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The Midweek Motivator – Format Challenges/NAB Week

There’s no place more fitting than Dallas for an NAB; especially in this competitive moment with a lot on the line for someone charged with their station’s success (meaning any market where two or three companies compete). Radio holds their programmers responsible for ratings; it’s the natural order of things. Yet more and more PD’s are short on training and minus research of any kind, often admitting “they’re not confident about their station’s music management.”

This is the equivalent of a symphony conductor working from a flawed Score. Every format is challenged, often missing strategic opportunities. One of the emergent factors in music-challenged radio groups is the declining flexibility to invest in research. A decade ago it was common to be a participant in our client’s research presentation served up by one of the prominent firms.

When the day was done, 5-6 hours of a market and station analysis left participants confident in strengths, aware of weaknesses and opportunities from music science to talent impact. Today more and more programmers are left to “figure it out.”

A quick tour of opportunities and barriers for select formats: 

Country: massively consumed, the format rolls on; yet the homogeneity of newer artists, writing and production, cast a concerning sameness-of-sound. Not a cheap-shot at writers or performers, instead the need for programmers to advance their music era and texture management. For example, testing demonstrates that select titles from 1990 to 2000 often out-score many recent millennial titles. Thus sustaining successes such as KPLX (Dallas) have seized this advantage across their music sweeps, smartly sequencing a Brooks or McGraw title with The Craig Brown Band or Kelsea Ballerini.

Mainstream AC: highly successful top-ten market AC’s blend Era, Tempo, and Genre across their hours. Above all, sonic Style Coalitions drive top-ranked brands. There’s a reason stations like KOST are perennial first-place finishers, where music logs prove the 80’s Mister Mister’s Broken Wings can sequence into Pink’s Try. FM 100.7 or Magic 98 are similar examples of Top 100-market AC winners that fine-tune the “chemistry” of their Era, Sound Coding, and Tempo management across a string of high scoring titles. 

Mainstream Rock: programmers trying to be “music missionaries” believe more titles, and deeper tracks mean more fans. Today, the best Rock PD’s know the format’s “main rail” are Nineties titles, gene-spliced with earlier 80’s Rock anthems (Ozzy, Stones, AC-DC and such) while also bridging to select millennial winners from Breaking Benjamin, Foo Fighters, Greta Van Fleet or Five Finger Death Punch. Where done accurately Mainstream Rock is thriving with an appealing demo and socio-graphic target. Music management and imaging are key. 

CHR: like a confused adolescent, over time CHR has veered in and out of music trends and phases. It always self corrects. Styles and artist genre braid and unbraid, yet the format’s large target audience always carries the day. Today there’s an abundance of sonic sameness with writing and studio production, yet it will work out for CHR as it always has. 

Classic Hits & Classic Rock: a happy dilemma surrounded by a riddle, wrapped in a mystery. How is it possible these songs continue to score massive approval, powering their respective Classic Hit and Classic Rock brands to rank in the Top 5 in 75% of America’s markets? Why? We remind our PD’s when “mood service” meets familiarity packaged with a fun escapism environment, you score. Perhaps most fascinating of the formats owing to their wide era span and high passion, these “Classic” warriors are perennial cluster-busters. 

When deregulation broke on the scene ADG’s multiple-format cluster programming strategy was a new concept but one that fit “clusters” perfectly. Yet, no matter how advanced or basic a PD might be it still comes down to three things: strategy, tactics, and commitment. Hello Dallas…