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A Change of Habit

Dave Randall

Posted on June 11, 2019 21:08

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Tuning in does not mean what it used to.

I want to try and make this a kind of primer, but as simple as possible for those who have listened to radio casually, and have no idea that: 1) music is planned and scheduled - there aren't requests; 2) content and giveaways are carefully calibrated and data driven, focused in the direction of what neighborhood a Personal People Meter is distributed to, in a metropolitan area of dominant influence.

Oops. I got carried away. The truth is, most people for whom radio is still the source of music, continue to believe a DJ rushes those requests onto the air. A new generation, raised on I-Pods, I-Phones, Spotify and YouTube, doesn't care. The radio is incidental, not useful to them. 

That's one reason recent Major Market ratings showed something that remains astonishing to me. First, know that the radio business considers the overall share (all persons age 6 and older listening) nothing more than standings. You can brag you're number 1, but you really want those numbers in the key advertising demographic you're targeting. For example: women, age 25-54, coveted by advertisers across the country. You want those ad buys? Get the 25-54.

And, there are programmers who pawn off the failure of their stations by diminishing the significance of the lack of performance outside that target. All of this factors in when you look at the recent numbers in San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and San Diego. Over the last two months, the Number 1 stations in those four markets have been...public radio stations, unsupported by advertisers, other than contributing backers who donate for an hourly mention. Ouch.

With the remaining major radio companies investing heavily in podcasting, it's evident they're paying more attention to this phenomenon than they'll admit. Public radio is like a continuous series of podcasts, long form reports on various subjects, vastly different in energy and content from commercial news, talk, or music programming. This was not an issue years ago. Before the competition that has endangered radio's luster and demand, and prior to the change in ratings methodology from written diaries to the PPM, numbers for public stations were kept on the down low, provided to only public stations, and not a factor in the standings. Programmers didn't want to know how much audience they might be losing, if any at all. 

There are theories that Public radio ratings are high in these cities because the populations want unfettered news, not headlines or right-wing talk. That stations are jukeboxes, over air conveyors of music and little else, now nothing like they once were, and young listeners expect little else. 

That strikes a chord. The claim is made that reams of data tell these companies that remaining listeners don't want their music talked over, etc. Radio, though, is home of the copy-cat programmer. Augment that music with a truly talented, witty personality, and it would defy the analytics, if they took the gamble. They won't on their own accord.

Dave Randall

Posted on June 11, 2019 21:08

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