Eric Norberg's Weekly Commentary
A part of each issue of The Adult Contemporary MUSIC RESEARCH Letter is Eric's commentary. Here's this issue's comment:
In our last music test of 2014, one of the five pop songs tested reached our "Recommended for your Mainstream AC Playlist" scoring level; but no newly-tested Holiday track did the same, and that closes the book on Christmas songs for the year 2014.
The new pop song testing "Recommended" in its first test was the new Taylor Swift track, BLANK SPACE, on BigMachine/Republic/Universal Records. What's interesting about this is that Taylor's first Top 40 smash from her current album, the song SHAKE IT OFF, took a lot of re-testing, and the familiarity arising from that, to reach the same level -- and even then, despite their knowing of Taylor Swift by name, face, and reputation, they thought they were hearing Katy Perry singing! This time, the AC core females on the panel liked this song immediately, and yet didn't have a clue WHO was singing it. After we obtained this "Recommended" score, we told the panel who was singing, and they were surprised and impressed. This song is clearly not an "automatic" for AC by the sound of it, but obviously the core AC female listener does like it! (And, in the Top 40 format, it is already Number One.)
Meantime, although it is way too late to warn you off this year, we remind any programmer considering the annual year-end "all Christmas music" stunt why, despite any temporary ratings success you get with it, it is a very bad idea: It is, to the listener, a change of format, which damages longterm expectations of an AC station. Furthermore, the numbers generated in Arbitron/Nielsen are gained in exactly the same way as the once-huge "beautiful music" stations got theirs: Through longterm exposure as background music in retail locations and elsewhere. And, you'll notice those stations are gone now.
In our own base of operations, Portland, Oregon, all three of our "beautiful music" stations changed format, in turn, when they were actually number one in the ratings! One by one they went away because, despite the numbers, they were having increasing difficulty selling ads -- agencies and clients were getting to understand that despite the ratings, nobody actually heard the ads! The sound was turned down too low for that, in background music use. When the ad agencies discover that this happens also with the ads in the all-Christmas format too, those year-end ratings bumps will be discounted -- and perhaps your ratings in other times of the year, too, since it IS the same station... And AC will have shot itself in the foot with this stunt.
(Incidentally, for what it's worth, while the AC females tended in previous years to stick with the leading AC station here when they went all-Christmas -- and simply listened shorter periods of time, and grumbled about all the Christmas music -- this year we noticed they were actually starting to switch it off and start their morning with a TV news program instead. This will make it harder for that radio station to get them back when they are through with the Christmas format and go back to AC, since a new habit of starting the day with TV will have been established.)
In late October, a routine re-test of current playlist songs resulted in LET IT GO by Idina Menzel, from the Walt Disney animated movie "Frozen", moving up one step further in our testing -- reaching our maximum test score, and the first record in well over a year to reach that lofty height. Not only is the song a hit by itself, but the entire score is a hit -- the soundtrack album is the biggest selling album of 2014, with over 7,000,000 albums and 15,000,000 tracks sold, worldwide.
The song won an Academy Award as the movie song of the year, and the movie itself appears to be the biggest grossing movie worldwide this year. It is a product of the revitalized Walt Disney Animation Studios -- re-energized when John Lasseter stepped in to direct the studio as a result of Disney's aquisition of Pixar Studios several years ago (Lasseter had directed all the Pixar hits up to that point). Arguably, Disney Animation is now out-creating Pixar! Lasseter now oversees both.
There have been only four movies from Disney Animation since Lasseter came aboard and began overseeing the studio, and each has outperformed the previous one, as the public slowly has started to pick up on what is happening there; the four movies are, in order: Bolt, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen. (Big Hero 6 has just been released, as the fifth in the series.)
We have been a devotee of the first of these movies -- Bolt -- for years. If there is any movie in the modern era which could be characterized as the "Great American Movie", in the same sense that Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is now often thought of as the "Great American Novel", Bolt is the one -- but it is so thoroughly entertaining as it is, that few critics or viewers have looked beneath, for its themes and their implications. Technically, too, it is a landmark film -- extremely influential in the industry, and so far, unexcelled. If you haven't seen it, you really should -- and if you have, take another look.
Plus, its main instrumental theme tests at our "Recommended" level for Mainstream AC use, even though it has never been officially released!
As one gets older, time scales really do compress, and it is very hard for us to realize that Bill Gavin, a seminal mentor in our lives, passed away before this Music Letter even started -- which means that it has been over 31 years now. We remember his genial personality, legendary integrity, and his thoughtful conversations with us quite vividly all these years later.
One of Bill's original correspondents, and one of the radio industry's greatest programmers, Paul Drew -- also a personal friend -- passed recently.
And, on May 10th, we have learned, a Bill Gavin "Small Market Manager of the Year" award winner, even though his whole radio career (he retired 30 years ago) was at only one station in one market, passed at the age of 91 -- still lilving in the same town, Monterey, California.
The station was KMBY-1240; his name was Galyn "Doc" Hammond. He surely was one of the best radio Managers ever; in sales, he truly dominated the market. But his special genius was his ability to spot Program Directors he could trust to actually successfully program the station (and most of those PDs had had little experience at programming until then).
Five consecutive KMBY Program Directors went on to work for Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasting in major markets -- most of them in Programming. One of them was Eric Norberg, editor and publisher of the Adult Contemporary Music Research Letter and this website, who went straight from KMBY to the Assistant Program Director position at KMPC in Los Angeles, when it was #6 in that market, 12+. Don Hofmann went to KSFO in San Francisco via KDAY in Los Angeles and KVI in Seattle; Frank Colbourn went to KVI, as did Scotty Johnson, who later worked at KQFM (now KKRZ) in Portland -- while Eric moved on to KEX in Portland, Oregon. The first of the five, Robert W. Morgan, went on to radio immortality, doing morning drive at KMPC late in his career.
Eric says he himself would not have had much of a career if not for Doc, who put his own career on the line by ignoring the veto of the station's owner to let Eric go ahead with his proposed "Music Power" format, which put KMBY back on top in the market despite its signal not covering 30% of the defined market -- that format on KMBY eventually influenced the evolution of the Drake-Chenault Top 40 format nationwide. Eric says, "Doc was a friend, a mentor, and a gifted Manager." We're sad he's gone.
Recently we have shared with you details of an elaborate study conducted for Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasters in Los Angeles in the 1970s which actually did show that radio ads can be more effective in generating accurate ad recall than television ads. Despite that validation of the effectiveness of radio advertising, and despite radio ads costing just a fraction of what TV ads do, the GWB gift to the industry of the results of this expensive study were almost completely ignored, and to the best of our knowledge a similar study has never been conducted since. It was ignored at the time probably because the study was seen as benefitting GWB and its own approach to radio more than it did radio as a whole.
In reality, however, it meant much more to radio in general than was perceived at the time, and it should have become (and could still become) an important part of the arsenal of anyone selling radio. Just as one can use rating info selectively, one could do the same with this study, concentrating on the "overall radio/overall TV" comparisons, if one chose.
In fact, the "all radio" and "all television" figures -- "for accurate recall of at least one advertisement broadcast by a given radio or TV station in the past hour" -- were almost exactly the same, at around 20%. In this verified recall study, radio ads worked just about as well as TV ads, and for a fraction of the cost. That was, and still is, very valuable information to have in selling radio advertising. There was a substantial increase over "all radio" in the accurate ad recall for the Golden West station, KMPC, due to its "personality" approach -- but instead of making KMPC look transcendant, the study showed the same effect applied to KLAC's country format and any other station in the market using a "personality" approach to air talent presentation.
That, too, is vital information even today -- and validates what many have these days come to believe: That the use of LIVE, LOCAL, interesting people on the radio, particularly as hosts in a music context, build a relationship with the listener, which results not only in greater station loyalty, but also increases the effectiveness of the radio advertising in that setting by up to 50%. In radio, AIR TALENT can still make a huge and quantifiable difference in a station's ad effectiveness, and thus in the station's revenue -- and you can take that to the bank!
We recently reminded programmers that one of the most-often-identified unmet needs of radio listeners -- especially AC core female listeners -- has been well-known for decades, because it keeps turning up in research. The late Bill Gavin, our mentor, made the point clearly as early as the 1970's: Announce what you are playing! Tell them what the song and artist are! They want to know, so tell them.
This comment drew a response from a longtime reader, Buzz Brindle, who gave us permission to quote him by name...
Your commentary reminded me of something that surprised me when I sat in on an auditorium test for an oldies station in the early '90s, which was reinforced when I was programming an oldies station a few years ago. I sat in the back of the room as a test participant, and wrote down my responses to the hooks like everyone else (my responses weren't included in the test results), just to get a sense of a respondent's experience. Oddly, the moderator didn't prevent participants from verbalizing their reactions to the '60s and early '70s oldies which were being tested, so people were excitedly shouting out artist names and/or song titles as the test progressed. These were P1s and P2s for the station, and the songs being tested were the perennial hits which had been played many thousands of times on the radio -- so I was amazed at how often they misidentified the artists and songs. They were even getting wrong such highly identifiable artists as the Beach Boys and the Beatles!
Flash forward to the early 2000's, when I was programming an oldies station in our cluster. Like most radio folks, I presumed that my oldies-partisan listeners woulod have a high level of awareness about the titles and artists of the '60s and '70s hits they'd heard hundreds of times during their lifetimes. But, again, I discovered that I could not take that for granted. Consequently, we started backselling title and artist information for those oldies, just as one would (or should) on a station which plays current music.
Another observation I made, and which I believe has been noted in the Music Letter in the past, is that it's much more effective from the listener's perspective if the title/artist info is backsold, rather than provided just prior to playing a song. It's more likely that the question they're asking, if they've been listening all the way through, or tuned in halfway through a song, is "what is that?" At the beginning of the song, it's more likely that their decision to stick with the song will be based on how the way it sounds satisfies their needs at the moment, and the title/artist info is less relevant.
Thanks Buzz! If it's either/or, then yes -- the place to put the announcement of song and artist is after it has played. Because that IS the next thing they want to know. But we have always advocated introducing AND backselling everything played. Nobody tunes out because you are telling them what you are playing, and many really do want to hear it -- even if they think they know, your announcement confirms it for them.
And here is one more thing to remember: Stations that don't announce the music they are playing are showing that it is of no consequence to them -- that's it's just filler between the commercials. The station that respects both the music and the listener enough to tell them what the music is shows a respect for the music AND the listener that makes a difference in how the station is perceived!
In all the angst we have been reading in the trade press lately over how Arbitron's "People Meters" are seen as upending previous rating trends and undermining niche formats, one point seems to have been overlooked: Arbitron's diary rating method is the most inaccurate ever used by a national rating company, subject to more limitations and skews than any other. Although placement and cooperation issues still skew Arbitron's results, the meters at least seem to measure actual listener behavior, so they represent one step closer to reality!
And we remind you that your goal as a programmer should not be to build SHARE, which is simply an efficiency figure, but CUME -- which is actual circulation information, comparable to print circulation figures.
If your cume is high but your share is low, advertisers simply have to buy more ads to reach your huge audience. Big share and low cume means that just one ad will reach most of your audience, so advertisers only need to buy a few, and can save their budget for the station with the big CIRCULATION!
A longtime colleague in radio forwarded us a news item about a study conducted by Mark Kassof and Company about AM radio. It shows that the format most associated with AM radio is Talk. Surprise. WE did that to our audience; just because listener expectations of engagement and interesting content are still more centered on AM than FM (as explained in depth in Eric's still-available book "Radio Programming: Tactics and Strategy") -- expectations that make talk programming still more welcome there -- broadcasters for over a quarter of a century have been creating a vast wasteland, with no music, on the AM band. Listener expectations are based upon what we as broadcasters do!!! So, we trained radio listeners not to expect music there, and sure enough they don't.
However, we remind broadcasters that in the late 1950's and the first half of the 1960's, most people didn't even HAVE an FM radio, which made it hard for FM to compete with AM radio. At least today, even if they are mostly listening to FM, most people do HAVE an AM radio. As with FM then, give them something they WANT to listen to, on the band they are not tuning in, and you can still get them to listen. (And, for 80% of the available audience, that's music.)
Because of the availability of AM radios, it is still easier to get people to tune in AM today than it was to get them to tune in FM back then! The music testing we do can and has made pop music work -- work well -- on AM. But, it has to be programmed a bit differently from how it is on FM. We can help.
For those wondering, we test each song from the beginning (no hooks), and keep playing the song in the testing process until the panel is ready to move on. If the test reveals that the AC core female listener doesn't want to hear a song all the way through yet, it cannot yet be "recommended", for obvious reasons. If there are no negatives to the song, though, it is scored as "borderline" -- meaning, don't play it yet -- but we will keep re-testing it for possible increased appeal with exposure. Perhaps 5% of "borderline" songs eventually move up; most don't, so it is NOT a good idea to give airplay to a song that tests below the "recommended" level.
Yet another album has been released in Africa by NiaNell! Suffice it to say that the only artist in the world that we know of, who can be compared with Celine Dion for the AC format -- but who also composes and produces (and owns) her own recordings, and has the highest hit percentage on all her albums than any other artist we've ever tested -- offers her sixth album, "My Heart". Since this album is currently completely unavailable on CD in the Western Hemisphere, we are happy to send a stereo broadcast-quality MP3 of her currently-"recommended" song to any radio station wanting to consider it for airplay (or label interested in considering releasing her in the Western Hemisphere). Just e-mail us and ask us for it. You will need to give us an e-mail account to send it to that can accept at least a 10 MB e-mail.
Publishing is not shown on the tracks we receive these days, which means we cannot warn you when a SESAC song turns up as "recommended" in our testing, most of the time.... So, stations without a SESAC license should do careful homework to make sure they play no SESAC music! SESAC is owned by lawyers, and they subscribe to station-monitoring services, and they have already won a judgement of over $1,000,000 against a station that didn't have their license for "copyright violation". The station played a few songs by Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan, relying on label notations that these songs were licensed by ASCAP. SESAC paid a million dollars each to these gentlemen late in the last century to move their ASCAP compositions over to SESAC, so even if the label on the record says their compositions are ASCAP copyrights, they no longer are. Jim Brickman's compositions are licensed by SESAC. Plus, there are a few other releases, largely in the Country field, that are licensed by SESAC too -- as well as a lot of religious music that may turn up on paid Sunday morning religious programs. A word to the wise.
SPECIAL UNRESTRICTED DOWNLOADS
One of 2009's top AC hits, recommended as a "recurrent/oldie" to use for years to come, is "I DREAMED A DREAM" -- the astonishing live audition of an unprepossessing 47-year-old Scottish villager, Susan Boyle, for a TV program called "Britain's Got Talent". The YouTube video scored over 60 million views, and in addition to its great appeal to the AC core female listener, it was the subject of TV coverage and news reports around the world. If you're one of the few who hasn't ever seen the video, or heard its story, here's the link:
This LIVE performance was never commerically released as a CD single, but since you'll need it in your future programming for years to come, you can download a ZIP file containing the MP3 audio of this performance by clicking HERE.
In August of 2012, to commemorate what would have been the 100th birthday of the biggest star the U.S. Public Television Service ever had -- Julia Child -- PBS created an astonishing digitally-modified tribute to "The French Chef" called KEEP ON COOKING, and posted the 3:43 track on YouTube for public performance. We tested the audio track, which features excerpts drawn from 40 years of Julia's PBS-TV broadcasts -- modified to make them song lyrics with Julia as the "singer", accompanied by a memorable and catchy tune, and found the core AC female listener in the U.S. LOVED it...not just as a tribute to Julia Child, who passed away in 2004 (and was the focus of a Meryl Streep movie, "Julia and Me", in 2009), but as a piece of music! We are now recommending that this track go into your permanent Christmas Season playlist.
A novelty song? Certainly -- but an actual song, which will have "legs" because it is enjoyed as music as well. For your convenience in auditioning it and considering whether to use it on the air, the track is posted HERE as a ZIP file containing an MP3. If you would like to review the actual YouTube video, which makes it clear that Julia actually said every word "sung" in it, here is a link to that video: