Going Backwards With Radio

A funny thing happened while I was reading the print version of my last column sitting at my desk here last week. A co-worker informed me that one of our competitors, a station that we’re head to head with in the Top 40 genre since our sign on 7 months ago, had gone to a 24-hour satellite based service for their on air programming. Same format. Just no local personalities, no local control over the music they play, and a signal strength that is 60….yes, 60 times less….than our signal. Throw in a brand new transmitter and an audio chain that can easily be fiber optic/HD ready at some point, and admittedly, we became a big hit in the market and hurt their audience share greatly. My bet to our GM is that it would take them 6 months to “tap out” and call it a match. I didn’t envision the possibility that they would stick with the format, but give up all local control and let the “jock in the box” do its thing in the corner closet they now have as a studio. My point is not to brag here. It’s not to blast terrestrial stations that choose a 24-hour plug and play format. In this particular case, none of this makes sense. The hilarity of it all is that a few years ago, with our country station going up against their legendary one, they went to great lengths to explain to all of the clients we both serviced how we weren’t local. They actually took paperwork from satellite fed stations web sites and operations manuals to make the point that THEY were local, and WE weren’t. THEY had the on-air talent you see at remotes, we had talent never heard on our station, except for remotes. We grew, became locally programmed except for a syndicated morning show, and now have much more of a market share in that genre. I don’t know what I would have done if the shoe were on the other foot. If a station came in and took a great majority of my listeners away, I most likely would look at other holes that needed filled in the market. Despite their poor signal, there are niche formats out there that probably would have given them more numbers than they’re likely to have. They didn’t abandon the format. They just gave up all local control over what they do on the air. They still feel they can battle us despite the fact we’ll be weeks ahead with new music, have a much stronger signal, have local talent, and they’ll sound more “homogenized” or cookie-cutter than ever. I believe terrestrial radio stations can use satellite based programming that can augment their chances of doing well in a book. Have an AC station? John Tesh has a great radio show that you can either take right off of the bird, or specialize for ANY format with the “voicetracked” version. That is extremely popular for us. Country morning show woes? Big D and Bubba from Premiere radio do so much local liner work every morning for us, and all of their affiliates, that they sound as “live” as if they were sitting right here. The 24-hour per day formats are usually used in very small markets with no means to pay an airstaff, in remote areas where bigger markets may not umbrella your market. If you report to NMW, you very likely have great control over the music you play, how your station is structured, your target audience is known and understood by the air staff, and that is apparent every day on air. It’s a momentum thing, and you can easily change direction and style as situations warrant in your market. You very likely are like us, in that you may carry some programming off of the bird, but still maintain a huge local presence. The provider they’re using has no “jocks”, so any new music that is played is only introduced in imaging cuts going into the spin. Remember the 1990’s Atlantic Records stickers that came with everything mailed to radio that said, “When you play it, SAY IT!’? Aside from the fact that new, un-established artists will be nearly impossible to hear on this station now because of the need to be “over-researched” to be safe, their playlist will be predictable, small, and easier than ever to program against. Aside from this seemingly “backwards” move, this group of stations (there are nearly 40 in the chain in several western states) has signed an exclusive agreement with a telephonically-based radio research group for audience measurement. Mainly used in non-rated Arbitron markets, the methodology of telephone based surveys is antiquated and severely flawed. More on that next week. For now, keep your head on the ground, and only reach for the stars (as in satellite programming) to augment your LOCAL radio station’s lineup. I consider it to be a waste of a frequency to pop on a 24-hour based satellite format. Maybe not so much to get you on the air and started, but to go backwards? Doesn’t make sense to me.