Do you know the audience as well as you think you do?
While we were developing our research method 1980-82, and very consistently in the many years since, we have learned characteristics of the core female listener which remain consistent year after year, and which are significantly at odds with what many programmers think...
1) SHE GREW UP WITH TOP 40, AND MAY RETURN TO THAT FORMAT IN PREFERENCE TO MOST OTHERS IF SHE DOESN'T FIND AN ADULT CONTEMPORARY STATION SHE LIKES -- even though she doesn't like a significant amount of what she hears on Top 40. (This is probably why the only other distinct format our research accurately reflects is the adult female demo of mainstream Top 40 radio.)
2) SHE LIKES MELODY AND RHYTHM, AND DOES NOT LIKE JAZZ OR BLUES. She also doesn't react well to country music, except when she doesn't think of a country-tinged song as being country, and really loathes pop standard music and big band. Artists like Rod Stewart have sold a ton of albums of pop standards, but he is selling them to listeners of "standards" formats, NOT to the A/C core female listener!
3) SHE DOES LIKE INSTRUMENTALS, BUT NOT JAZZ ORIENTED INSTRUMENTALS. (Melodic new-age type instrumentals often have considerable appeal to her.) It's paradoxical that, for the most part, A/C programmers have ruled out instrumentals except jazz-tinged ones! Occasionally listener response has guided programmers into exceptions, and Jim Brickman has broken through in that manner from time to time. A/C females really like the piano music of Lorie Line and others about as much, but so far there has not been the same breakthrough for either at A/C, although Public Television has caught on, and has featured Lorie in pledge drive periods, along with the Moody Blues and other artists who appeal to the broad adult pop audience.
4) SHE REALLY LIKES NEW AND CURRENT MUSIC. When you play the trade charts, for reasons mentioned elsewhere in this site, you wind up playing a lot of music she doesn't care for, which in turn has led to the misconception that the A/C core audience doesn't like the new songs. WRONG. She loves new music, but it has to be the RIGHT new music. If Top 40 radio played a large number of currents that didn't appeal to its audience, it would have the same problem! It's just that Top 40 can usefully use requests and "hot tracks" as a guide to the right songs, and A/C cannot, because the core audience is not particularly responsive -- so those who do phone in or otherwise respond to the stations are not typical of the broad mass who do not. That's why research plays such an important part in A/C music programming.
5) SHE IS GENERALLY NOT FOND OF "REMAKES" OF PAST HITS. If you're going to play the song, she'd usually prefer to hear the original, in most cases! A veteran female A/C programmer of our acquaintance, in reviewing this comment, e-mailed us: "But if women want to remain employed in this business, they don't bring this point up...they just shut up and smile. Especially in mainstream A/C and related formats, which are essentially 'old school guy' universes. This is not something I would say out loud. You being a guy can say it...and thank you for doing so!"
6) SHE IS NOT INTO OLDIES! What a botch so many AC programmers have made of this format...cutting back the currents and making the format mostly recurrent and oldies: Exactly what the audience does NOT want to hear. The function of the noncurrent music in A/C is simply to serve as a "comfort zone" or a framework into which we set the current music. If the listener really did want to hear mostly noncurrent music, she would be listening to oldies stations! No wonder A/C radio is so vulnerable to new oldies formats--those seem to be "doing the same format better". A/C is a contemporary pop music format, which means current music is IMPORTANT and oldies are just part of the setting. Further, every individual noncurrent song in A/C had better be perceived as "good" rather than "old", because the A/C core female is NOT into NOSTALGIA at all! (Our research on noncurrent music takes this very important factor into consideration; most other such research does not.)
7) SHE IS SONG ORIENTED, NOT ARTIST ORIENTED. It doesn't matter who the artist is, or even if it's one of her favorites--she only wants to hear the songs she likes. No change, really, from the way it works in Top 40. (That's why we test all songs "blind"; they're tested just as they are heard on the radio, not identified by title and artist, and are scored entirely on their emotional reaction to them.) She also seldom notices the lyrics of vocals, responding mainly to the "sound" of the recording.
8) SHE DOES LIKE UPTEMPO MUSIC. So why do so many of the strong-testing songs happen to be slower and softer? Simply because that's the sort of music on which there is the broadest CONSENSUS in the core and secondary group of mainstream listeners. The greatest overlap of tastes. Obviously, songs that test that way serve as a core. BUT, if you leave out the uptempo music the A/C audience also likes, you wind up with a boring and bland station. You NEED the uptempo music for contrast and seasoning; but the uptempo tunes really have to be scoring in the "Recommended" range. The use of high-charted uptempo music from the Top 40 charts, which "seems acceptable" for A/C, has been the biggest pitfall for programmers in Adult Contemporary since Bill Gavin first coined the term and started to chart the format over half a century ago. "Seems acceptable" will NEVER substitute for "really likes" in AC, and never has!
9) SHE WANTS AIR TALENT INTERACTION, AND WANTS TO HAVE THE SONGS IDENTIFIED. Taped liners, and breaks in which songs are not announced, are not responsive to her preferences.
To see how these preferences translate into response to today's new and current songs for Maintream AC listeners, follow our research. That's all we do, and we've been doing it since the early 1980s, every week!