I spent Valentine’s Day with Greg Fry. As two of L.A.’s most eligible bachelors, we can’t have dates for Valentine’s Day because, invariably, the ladies get the wrong idea and we run the risk of breaking hearts. (This is, of course, a nice way of saying that two losers couldn’t score companionship on the most romantic night of the year, so we wound up hanging out with each other.)


Two guys discussing radio…Greg in his earl 30s, me nearly 40. (Why do you have to be in your late 30s to be “nearly 40?” If you’re just past your 40th birthday, aren’t you as “nearly 40” as if you were 38? I think so and since it’s my Editorial, I’m nearly 40.) Anyhow, after several bottles of beer and as many glasses of wine, what did we wound up doing? All together, radio geeks:


Listening to airchecks.


Only people in radio understand. It’s a disease. When two or more radio freaks are gathered together at someone’s house with alcohol involved, we wind up listening to airchecks.


Afterwards, the discussion turned to high-energy radio and why stations abandoned that delivery. The next day, between three-putts, I posed the same question to Scott Shannon and Dan Kieley. Nobody had a definitive answer.


Top 40 radio abandoned its high-energy approach several years ago…not because it wasn’t working, but because PDs just opted to go another way. No high-energy Top 40 was beaten in the ratings by a more “mellow” approach. So, what happened?


Blame the consultants. It’s an easy out…and not exactly accurate…but close enough. Consider my reasoning: Most consultants are hired by management. Very few managers are comfortable with high-energy radio. Too many negatives are associated with that delivery.


Consultants don’t program, they consult. They don’t listen, they analyze research. Most consultants try and reduce negatives from their client stations. Subjective research says the audience hates too much clutter, too much talk and screaming deejays who rap over the beginning of songs.


When the consultant suggests eliminating these negatives, the biggest fan is the manager…who doesn’t like these things either.


There you have it.


Subjective research is extremely dangerous and basing decisions on this information should only be done by the PD. Allow me to shed light on some subjective research: When KIIS, Z100 and KFRC were dominating their markets, what were the biggest complaints from listeners? Too much clutter, too much talk and stupid deejays who rapped over the intros to records.


However, these same listeners were the core audience They like those stations because the stations were fun to listen to.


It’s an interesting point to note that clutter…meaning too many commercials…was always the first thing mentioned, yet no manager cut the commercial load because the audience didn’t like it.


To their credit, consultants also insist that their client radio stations should sound “fun.” But a consultant isn’t programming the station. It’s up to the PD to take the advice of a consultant, then make programming decisions based on what makes the radio station sound best.


Be careful of subjective research. It’s dangerous…particularly when used by the wrong people. Consider subjective research used by NBC for the top-rated Seinfeld show. Sixty-two percent of the television audience doesn’t watch the show because they don’t like the jokes and can’t identify with the characters. Thirty-eight percent watch the show because they think the jokes are funny and identify with the characters. A consultant might suggest changing the jokes and characters to attract a larger audience. The head of programming might tell the consultant to get bent.


It’s interesting to note that KIIS and Z100 began losing listeners about the same time high-energy was abandoned. I know other factors were involved, but humor me for a second. Both of these stations employed the top consultants to no avail. Both stations began regaining listeners when Kieley and Tom Poleman re-energized the sound. It’s also interesting to note that WXKS Boston and WFLZ Tampa have continued to dominate their markets over the years by never wavering from their high-energy approach.


Does it work today? Our panel of “experts” says, “Yes.” To those consultants and managers who moan that older demos would desert, may I point out the most successful 25-54 station in the country: KRTH Los Angeles. KRTH is filled with hih-energy promotions like “The Big Kahuna,” stupid phrases like “King Kong Cash” and jocks who talk up every vocal and hit every post. It isn’t just the music, or every Oldies station would share KRTH’s billing.


The audience wants to identify with a station. They…and the station…want to have fun. Consider these factors when you’re studying subjective research. Every successful station has negatives associated with it. The more successful, the more negatives…also the more positives. Weigh the criticism against your programming judgment.


Remember, if 90% of the available audience doesn’t like your station, you’ll have a 10 share, a bonus, a new contract and your choice of teams at the Network 40 Summer Games in Lake Tahoe June 25-27.


Go home, break out some airchecks, then return to the station and kick it up a notch!

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