First Listen: Nash Icon

By: Sean Ross

Over the years, it’s been difficult for any Country station to pull too far away from the format mainstream. “Young Country” stations buckle and play the current George Strait single after a while. Stations specializing in “the hits and legends” often play enough current music to continue to report to the charts, punctuated by a few heavily staged Hank Williams, Jr., cuts.

So it was hard to know where Cumulus was really going to put the “Nash Icons” format it announced in May. There was a promise to play new material from classic artists, so it wasn’t going to be Country Oldies. But was it going to be the Country equivalent of heritage rock? Would “Nash Icons” be the format where Reba McEntire and (Cumulus syndicated host) Kix Brooks can still expect support for a new record?

When the format launched on August 15 in Nashville, Atlanta and a number of other markets it had been clunkily renamed “Nash Icon.” In its first hours, the new format wasn’t as old or quite as focused on legacy acts as the initial publicity might have suggested. With three ’80s songs an hour, the new Nash Icon isn’t quite new enough to report to the Country charts, but it’s essentially the “Hits & Legends” model we’re already familiar with in Country radio.

The gold that Nash Icon played in the hour I heard was mostly the gold that would test for any Country station that still tests the late ’80s and ’90s – most just don’t play it anymore. The currents weren’t only traditional leaning, or by heritage artists. At least one of the currents bordered on the younger, more aggressive “bro country” genre, that music is both propelling Country’s current all-ages success and, perhaps, creating the demand for an older skewing, more gold-based format like this one.

Then again, even KFKF Kansas City, the best example of a successful yesterday-and-today Country station, has Brantley Gilbert’s “Small Town Throwdown’ among its most-played titles. KFKF has increasingly traded ’70s and ’80s titles for ’00s Country instead. The two most-played oldies on KFKF this week are Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and Dierks Bentley’s “Free And Easy (Down The Road I Go).” Even for yesterday-and-today stations, it’s hard to resist the excitement of “today.”

When “Nash Icons” was announced in May, I suggested that if Cumulus wanted to have a gold-based country station in multiple markets, it could force the format to fragment in a way that Country radio had thus far resisted.  Nash Icon appeared Friday on a few of the second Country stations that you would choose for just such an approach: WSM-FM Nashville and KJJY Des Moines among them. In Atlanta, however, the new format is on an FM translator, while sister WKHX (Kicks 101.5) has gone more current than ever.

When I wrote the May article, Edison’s Larry Rosin suggested that the really radical format fragmentation would be a truly young Country station. That station – not afraid of Country rap or sitting out George Strait, no matter how much they wanted to give away tickets to his farewell tour – would indeed be radical. Instead, the radical move turned out to be WKAZ (Tailgate 107.3) Charleston, W. Va., the Country/Top 40/party songs hybrid that plays the mix you hear between acts at a Country concert.  Short of playing Limp Bizkit (as Tailgate 107.3 does), it’s hard to do a truly young Country station because the mainstream format gets just close enough to cover you. As time marches on, and mainstream AC gets newer as well, the “yesterday-and-today” Country franchise is only likely to become more pronounced.

Here’s Nash Icon as heard at 2:10 p.m. on Friday (15) on its Atlanta affiliate:

Judds, “Why Not Me”

Brad Paisley, “River Bank”

Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now”

Chase Rice, “Ready Set Roll”

Hank Williams, Jr., “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight”

Carrie Underwood, “All-American Girl”

Tim McGraw w/Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, “The Highway Don’t Care”

Kenny Chesney, “How Forever Feels”

Don Williams, “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”

Thompson Square, “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About”

Rascal Flatts, “Love You Out Loud”

John Michael Montgomery, “I Love The Way You Love Me”

Tim McGraw, “Everywhere”

Florida Georgia Line, “Dirt”

Keith Urban, “Better Life”

George Strait, “Write This Down”

Miranda Lambert, “Automatic”

Fresh Listen: Quickhitz (90.3 Amp Calgary)

By: Sean Ross

In the decade that it took for the “Quickhitz” format, or something like it, to get to the radio, it seemed inevitable that an artist would complain about a format that relies on edited versions of contemporary songs. It didn’t happen when Quickhitz finally debuted on WYDS Decatur, Ill., last September, partially because the small-market station’s modest debut didn’t generate sustained industry attention.

Then Quickhitz debuted Aug. 1 on Newcap’s CKMP (90.3 Amp) Calgary, Alberta. In its first few days, the station’s buzz was among Canadian radio people—notable enough since it’s been a while since even an industry person called me to talk about a new station. Then there were local press stories that explained what the station was doing, although on-air Amp says nothing more explicit than “twice the music.”

On day 6, Jann Arden weighed in. Arden’s one top 15 U.S. song, 1996″s “Insensitive,” was one of the first Modern AC hits. In Canada, she’s up to 13 albums and three books. You may remember that song’s mix of earnestness and pre-Alanis annoyance, but Arden’s tweets have little of the former:

“Don’t listen to #AMP radio Calgary . . . they are fucking with art that took thousands of hours to create. #dickheads.”

“Dear AMP radio Calgary. Please don’t play my music. Thank you you dorks.”

“How the fuck would you play any of Leonard Cohen’s songs cut in half? #ampradiocalgary? Impossible and unethical.”

“Just don’t listen to them. It’s such a giant pile of bullshit. #ampcalgary.”

“Apparently #ampradiocalgary doesn’t like things that are big and long. Hhmmmm?”

Within hours, Arden’s contretemps with Amp was a national news story.  Through Amp’s first week, I had wondered if listeners would even notice the change. Amp was already CHR and already based around music quantity. By last Friday, that was no longer the issue.

Edison Research works with Amp-owner Newcap. We do not work with Amp or Quickhitz, but Edison’s Larry Rosin is a fervent longtime supporter of the concept. And I had some nice things to say last year when I took my “First Listen” to WYDS, long before Newcap became involved with the format.

There were early execution issues on the first QuickHitz affiliate. There were two syndicated dayparts on WYDS that did not match the rest of the station. The initial slogan, “twice the music in half the time” was confusing, and the promised 24 songs an hour didn’t always materialize. But I liked the energy rush of the station. I liked the additional slots for new songs. And at a time when the hits reach critical mass quickly, I was happy to have some of the most saturated hit songs over with after two minutes or so.

Nine months later, that’s true for me listening to Amp as well. And from a radio standpoint, a lot of the initial issues have been worked out. I’ve listened a few times and been able to hear the seams of only one edit. I’m tired of Zedd’s “Clarity” at any length at this moment, but I can listen to it for two minutes on Amp. Confronted with its full length, I would have punched it out. Amp has also been spotlighting imports and new releases in a way that few North American Top 40s do at the moment.

The press reports (and angry tweets) have Amp playing songs at half their length. With many songs, it’s more like two-thirds, although that’s unlikely to sway anybody opposed to the concept to begin with. Here’s a half hour of the station and the approximate length of Amp’s versions vs. the regular radio versions. (In the case of some Canadian hits, I didn’t have access to the radio version and used the length of the song on the iTunes Music Store.)

Kiesza, “Hideaway,” 2:10 (vs. 3:41);

Sia, “Chandelier,” 1:56 (vs. 3:34)

Shawn Desman, “Electric,” 2:14 (vs. 3:11)

Nico & Vinz, “Am I Wrong,” 2:17 (vs. 3:39)

Lorde, “Team,” 1:52 (vs. 3:32)

Clean Bandit, “Never Be,” 2:23 (vs. 3:45)

Magic!, “Don’t Kill The Magic,” 2:13 (vs. 3:39)

Iggy Azalea, “Fancy,” 2:07 (vs. 3:16)

JRDN, “Can’t Choose,” 2:20 (vs. 3:57)

Sam Smith, “Stay With Me,” 2:02 (vs. 2:53)

Marianas Trench, “Pop Music 101,” 2:11 (vs. 4:07)

Zedd. “Clarity,” 2:00 (vs. 3:56)

There was one ironic moment here. The Marianas Trench song is literally about the construction of a pop hit (as well as a poke at the conventions of today’s hit music). At 2:11, I still got the joke.

For those applauding Arden on Thursday and Friday, and there were many, their beef with Amp was often not just that it could potentially edit Leonard Cohen, but that radio wasn’t playing him (or any other “quality music”) in the first place. Many opined that mainstream radio sucked. Nobody tweeted, “I love today’s hits. Please don’t mess with them.”

I wonder if that listener exists. Arden and I are a few months apart in age. So perhaps she remembers rock stations and certain top 40s bragging about playing long versions as a point of differentiation from those bogus other stations. Perhaps the press coverage of this dust-up will give that concept new currency, but until this week, it’s been a distant memory. Before QuickHitz debuted last year, PDs were already experimenting with shorter versions of new songs (and longer versions of established hits) without incident. More telling, top 40 and R&B listeners had long become used to hearing very truncated versions of songs in the mix shows that are some stations’ most-popular features.

Mostly, however, listeners have been voting on all songs with their index finger. One Twitter reply to Arden decried “stupid changes . . . such as this” as a “main factor to why radio is becoming obsolete.” Programmers know that if anything truly threatens broadcast radio, it’s the inability to match Internet radio’s skip button with anything of similar intent.

In some regards, QuickHitz is an easy lightning rod for artists’ frustration with a new generation’s odd relationship to music in general – streaming, not owning; listening to songs, not albums; and, yes, hitting skip. Instead of going to see live music, they pay to see superstar DJs deconstruct recorded music. But unless you’ve never decided you just weren’t in the mood for all 6:28 of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” at any point over the last 38 years, you’ve been callous toward somebody’s artistry as well.

Arden has allowed her label to release radio edits of her own songs. On the Friday morning after the controversy broke, she released her new single, “Karolina” — a new version of a song from her recent album with additional vocals from a Canadian country act, meaning that she does not consider the original to be a final, non-negotiable statement. She is not one of the handful of artists unwilling to let their songs be sold as individual downloads, outside the context of the intended album experience.

But I understand that making hard decisions about your art is not the same as having someone make them for you. Arden comes by her beliefs honestly. And now I’d like radio programmers to get the same respect for their artform – or at least an acknowledgement of the right to practice it – that artists would want for themselves. These days, attacking another recording act for sampling or interpolating an existing work would mark an artist as a crank. But attacking radio for seeing music as similarly porous is an easy applause line. And I can pretty much guess what Arden would have to say about research.

As to the prospect of an edited Leonard Cohen, I can only offer the following. The generation of listeners whose attention spans have led broadcasters to the QuickHitz concept are the same ones who nevertheless made his “Hallelujah” a standard over the last decade.

Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” is 4:38. Jeff Buckley, whose version is definitive for many, made it 6:53. The British hit version, by X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke, deleted three verses, brought it in at 3:37, and sold more than two million singles and albums. The answer to “more of a good thing?” or “less of a good thing?” has variously turned out to be “yes,” and listeners seem to gravitate to the answer that’s right for them.

"SteacieLibrary" by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SteacieLibrary.jpg#mediaviewer/File:SteacieLibrary.jpg

The Expert’s Guide To Content Marketing with Research

One aspect of Edison’s business that is booming right now is conducting research studies to help companies gain exposure through thought leadership. It’s something we know a little bit about, since that’s exactly how Edison itself has built its own business over the last 20+ years. We’ve also been the sole providers of U.S. Election Exit Polling for the past decade, which is the largest research project for content marketing in the world, among other things. Having your company or brand attached to a significant piece of research that actually reveals new, useful information is one of the best ways to show your prospects that you are not just trying to sell your stuff, but also trying to contribute to the field. These days, however, it can be a bit tricky to get your studies and research findings out there, since the Internets are lousy with quick stats, infographics, and other ephemera. When everyone is doing the same thing, and no one is standing out, there is only one thing to do–you need to do what others will not do. Here are five ways to do just that.

1. Answer the Question on Everyone’s Lips

Often, the best way to determine what your brand could study is simply to listen to your customers, or your competitors’ customers, to see the most common types of inquiries. What you are looking for are what the poet Rumsfeld might call “Knowable Unknowns”: things we do not know, but are knowable through proper study. Last year, for instance, Netbase contacted us to get to the bottom of the true impact of social media on fashion buying decisions. Anyone with web analytics facility can tell you that a link or impression led to an online purchase, but what the vertical they were trying to serve really wondered was this: how much does what your friends say on Facebook or show on Instagram affect your decisions when you buy something offline? (We love researching the things you can’t click.)

This was a “knowable unknown,” and led to a very successful series of white papers and mainstream trade press placements for Netbase, and taught me a little bit more about shoes than I wanted to know.

Questions like this are everywhere, by the way. On this week’s episode of The Beancast (Bob Knorpp’s wonderful and well-produced marketing podcast) we discussed the fact that most people who view YouTube ads skip the ads just as soon as they can, five seconds in. Clickstream analytics can tell you that a potentially appallingly low number of ads are watched in their entirety, but they can’t tell you want the impact of those five seconds are in terms of branding. Good question, eh?

2. Answer the Hard Questions

Recently, Edison put out a study that not only met criterion #1 in spades, but also had an added bonus: it wasn’t an easy question to answer! We have put out research on the online radio space for years, but one question kept popping up from media buyers, agencies, and investment analysts alike: how much of the total time spent with audio goes to online radio, compared to terrestrial? How much time is spent listening to “owned music” (your own CDs or MP3 files) versus podcasts, or satellite radio?

We were asked this question enough to know that it was worth finding the answer. Turns out, it wasn’t an easy question to answer, but it was, in fact, a “knowable unknown.” We saw the fact that it was a hard question as our opportunity to answer it–again, to do what others will not, in order to cut through the din. So we answered it, in the first of what will be a regular research series for us called Share of Ear (covered here in Billboard).

3. Know How to Reach your Audience

For us, getting a gazillion hits on Buzzfeed is gratifying, but ultimately does not put food on our table, in terms of our specific prospects. For example, part of our business is election research, so it is far more important for us to produce the kind of quality work that will get covered by Huffington Post’s Pollster column or Politico than to get hundreds of irrelevant placements. And we love getting picked up by the print editions of things like The New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal. Not only do our prospective clients read those publications, they also tend to respect and acknowledge the level of scrutiny those resources place on research they cover.

So, when we are working with clients to produce research studies that will motivate action with a desired target, we learn as much about that target as we possibly can (yes, by doing some research–we drink our own champagne here at Edison). This helps us to work with a brand’s PR agency or their internal communications department to ensure that our research isn’t just “interesting” (the damnable faint praise of the Internet) but useful and well-targeted to the kinds of placements that matter.

4. Don’t be Known. Be Known for Something.

Here is a little secret: getting your research-based content marketing shared a million times or featured on Mashable and Techcrunch could be wonderful on the surface, but devastating to your brand if you didn’t do the work right. The initial venues that post your work will do so if it sounds interesting, or has a slick, well-designed infographic, or addresses a hot topic. This will put your pie charts in front of a lot of eyeballs, and your vanity metrics will soar. This is good, if you get paid with eyeballs. If, however, you get paid with cash, there is a very real danger here: if your work won’t hold up to scrutiny, was shoddily conducted, mis-reported or otherwise will not stand the test of time or numeracy, all you have done is get famous amongst those who will not buy, and infamous to those who might.

I see this all the time–a prospect will reach out to me asking me if I have seen (famously shared study X), and then proceed to tell me how awful it is. Essentially, you’ve had a grand opening for your store, but left the shelves dirty and bare. Doing your study quickly and cheaply is the best way to maximize your eyeballs to dollars ratio. But doing it right is the best way to be known for doing things right, and for the quiet minority–the brand managers, the B2B customers, the Agencies–to recognize that your company cares about actually advancing the field. People notice.

5. Illustrate your Findings Simply, Clearly and Accurately

This is as much as I will say about actually presenting and illustrating your data: just be clear. We don’t use 3D graphs, pie charts with dozens of slices, or tiny-fonted footnotes about the sample. We want our audience (and your audience) to see exactly what the point is of even displaying the data in a graph in the first place. Ultimately, we want our data to live, both on and off the screen. What we have found, over and over, is that if we do the work right (#4, again) and present it in the clearest, simplest way possible, our data gets more uptake to reputable sources and curators of data. Period.

For us, this means we don’t have to have the shiniest graphs, or the most vividly illustrated infographics. If we have done our job right, it is the data, and its usefulness, that will live on. Indeed, it’s the only thing that truly does. We LOVE it when reputable sources for research like Statista (below) and eMarketer not only cover our data, but regraph it (with attribution, of course :) ) Again, that gets it not only shared more widely, but also lends more credence to the work. If a sharp, clear graph like the one below from Statista can’t be drawn from your data, you’re doing it wrong.

Infographic: Pandora Maintains Lead In Crowded Audio Streaming Space | Statista

Final Thoughts

There has been a lot of talk about the flood of content that overwhelms us (my friend Mark Schaefer calls it “content shock“) and there is no question that it is harder than ever to stand out with research studies or any other kind of content. Certainly one way to do so is to establish genuine expertise, and to be known for not just quantity, but unimpeachable quality. When 80% of the players at the poker table are similarly skilled, the only way to win even marginal gains is to do what others will not. In the case of fielding and publishing research data for the purposes of content marketing, we’ve been holding to the last full measure of research devotion for two decades now. Take these five principles to heart, do the work, and you’ll do more than create content, you’ll create value.

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Format Trends: What’s Changed In Eight Years?

How much has radio programming changed over the last eight years?

I recently came across an presentation of mine called “Radio Programming Trends: 2006.” It was written for the Hawaii Association of Broadcasters, one of the best speaking gigs ever, in a time before PPM, the iPhone and the rise of Pandora.

The ten programming trends I identified at the time weren’t meant to be predictions, just a wide-angle look at the current landscape. Indeed, the most significant trend at the time has been largely reversed. Here’s how I viewed radio programming in 2006, and what’s changed. Read more

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Increasing Broadcast Radio’s Share Of Ear

Edison Research’s finding that broadcast radio controls 52% of the just-over four hours that the average listener spends with all sources of audio cannot be trended. Edison’s new Share of Ear study is a unique first-time look at listening to all media, from music on cable TV to satellite radio to listeners’ own music collections. And part of the impetus for undertaking the study was that this information did not exist elsewhere.

That doesn’t mean people won’t try to trend the 52% number. Many will look at broadcast radio’s one-time cultural dominance, shrinking TSL, and the indifference of their own 16-year-old offspring, and conclude the number must be down. Other broadcasters will maintain that the remaining 48% number isn’t far larger than it once would have been, but merely redistributed with new measured sources of audio replacing the unmeasured “listening to ‘Who’s Next’ in your dorm room,” as Cumulus’ Lew Dickey recently put it. Read more