Keeping Your Station Moving

Okay, most major-market broadcasters have changed their stations to comply with the perceived demands of PPM. They’ve installed their cold segues. They’ve cut the jocks back to a few breaks an hour. They’ve shortened the sweepers.
So why aren’t their stations better paced?
One of the things that has become clear listening to radio in Philadelphia and elsewhere is that brevity doesn’t guarantee forward motion on a station. It’s better than being drawn-out and clunky – but a station can have short stagers and two jock breaks an hour and still sound oddly disjointed.
Then there are those places where trying to comply with some PPM rules will trip a station up on others. Forcing in all those cold segues, then trying to get all your jocks’ business done in two breaks an hour will likely keep them talking for a minute to 90 seconds at a stretch, which brings any station to a crawl.
For the first 30 years of music radio programming, eighty percent of what programmers did was to try to keep their stations moving. Then in the post-Howard Stern-era, broadcasters became convinced that everything they knew was wrong. Or they got tired of having the same arguments with their air talent. By the time that PPM reminded some programmers that content didn’t invariably trump music, the template for forward motion had been dismantled, and has proven surprisingly hard to put back together.
Some of the worst bugaboos of station pacing have been fixed in recent years – either because of Less Is More or PPM. I still hear the jock plugging a station event followed by a :60 produced promo for the same thing, but, fortunately, not as often. But for all the attention that goes into PPM compliance, a lot of the basic tricks get overlooked:
1) If you can use intros, use them. Some stations can’t, without raising listener hackles. But stations like KBXX (the Box) Houston and WOGL Philadelphia are able to win with 6-8 jock breaks an hour by doing a lot of their jock business over the intros. Clearly, the magic isn’t only in the number of times the mic is cracked, it’s how those breaks are deployed.
2) If you can keep the music playing during a sweep, keep the music playing. Stations inevitably end up structured these days so that the jock has to talk before the song with no intro, while the song with the twenty-second intro is after a stager or a cold-segue. (Similarly, it always seems to be the oldie that gets the frontsell and not the less familiar new song.)
3) I’ve been surprised how many stations – whether they talk twice an hour or eight times – have moved away from that once basic tenet of forward motion: get that first note of the next record in, let the listener know you’re not stopping the music, then let the jock talk. It may have something to do with the number of jock breaks being pre-taped out of context of the music, but I hear a lot of places in the middle of a music sweep where the jock gives every indication of being about to go into a commercial break by doing a few seconds (or 10 seconds) of dry read, then talking up the next intro as well.
4) Figure out what station business can be done quickly during the sweep and get into stopsets faster, or use that real estate for something better. If you’re going to take your chances with a minute of talk before the stopset, can it be something more interesting than the sales promo?
5) Teach writing again – so that jocks use that time over the intros effectively and your station business gets noticed.
6) Produce stagers so that they can also go over an intro, when possible. In the early ’80s, when produced drops made their way beyond the top-of-the-hour ID for the first time, those stagers were usually meant to go over intros, not fill up the entire space between records. Then in the late ’80s, the aggressive sounding drop started to claim more real estate between songs (and to do more of the work of the DJ). Stagers have been truncated for PPM. But even now that production is getting eight seconds instead of :16, stations are still stopping the music when they don’t always have to.
It’s not a long list. And like all the other PPM tricks, it won’t address a broken station’s biggest issues. But in an era when listeners are likely looking for the best combination of energy, music, companionship, and free entertainment, attention to the pacing on your station gives you a chance to look at all four.

12 replies
  1. Ted Turner
    Ted Turner says:

    Bill Drake would be proud. I learned on air technique in top 40 with the Drake format – and used it in Country. Old is new again.

    Reply
  2. Zach Dillon
    Zach Dillon says:

    Hey Sean, great work. This is very important radio stuff that every station PD should brush up on and take into account for their staff. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Harve Alan
    Harve Alan says:

    A sad reality…there was no mention of entertainment until the end. Pretty much the way some stations are programmed today…no entertainment. Quick, to the point, technically perfect, and b-o-r-i-n-g!!
    I wish someone would make a mistake once in a while!!
    Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  4. Jim Fleming
    Jim Fleming says:

    Make a mistake—there’s an idea. When was the last time you remember hearing anything like WABC’s Dan Ingram and the “brief showers” fiasco?

    Reply
  5. Robby Bridges
    Robby Bridges says:

    Another fine article Sean…its not the quanity its the quality! Ingram, Dale Dorman, all the KHJ era guys talked after almost every song (sometimes element) but they did all it weaving in and out of songs/jingles and in 5-15 second burts. There is never a time it makes sense in PPM (or was there ever) for a station with top 40 formatics to stop down in a music sweep. An great morning radio at such stations (ala Shannon and the Morning Zoo) structured their pacing such that even when talking for 8-9 mins it moved….1010 WINS is able to accomplish that as well and they obviously play no records at all…formatics formatics…conciese and impactful

    Reply
  6. Scott Huskey
    Scott Huskey says:

    Great points. You know that entertainment can come from the folks on the air sounding like the are having a blast being there, even if all they are saying is the positionin line. If the jocks have passion (passed on from the PD) the listeners will pick up on it.

    Reply
  7. John Garabedian
    John Garabedian says:

    Yet another great article Sean. All this stuff makes me feel like I am living on “Planet of the Apes”..the old move about a bunch of people thinking they were discovering new stuff when it was really the old nuclear-destroyed world obscured by an overgrown jungle.
    The “new” PPM rules are the almost exactly old Storz -Sklar -Josephs -Drake rules from 40 years ago, except most of the young programmers haven’t yet learned how to make it sticky in ten seconds.
    As Pop competition finally now heats up (thanks to PPM), sterility will become a liability.

    Reply
  8. Skip Dillard
    Skip Dillard says:

    Really enjoyed this and as other posters above put it; “what’s old is new”. It’s simply about the basic elements of a good contemporary station few “contemporary” talents and PD’s pay attention to. There’s no better time for a discussion like this! Thank you!

    Reply

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