio wallpaper. It’s music for people that don’t exactly like music. The trouble with these formats is that you have to spend big bucks on other media to remind the snoozers what station they’re listening to.
There are a few exceptions and I’ve heard a few – very few - forward-motion ACs that get it. In all cases, they have strong on-air personalities.
Why is Hot AC dying? Like it or not, that format exists in both worlds. You have to know where one ends and the other begins. Few do.
Another piece of free advice. You define what your format parameters are. Forget the labels and trades. You have to be what you need to be and not what they want you to be.
So, the good news is that you realize research has to originate on–line.
The bad news is that you’re late.
Remember when the radio station you listened to was a vital component of who you were?
Today, what’s radio? Oh, yeah…that thing we listen to if we have nothing else to listen to. Or it’s something my parents used to listen to in the car before they got (multiple choice here): A. a docking station, B. a CD player, C. Sirius, or D. XM.
Note that I didn’t mention HD Radio. No one does.
Air personalities? Lack of farm teams killed off a whole generation of ‘em. Inventive, innovative air personalities can increase TSL for terrestrial radio.
Listeners want to be turned on to the new by those they like and trust.
Let's look back at the original KISS-108 in Boston when Sunny Joe White was running it.
Only those living in Boston got its somewhat outlandish CHR-club-dance-fashion format.
Sunny Joe White didn’t do call-out research – even then when it was still a viable tool in those ancient times. He found his respondents in clubs and concerts and would informally poll them on music and trends. And he’d combine that research with his gut and by monitoring the competition.
KISS-108 had hardwearing competition over the years – most doing straight-ahead by-the-book CHR radio. They never came close. Ratings or billing.
You can accept the verity of downloads driving new music formats today or ignore it and face the consequences.
The radio industry can be saved – but it has to stop killing itself with friendly fire.
As Walt Kelly’s Pogo said eons ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”