2008: The Best Of … You!

A year of radio tumult can be counted on to produce some heated discussion. And one of the best forums was the comments section at the end of 2008’s Ross on Radio columns and our postings to Edison’s “The Infinite Dial.” This year’s topics prompted comments both from radio’s heavy hitters and from displaced listeners, who often ended up on our site because there was no other place for them to go. Two Country-themed columns in particular generated what were easily our most heated discussion threads to date. So if you didn’t get a chance to go back and read the comments, here’s “The Best Of You” from 2008.
“Why doesn’t our industry take some action to end the AFTRA digital talent fee problem? Then we can end the time and expense involved in covering commercials. We’ll sound better. We can show simulcast ratings with Arbitron. We can charge more for our audience … End the madness!” – KOIT San Francisco PD PD Bill Conway on the enduring problem of bad content in streaming stopsets.
“Much like the majority of its HD-2 channels, many stations completely ignore the listening experience for the online audience … Would you sit through the same three or four station promos or PSAs over and over again” – Consultant Jack Taddeo.
“The worst offender of this is WABC New York. They have a voice that keeps repeating, ‘Thank you for streaming WABC. We’ll be back in just a minute’ … every 15 seconds or so, sometimes for five minutes or more … That voice is pure torture.” – “Scoot”
“Programming without research in a competitive environment is like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contet. I’ve always thought great radio was the creative application of careful research.” – Consultant Bill Tanner, responding to a column about how the foibles of today’s radio could stem from too little research, not too much.
“Radio does need to do a better job of attracting college-educated listeners. Dumbing down Smooth Jazz to the lowest common denominator by playing Celine Dion records is making college-educated people run for the nearest bathroom with their hands over their mouths.” – Erv Jezek, Tom Kent Radio Networks, responding to Tom Webster’s “A Bumpy Road For Smooth Jazz” (and also touching on Larry Rosin’s stats that listening among college-educated listeners was on a sharper-than-overall decline).
“Nothing says ‘bad music’ like the holiday season … As for timing … [we were forced by a competitor to go early, but] we would have preferred to wait until Thanksgiving. I have dealt with a lot of angry listeners.” – WHOM Portland, Maine, PD Tim Moore.
“Too bad that you play non-stop Christmas music now. I have tuned you out completely, and this was my favorite radio station.” – A listener complaining to us about holiday music on WOCL (Sunny 105.9) Orlando, Fla.
“Call me old-fashioned but when Pat Benatar plays on a station going back to the ’60s for part of its music recipe, it ruins the mood for me and I’m gone.” – Veteran programmer Rich “Brother” Robbin commenting on the new crop of Oldies/Classic Hits stations, including WOCL, that added ’80s music this year. And this from a programmer who helped bring the ’70s into the Oldies format 15 years ago.
“Sorry, hits from Fleetwood Mac and Boston are not oldies. Classic songs, yes. Oldies, no.” – Ken Moultrie, Broadcast Programming.
“If you owned a standalone big signal FM in a top 10 market, which of the 30 Under 30 would you give it to?” – Amaturo Group’s Bob Christy responding to a column called “No Country for Middle-Aged Men?” prompted by readers who saw our 30 Under 30 honorees and asked when we were going to do 40 Under 40, 50 Over 50, etc.
“You think it’s tough being a middle-aged man in this industry, try being a woman of any age.” – Syndication vet Edie Hilliard.
“I find it curious that veteran broadcasters would have a problem acknowledging up-and-coming broadcasters … We need both people sitting around the conference table.” – KSLX Phoenix PD Jim Owen, who will hit 40 years in the business in 2009.
“My daughter attends the University of Alabama and I live in Nashville. How ‘All Summer Long’ can not be No. 1 by far is a mystery to me. I think you need to review again.” – Sony Nashville’s Butch Waugh chimes in on our Summer Song of 2008 rivalry between Kid Rock and (our choice) Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl.”
“Oh, Sean, just another example of snobbery against those in your fly-over territory.” – Former WKTI Milwaukee PD Bob Walker.
“I have to go with Katy Perry: a great song and the one that is from the summer of 2008. Let’s leave it to those who have always picked the hits, those under the age of 30, not those who love the song for its sample of ‘their songs.'” – The Conclave’s Phil Wilson.
“What would you personally rather listen to? Radio steeped in ‘Sweet Home Alabama’? Or radio that has a soft spot for Donnie Iris?” – Ron Gerber, host of “Crap From The Past,” about our column on “What’s At The Bottom of Your Music Test.”
“A radio friend sent me this URL. This is what’s wrong with radio.” – Michael Fremer, on the notion that being at the bottom of a music test might in any way be a bad thing.
“I just don’t see a market for a station playing Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Nickelback … But let’s see what happens over the next few weeks as far as fine-tuning is concerned.” – European programmer Ron Sterrenburg on WRXP New York, which did eventually back off some of the mainstream rock, but is still looking for traction at year’s end.
“Companies should be getting their own on-line ‘Idol’ models ready to fill the pop culture void that will be left when [this season of ‘American Idol’] is over.” – WIOQ (Q102) Philadelphia PD Tracy Austin, then at Australia’s Nova FM.
“Spanish CHR, pop en Espanol, is the next big Hispanic format … It is amazing to me how many markets in the U.S. are wide open for the format.” – Consultant Bob Perry, responding to a column about why format changes slowed down this fall.
“Without reading anything but your e-mail tease, it is pretty clear why there are no changes. Content and entertainment are not what radio is about – doing everything possible to save money is.” – Consultant Greg Gillespie.
“I would venture to say that at least 80% of everything done on the radio now originated with him 40 years ago. That’s pretty staggering.”–Astral Media’s Pat Holiday on the recent passing of Bill Drake.
“Whereas I am sorry to hear of Drake’s passing … in terms of contributions to radio, Drake’s format did the concept of AM top 40 a tremendous injustice.” – Blitz Magazine’s Michael McDowell, reminding us just how polarizing Drake was at the time.
Then there were the nearly 40 comments prompted by our 10th anniversary tribute to KPLX (the Wolf) Dallas, and its role in awakening “hot country” from its late ’90s doldrums:
“KPLX used KKBQ [93Q Country Houston] as a template for reinventing KPLX.” – Former 93Q PD Dene Hallam, now with Moby in the Morning.
“KZLA [Los Angeles] strongly influenced what Brian [Philips] and the people at KPLX did two years after the revolution that was begun at KZLA.” – Veteran programmer (and former KZLA PD) John Sebastian.
“I loved the Wolf but Citadel was way ahead of the game in its execution and brand. Waaay ahead … I believe my station would have kicked its ass.” – KUBL Salt Lake City PD Ed Hill.
“Sean, another great piece – it must have been to have so many hind legs lifted on the Wolf. We’re nothing more than the sum of our influences mixed with our own personalities … In the case of the Dallas Wolf, you had a convergence of opportunity and talent. Not a bad Rx for success.” – Bob Glasco, Rusty Walker Programming.
“A station can’t simply expect to copy a logo, music, and marketing and get the same results. What made the Wolf in Dallas different was the way it connected with the local lifestyle of not only Dallas, but Texas as well.” – KATC Colorado Springs PD Jim West.
Then there were the debates prompted by our columns on the infusion of former pop artists at Country and, more recently, an increasingly Swift (as in Taylor) split between the generations.
“I think you’ll find through research that Jewel, Jessica [Simpson] and Darius [Rucker] may enjoy some success but will never be accepted as ‘Country’ artists.” – KNTY (the Wolf) Sacramento, Calif., PD Bob McNeill.
“The ongoing discussion of what is and isn’t Country [has] been going on for decades … The format does continue to find sea level for itself, doesn’t it? It’ll take more than a tide of Top 40 artists to take Country under, it’s too strong.”–Journal Broadcasting’s Beverlee Brannigan.
“How many of us have heard from the older end of the lifegroup that they don’t like the ‘new singers’? They hate Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, and don’t mind Toby Keith and the timeless George Strait.” – Veteran programmer Chuck Geiger.
“This fragmentation Sean is spotlighting here is not just age, it’s actually driven by gender polarization. Young females are a very potentially exciting growth group … but I don’t think you older people need to worry too much about winning Country stations chasing them and alienating you as long as ad dollars to country are primarily 18-49, 25-54 and skewing female.” – Consultant Jaye Albright.
“As much as I’d love to say Amen, I just wonder if Arbitron will find Country 18-34s any better than they do pop and rock 18-34s.” – Patti Marshall, Bonneville Cincinnati.
“If you really want to succeed at a format like this, you have to break Nashville’s mold, which they say they want, but act otherwise. We have a station whose strategy is similar to what you’re writing about, and they get big pressure to support every act on the chart.”–Gregg Swedberg, Clear Channel Minneapolis.
“What if you targeted [18-34] without being a slave to the singles schedule the record companies ask top stations to adhere to?” – Former Sirius Country programmer Scott Lindy.
“I can only respond: ‘Bring it on!'” – Music Row veteran Allen Butler of Montage Music Group, in response to our similar suggestion that Nashville might resist any attempt to fragment the Country format or diverge from label priorities.
We also got a lot of mail from listeners outside the business, bemoaning the loss of WJJZ Philadelphia and WNNX (99X) Atlanta, among others, and many briefs on behalf of the new Soft Oldies Platinum 96.7 Dallas. Many of the former ended something like this: “I wonder if [99X owner] Cumulus has stock in Sirius or XM Radio and this is just a conspiracy to get listeners to sign up for subscription services.” – “Mike.”
So what happens to that oft-repeated threat when Sirius and XM merge and prune their lineups?
“Soul Street was my reason for subscribing to XM … I’ll probably just let my subscription lapse.” – “Rltan1.”
And here’s a vivid demonstration of just how vital a role Smooth Jazz filled in offering a respite from the world’s problems: “You could get in your car and turn on WJJZ and go to a place of peace and calm, as you can see by the recent road rage that’s going on.”– “Gwen,” who started her post with, “You suck.”
But the Smooth Jazz fans were nothing compared to the Clay Aiken and Taylor Hicks fans. After a plug in USA Today sent non-industry readers to a column on “American Idol” that mentioned in passing that Clay and Taylor hadn’t been able to make hits, “Linda” asked, “Sean, do you seriously not understand how radio works?”
Finally, some vivid illustrations of the crossroads that radio finds itself in at year’s end:
When we pointed out that few stations had responded musically to the 11 p.m. election day announcement that Barack Obama was the President-Elect, programmer Byron Cooke wrote, “Anyone been reading the trades? No one is in the building to spot play any song at 11 p.m.”
“Your jocks are expected to relate to your audience …I’m sorry that the business model is to deny our jocks this immersion research [in listeners’ lifestyles] by working six-day weeks, doing imaging or production jobs … or who are managed with such intimidation that they just want to go home and cocoon.” – Dave Symonds, now OM at WTVR Richmond, Va.
“The older demos are finding out what the 12-24s already told us, radio offers them nothing. So they don’t listen anymore. I was a guest lecturer at a college broadcasting class the other night and over 70% of the people in that class, average age 22, said they didn’t turn on their radios in the past day. And that was a broadcasting class.” -Michael Lowe, WLRQ Melbourne, Fla.
“Our audience is leaving us. And it’s because we’re forcing them out. They’ve changed, we haven’t. It’s time.” – Michael Bryan, WXXL (XL106.7) Orlando, Fla.
“The idea that everyone under 30 wants to choose everything for themselves is a crock. One desire that runs through all humans faced with myriad choices is the desire for a good concierge, someone to make our choices easier and more rewarding.” – Steve Stockman, Custom Productions.
“Programming is a valuable benefit that radio offers, despite efforts to position music selection as ‘gatekeeping.'” – Ed Salamon, Country Radio Broadcasters.
“Radio can’t be an iPod and radio cannot compete on just one plane, music … Radio must emphasize the other elements important to the community, information for their lifestyle, entertainment, and a voice that speaks for that group. Radio is still a filter for many [people] of what is important to them.” – Veteran broadcaster John Gehron.
“At this point in history, I’m up for anything new. Radio needs an enema.” – Veteran jock Brian Carter.
And, as always, the last word on 2008 belongs to you. Your comments welcomed below.

4 replies
  1. Ralph "Allen" Allenbaugh
    Ralph "Allen" Allenbaugh says:

    These are great comments from some industry greats. The issue was never that we were stupid…there are any number of super talented great program directors in our industry that do things right and their stations always serve listeners, take huge market share, and they make serious money! The problems started when owners decided to cheapen the product. It costs money to do great, compelling radio content. There are MORE dayparts than just mornings! The mechanics of programming radio stations are superbly simple!
    There are no big secrets…talent shall prevail…the PD’s job is to orchestrate ALL the elements into a symphony!
    You either know your stuff or you don’t! Who have you worked with, what is your philosophy of radio, and in the end, turn it up and let’s listen awhile and see if you know your stuff…
    The listener knows…there are no secrets to good radio…it costs money to do it well.

  2. Jerry Wells
    Jerry Wells says:

    Happy Holidays Brian and family and all you folks, including those I don’t know! (B – is that your reflection in the glass?)
    Your quote is absolutely right. The article is excellent. It’s about the listeners, stupid!
    I remember going to Clear Channel’s “University” in Denver to learn the Prophet system. One of the Prophet system inventor/developers was there and told our class, “…that’s our goal, no one in the building on the weekends! Our system can call an engineer if there’s a problem…”
    What the..?!
    What ever happened to “Let’s have a great station, with a great sound; let’s really service our listeners and we can make some money?” instead of “Let’s make some money! We’ll cut costs, do it as cheaply as possible with syndication, voicetracking and getting rid of all those pesky local talents. The listeners will get used to it. Where else can they go?”
    Well, they went somewhere. Commercial radio shot itself in the foot at the worst possible time. The listening public is NOT stupid. They have options (like NOT LISTENING. Duh!) Too bad…
    Merry Christmas!
    Jerry Wells

  3. J. R. Russ
    J. R. Russ says:

    AMEN, B.C. Don’t forget to flush! All I hear is “Where are the NEW ideas?”. Still, I haven’t had ONE person say they that they don’t like MOVIE TICKET RADIO(TM) but, NO ONE will try it, no matter how bad their station is. Why take a chance on that life boat? The Titanic is still afloat! So, the search continues for “Mikey”…he’ll try it!
    J.R. Russ, longtime Consultant and co-creator of http://www.movieticketradio.com.

  4. Gig Brown
    Gig Brown says:

    Smooth Jazz stations have researched themselves out of business. You can’t program a station based focus group after focus group. You have to be in tune with your audience but all research must be applied judiciously. Research data should compliment and enhance a programmers knowledge and experience not displace.


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