More than three years ago, I devoted a column to my list of pet peeves about the way radio stations were produced and executed, with a special emphasis on bad habits that unnecessarily cluttered up a radio station. The list included running produced station promos for the same event that the jock had just taken a minute to talk about, produced promos for things that didn’t require a recorded promo (“call now to vote for the top 8 at 8″); and just the overall amount of time it took to get in and out of stopsets that were already seven minutes long at the time.
“Hell Is In the Details: Fixing What Goes In-Between the Records” was one of the best-received Ross On Radio columns ever. Every PD might have had a different list of bugaboos, but they had a list nonetheless. As the industry-wide concerns about clutter and declining listening levels mounted, we finally saw the introduction of Clear Channel’s “Less Is More” initiative, which addressed both stopset length and the amount time it took to get into those commercial breaks. LIM doesn’t get the on-air attention or real-estate it did at the outset, but it has since been augmented by an overall on-air streamlining at most Clear Channel stations that has also kept things moving.
By and large, I felt like most of my issues with the production and assembly of radio stations had gotten a little better over the last few years. But this weekend, I was in a Top 10 market and again heard my least favorite combination: jock frontsells upcoming station event at great length, then plays a produced promo for the same event. And I heard the same radio station do it three times (as many times as I heard them go into a stopset). So I went back to my list to see how things had changed, or not.
Here’s the 2004 list and how programmers are doing in 2007:
- Recorded promos for things that your jocks have just talked about: Overall, it got a lot better when “Less Is More” reduced the number of sponsor promos, and gave more of the on-air real-estate before stopsets to “Less Is More” itself, at least at the outset. And it’s significant that the station I heard overkilling their upcoming event was not a Clear Channel station. But it can still happen even at a well-respected radio station. After all, we’re not exactly in an environment where event sponsors are willing to accept half the number of promo mentions that they’re used to.
- Recorded promos for station features that don’t need recorded promos: My concern was wasting the station voice on something that the jock could as easily do. As I noted at the time, I was already hearing a little less of this, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve started letting the jocks do their own job again. In fact, in the post- Bob-and-Jack-FM era, the imaging voice doesn’t just handle the business of the radio station, it tells the jokes, too. That’s disappointing for different reasons, but I can’t say it’s the waste of on-air real-estate that the “call now” promo is. (And with our new on-air austerity, the “call now” promo has often been replaced, for better or worse, by an increased number of drops that are station-name-only.)
- Music image promos into stopsets: My objection to this was that we spent 30-60 seconds telling people about all the great music that we weren’t going to play for another seven minutes. It rankles less in an era when stopsets are a more bearable length, but I still hear it plenty.
Some of my concerns were about other radio cliches that weren’t necessarily related to pacing:
- Using “Money” by Pink Floyd and “For the Love Of Money” by the O’Jays in cash contest promos: I heard “For The Love Of Money” just last week. I think I hear these songs less often, but the whole issue was that they were so overused that they were in danger of flying right by without being noticed. So maybe I’m just tuning them out.
- Using recognizable songs, particularly current hits, as music for unrelated promos or jock beds: This one is still very much among us. And if you’ve seen the level of burn I’ve seen on certain currents recently, you’d stop your jocks from doing it immediately.
- Jocks who frontsell a song by a new artist with “here’s the latest from…”; Jocks who somehow manage to front-or backsell the oldies, but not the currents: I’ve heard both of these recently, but this one by-and-large seems to be getting better, ironically, perhaps because stations are often deflecting the job of identifying music to the Website or to those little MTV-style song tags.
- Stations that don’t frontsell any of the brand new music they’re introducing to the market because they launched jockless: Again, the greater availability of this information on the Website or streaming audio player has taken the edge off this one–I don’t find myself Googling lyrics or firing off a song query e-mail to a station’s music director as often.
The upshot is that a lot of radio’s production and formatic issues have gotten better in the last few years, such that when I hear my pet peeves resurface–as they did this weekend–they really stand out. That said, other issues have emerged since then:
- Talking too much about talking less: This was particularly noticeable around the introduction of “Less Is More.” If it’s less so now, it’s because stations have drifted back to somewhat longer stops and can’t invoke “never more than two [or even three] minutes of commercials” as often.
- The myriad of issues related to Web stopsets: On too many stations, the streaming stopset is still a melange of half-finished fill-songs, generic hold-button music, station promos–sometimes expired ones, and dire-sounding PSAs–sometimes repeated more than once in a stop. Badly executed Websets make three minute stopsets sound like six and they make the six-minute ones unlistenable.
- Promos that tell you the commercials are here: The good news is that a lot of radio stations have rediscovered the art of getting into the stopset in just a few seconds’ time. The bad news is that they’re often undoing that goodwill by announcing that spots are coming up. Three years ago, this promo might have been a good way for a Bob- or Jack-FM station to show its irreverence. Now it’s as much of a cliche as any other. More over, I’ve heard at least two recently launched stations run these promos even though they weren’t actually breaking for commercials at the moment.
Okay, that’s my list. Once again, it’s time to hear your list of pet peeves. And your thoughts on whether these or other clutter issues have actually gotten better since the mid-’00s.are welcome as well.