Funeral For A Friend

9/3/1993

We are gathered here today to pay our respects to the almost departed. The roses in the window sill have tilted to one side. The life support system is being disconnected. The fat lady is singing. The National Anthem is playing. The sign-off has begun.

This is not a test.

On the opposite page is a letter to R&R reporters from Joel Denver. In a few, short sentences, Joel signifies the beginning of the end of R&R’s dominance in our industry.

Is it arrogance? Is it stupidity?

Or both?

I have a “few” problems with the letter. I know it is unlike me to point out the mistakes of R&R, but please allow me a few words to belabor the obvious.

Joel describes a “dynamic new system of music information gathering and analysis” in asking reporting stations to provide their “plays per week.”

Joel, puleeze!

The Network Forty took the lead when we began tabulating and charting our exclusive “Plays Per Week” 15 months ago. It is gratifying that R&R finally admitted that their charts are inaccurate and are making a belated attempt to right their wrongs, but to characterize their “change” as “dynamic” and “new” stretches the imagination of even the most schizophrenic in our business.

Nice try, Joel, but that dog won’t hunt.

A bigger mistake than trying to rip off the “Plays Per Week” designed and innovated by The Network Forty is the way it was done. Joel doesn’t ask radio stations for their input…he just decides what he thinks is best and demands it from the reporters.

As much as we would like to take credit for it, “Plays Per Week” wasn’t a brilliant concept developed by the staff of The Network Forty. The concept was suggested by a number of our reporting radio stations. Programmers across the country were questioned about their ideas and “Plays Per Week” came out of this networking. We constantly ask radio what we can do better to serve their needs. Unlike R&R, we know our degrees of success directly relates to our ability to reflect the needs of the radio and record communities. Besides, we know our readers are smarter than we are. We value their input.

Joel asks stations to report their “projected” plays per week. As a programmer, you’re now required to give R&R information about what you’ll be doing next week.

So, now R&R wants to be a “tip” sheet. How interesting.

R&R asks that you give them programming information for the coming week so they may, as a privilege of being an R&R reporter, make that information available to your competition. Beautiful.

So, if you go to the trouble of plotting your music a week in advance (and we know everyone programs their music weeks ahead of schedule), what happens if, say, a superstar releases a new song on Thursday? Well, you couldn’t change your music scheduling because then you would be accused of supplying R&R with incorrect information. So, I guess, under the R&R system, you’ll just have to keep the new releases off for a week to 10 days. I’m sure the record industry will have to problem with that. Not to mention your audience, which will have to wait to hear new releases until the practice meets with R&R’s criteria. And what does it matter if your competition gets the upper had by playing the new releases before you do? As long as you’re complying with R&R’s edicts, what do you care?

How long has Joel been out of radio programming? No one schedules their music weeks in advance. There are too many things to consider: environment, promotions, remotes… and something R&R seems to care les and less about…new music. The idea is ludicrous.

No one can predict how many times a record will be played a week in advance. Radio stations have charts to s how a particular record’s strength in relation to the other records, but the exact number of plays? It’s impossible.

The Network Forty produces two Mainstream charts each week. One is our Plays Per Week chart, compiled from the number of plays records received the previous week. The other chart is derived from programmers’ forecasts of how they believe these records will perform the following week. By comparing the two charts, you can plot the past, present and future.

But predicting the exact number of plays for the new week? No way.

Other than the obvious reasons cited above, plotting next week’s music is too time consuming. Radio programmers have more than enough to do already. Should they change their working habits because of the whim of a “tip” sheet? As an industry trade magazine, it is our job to make radio’s task easier…not more difficult.

R&R doesn’t seem to care…as long as it meets their needs.

R&R seems oblivious to the obvious. BDS has become an important tool for our industry because it separates fact from fiction. BDS accurately reflects the number of plays a record receives on monitored stations. BDS doesn’t attempt to forecast. It provides an exact history…reality. Reality is what drives our industry. It’s high time R&R went along for the ride.

R&R, once the leader in our industry, is becoming, with each passing day and each new letter to its reporters, a follower. BDS creates an exciting new monitoring system. R&R has been trying to catch up with them for three years. The Network Forty begins publishing “Plays Per Week” 15 months ago. R&R tries to claim our innovation as their own.

It ain’t gonna happen.

What’s next, Joel? R&R Overnight Requests?

Sensitive Editorial

8/13/1993

In today’s world, it is easy to be cruel, easy to be hard, it’s easy to say no. Heaven knows, The Network Forty and even I, yes, I have on occasion stopped to criticize.

From time to time, some of our readers have questioned our motives and have been concerned with the tone of selected editorials and (of course) the occasional nudity on Page 6. For those who believe we have been overly critical or mean-spirited, this editorial (and the entire magazine) is dedicated to you.

Throughout this issue of The Network Forty, you will find words, pictures and ideas that will serve as a calming influence for the hectic world in which we live. From the cover and the picture on Page 6 to the “mood page” and pie charts, we will attempt to uplift your spirits and soothe your frayed nerves. Since California is a state of mind, I would first ask that we all join in a cosmic hand-holding for 30 seconds, followed by the required group hug. (Editor’s note: If you’re reading this in Hollywood, you can end with an “air” kiss.) Now that we’ve set the mood, let me begin.

First, I would like to compliment R&R. You may pause for a few minutes here to regain your composure. For more than 20 years, this publication has been “the industry’s newspaper.” We should be grateful because our industry really needs a newspaper. What other trade publication can be used for packing plates and glasses or for wrapping the fish we catch on those spiritual retreats to our favorite lake? We love R&R. We particularly like the black print that rubs off on our hands, because when we see it, we are reminded that ll people should work together as one, without regard to race, creed or color. Although some are critical of the size of R&R’s sample of reporting stations, we should look at this as a positive. Those in the record industry can concentrate their efforts rather than call every station across the country. And the radio stations that aren’t in the sample are given a goal to shoot for. And what other publication would establish vague, yet complicated guidelines for reporting status? R&R, in its Zen-like methodology, keeps us forever praying, meditating, guessing and wondering.

When can you be a reporting station, Grasshopper? When you take the pebble from Joel’s hand.

And what about Joel? He’s such a nice guy…a genuine person who’s quick to share his beliefs with anyone who asks…even if few do. And he’s so sanitary. To insure no loose hairs ever drop into a companion’s plate of food, he wears his in a ponytail. It’s proof positive that Joel cares more about the environment than fashion.

I want this on the record: Even if I’m one, lone voice crying out in the wilderness, I believe R&R’s monitor system will be up and running in three major markets in September.

Hitmakers certainly lives up to their name. Bob Greenberg is a prince among princes and I, for one, could sit at the bare feet of Barry Fiedel and listen to him pontificate for hours.

And what can I say about Gavin that hasn’t already been said? Organized by the man who coined the phrase, “Be nice to the people who are paid to be nice to you,” the tradition continues. Two names say it all: Dave Sholin and Ben Fong-Torres. They’re linked interchangeably and will walk hand-in-hand into the Music Hall of Fame.

Billboard and BDS have formed a combination that is without parallel (no pun intended). Michael Ellis is to charts what Michelangelo is to modern art. BDS is without doubt the most accurate monitoring service this side of NASA. Their technology has indeed changed the face of our industry and unlike others who have gone before, they are quick to address any problems that have arisen.

Arbitron. I will adhere to the old expression, “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.”

In is my sincere hope that you get half as much joy out of reading this editorial as I got in composing it. Can’t we all be friends? Can’t we come together and do good? Is it possible, in today’s day and age, to work together for a positive universe?

If we try, we can do it.

This next week, smile. Help your brother or sister when they are down. Give food or shelter to the homeless. Pledge your help to the flood victims. Spare some change.

Peace…love…happiness.

Groovy.

God bless us, everyone.

(Editor’s Note: Gerry Cagle wrote this editorial under a doctor’s care while visiting an Oregon ashram. He was also, we assume, under heavy medication. He is schedule for release later this week and expected to be his vociferous self by next week’s edition.)

Freedom Of Choice

7/30/1993

The winds of change are blowing…stronger every day. Those who can’t feel them are living in a dream world.

For years, R&R reporting status dictated a radio station’s importance with record companies. Dinners, concert tickets, product service and promotions were only a few of the spoils that came with the prize. Pride from acknowledgement of one’s peers was also garnered by one’s upward movement within the parallels.

The results of R&R’s changes in reporting stations were once anticipated with dread or excitement. Now the results are greeted with hoots of derision or, more often, a yawn of boredom…if acknowledged at all.

There’s a new Sherriff in town…and the name is BDS.

The days of paper adds, chart share and Breakers are going the way of 8-tracks and pony tails. Record companies have always been interested in exposure. Exposure equals sales. Now they can monitor the exposure and they’re using it. Like it or not, the record industry is the tail that wags the radio dog…and this dog will hunt.

Unfortunately, the record monitoring system of BDS is controlled by Billboard, which seems to be hell-bent on making the same mistakes as R&R. Billboard and BDS are intent on making millions of dollars from the radio industry without giving anything back. Like Arbitron, they initiated their own methodology and radio has no voice in the decision.

As a radio station executive, you have no choice on whether or not your station is monitored by BDS. Your station’s importance to record companies will be decided by things you cannot control. Billboard dictates your format and since BDS only monitors about 80 markets, the size of the city will be the determining factor. If you fall outside that scope, you are out of luck.

Or are you?

Record companies are relying on BDS for only one thing: honesty. If record executives could rely on the integrity of all radio stations; playlists, no monitoring system would be needed. But they haven’t been able to do that.

Billboard and The Network Forty were the first trade publications to recognize the problem and do something about it. Billboard chose to go outside the radio community. The Network Forty works within the radio community to provide Plays Per Week (PPW).

We accept Plays Per Week data from all of our reporting stations. The information is downloaded from music scheduling software. The record industry is using radio airplay to determine the importance of every station in the country. If you aren’t reflective of their growing reliance on airplay, you are in danger of being left out.

You don’t have a choice when it comes to BDS and Billboard. They decide whether or not you will be monitored and by their own admission, it doesn’t ‘matter whether you like it or not. The Network Forty gives you the choice with PPWs. If you want to be a part of the future, if you want to be important to the record companies and your peers, you need to report PPWs. Outside of BDS, it’s your only alternative.

If you aren’t reporting PPWs to The Network Forty and BDS makes mistakes in monitoring your airplay (which they do quite often), you have no recourse. If you aren’t in a market being monitored by BDS, you have no recourse. Reporting your PPWs is your only chance to ensure the exposure you give to records is recognized by record labels.

To quote on of our reporters, “PPW is BDS for the rest of us.”

We (and our reporters) believe that PPW reporting is the best alternative to monitored airplay. BDS makes mistakes. Although BDS tried to dance around it, BDS doesn’t accurately reflect the various edits of specific records. BDS constantly imprints records used in promos and commercials. And BDS imprints records that appear as a part of specialized programs, but aren’t on your playlists.

PPW reporting doesn’t make those mistakes. It’s the only accurate reflection of your airplay because it comes from your music scheduling. We’ve all had calls from record companies asking why BDS showed airplay decreasing on a specific record when it didn’t. With PPWs, you have an answer. Most important, PPW reporting is a function of radio…not some outside source. And, unlike BDS, The Network Forty pays for PPW data. Every week we’ll be mailing cash bonuses to selected radio stations for their PPW participation. It may not be much, but it’s more than you’re getting from BDS. Why should they make the money off data they’re stealing from you without giving something back?

And unlike Billboard, we don’t try and define your format. If you feature new music, you’re a part of our Mainstream panel. It’s that simple. We don’t dictate; we report. Isn’t that what a trade magazine is supposed to do?

Plays Per Week and BDS are the most accurate measures of reflecting actual airplay. But unlike other trade magazines, The Network Forty believes that charts based on playlists are also an important part of the mix. That’s why we place them side by side. Plays Per Week and BDS tell you what happened last week. Our playlist chart is a prediction of what will happen this week. Both are needed to effectively monitor a record’s progress and potential.

If you are still debating whether or not to report your actual Plays Per Week, the answer should be easy. PPW reporting gives you a comparison to BDS if you’re already monitored. PPW enables you to correctly identify the constant mistakes experienced by BDS. The PPW Charts allow record companies to chart airplay on your station without wondering whether imprints appeared in promos, commercials or specialized programming. And more importantly, you control your destiny with PPW reporting. You’re not defined by an outside source.

Plus, you’re eligible for thousands of dollars in cash and prizes!

The Network Forty is building a reputation within the radio and record communities with factual reporting. The original concept for Plays Per Week came from our reporters. Its continued growth and accuracy will come from our reporters…not from outside sources. We believe in radio.

The Network Forty is your magazine for the ‘90s and beyond.

A Long Strange Trip

7/23/1993

The Conclave in Minneapolis: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The initial concept was mind-boggling by itself. There I was, on my way to the Midwest, a section of the country designated as a disaster area because of the worst flooding in history. I’m not particularly enamored with Minnesota under the best circumstances and the weather forecast was calling for more rain. And the only non-stop flight from Los Angeles was on Northworst Airlines.

I was doomed from the start.

But tickets had been purchased, meetings planned, rooms guaranteed and fights picked, so I had no choice.

When I arrived, the hotel was filled with nervous energy. Everyone was expecting fireworks at the first meeting Thursday night when representatives from all the trades debated their validity on the Charts Panel. Unfortunately, there were no knockouts. Billboard’s Michael Ellis chickened out and sent Kevin McCabe in his place. Kevin blamed any Billboard problems on BDS and any BDS problems on Billboard and was the unanimous winner of the “We’re Perfect Because We Say So” award. His attitude and demeanor exemplified Billboard’s recent adaptation of a “Holier Than Thou” posture. And the gum chewing was a nice touch.

Joel Denver wouldn’t fight…and who could blame him? He did bring another excuse to the table. Joel first stated that he granted reporting status solely on ratings. Since everyone knew that was bullshit, Joel quickly switched tactics and stated that reporting status was determined by a committee. A committee? What committee? Does R&R bus in a group of radio professionals every month to cast secret ballots on which radio stations will make it? Give me a break. The “old boys” just go to the back room, crack open a bottle and decide who they’ll beat on next.

Joel did an admirable job selling the company line on their vaporware. With a straight face, he predicted R&R’s monitor system would be up and running this fall in three markets. Joel was the only contestant in the “Beat A Dead Horse” category, but he would have won going away, even with the competition.

Hitmakers’ Barry Fiedel was eloquent as usual. Barry has such a command of the English language that it takes you a while to realize he isn’t really saying anything. Barry exemplifies his “Conference Calls.” The idea sounds good at first, but the end result produces nothing but hype.

The “Will Rogers Award” went to Dave Sholin for the 10th straight year. As soon as he leaves Gavin and joins The Network Forty, he’ll go smiling into the Hall of Fame.

I was confused. In this group, that was to be expected. Neither Billboard nor R&R could explain how they decide who reports in what formats and why. After their feeble attempts, I was still confused. So was the room. Evidently Billboard is still confused as well. They added 10 stations into their Mainstream Format right after Kevin defended their exclusion in Minneapolis. Is it just me or does this sound suspiciously like R&R’s many flip-flops? Could Joel Denver and Michael Ellis be the same person in different disguises? Think about it. Has anyone ever seen Joel and Michael in the same room at the same time?

After the meeting, all of the participants sponged free drinks at The Network Forty suite and vocalized what they wished they had said. No one was listening.

Friday brought on more meetings, more discussions and gambling at the nearby Indian reservation. Sholin lost $40 and cried all the way back to the hotel. Wayne Coy’s favorite number is 14. Tom Barsanti kept searching for the guy wearing feathers from the Village People and Joe Ianello still doesn’t understand why he couldn’t hit on 20.

A luncheon concert by Lisa Keith was well received as were the opening remarks by Rick Stone and the newly appointed Perspective VP Promotions Randy Spendlove. Nighttime found half the attendees avoiding the bowling tournament (the other half brought their own balls). The best-attended dinner was Steve Leavitt’s reserved table at one of Minneapolis’ finest restaurants, T.G.I. Fridays.

KWIN’s Bob Lewis hosted a simulated music meeting featuring input from both radio and record people. Although many points were made, the most notable was Bob’s remark that “this is why we don’t take record calls.” The reason? The session lasted over two-and-a-half hours.

Saturday morning’s Top 40 Format Breakfast was packed with people and questions. A funny thing happened at this meeting. We actually heard some answers. WKSE Program Director Brian Burns gave an effective explanation of how to conduct aircheck sessions; KDWB PD Marke Bolke told us how to successfully plan and execute promotions and WNVZ’s Wayne Coy went through the audience, giving jocks the opportunity to impress the programmers with their ability to do a break using what they had in their pockets. I think two of the guys were hired.

The least-attended meeting was “Time Management.” Most people couldn’t find the time to go.

Saturday afternoon, Dave Sholin and Joel Denver did a radio show on KDWB-FM. Dave did it for kicks. Joel did it because it was the largest market he ever worked in.

Most gratifying was an independent survey commissioned by The Network Forty. Mainstream radio people attending the Conclave were asked by an independent contractor, “What is your favorite trade magazine?” Respondents were allowed to choose more than one, which explains the percentages, but we sure liked who finished first:

The Network Forty                  74%

Gavin                                      51%

R&R                                        37%

Hitmakers                                13%

Billboard/Monitor                   08%

Hits                                         03%

Absent from the Conclave was the usual hype present at most other conventions. The good part was that most of the panels were well attended and well presented. The down side? A lot of heavy radio programmers didn’t show. But is that really bad? Most people at the Conclave are on their way up. They’re anxious to learn…willing to be trained. They aren’t afraid to ask questions. Quality time is actually possible. Friendships made in the congenial atmosphere will last. And many of those at tiny stations today will be in the majors tomorrow.

The bottom line? This was my first Conclave. It won’t be my last.

Reality

7/16/1993

A few weeks ago, I took issue with Arbitron. I criticized their methodology and accuracy. My criticism wasn’t anything new. Since day one, they’ve been highly suspect within the radio and advertising communities. Everyone has taken shots at them.

But they’re still here.

Although Arbitron pretends to be interested in answering their critics and examining their methodology, the truth is…they aren’t. As the only game in town, they’ve been able to basically dictate to the radio community. And it’s a lead-pipe cinch that no substantive change will be forthcoming.

So, we can keep complaining (and we definitely will), but we also have to live with the beast until it goes away. Accepting this as a fact, I spent the last couple of weeks getting information from different programmers across the country on how to program to an audience that will be rated by Arbitron. Some of the ideas were interesting and I want to share them with you.

First and foremost, we must concentrate on the basics. In developing specialized programming techniques, we sometimes miss the obvious. Or we think it sounds “dumb.” Don’t forget, an IQ test isn’t given to those who fill out diaries. Saying “Write It Down” after your calls four times an hour gives a more-than-subtle reminder to those who have diaries and it really doesn’t annoy those who aren’t participating.

Since so many Arbitron participants work, send gofers to high-traffic streets with hand-lettered signs saying, “Don’t forget to write it down when you get home…WXXX.”

You can tie contest in to diary participants by doubling regular prizes to winners who have the call letters written somewhere. Have them bring proof to the station. You don’t care if they write it after they won.

One of the “high-tech” tools Arbitron uses to remind diary holders to make entries is a cardboard cut-out in the shape of a hand, pointing a finger with a string around it. They ask participants to hang these on their doors as reminders. Why not use something similar to stage a contest promoting station listening?

In two-book markets (or even in four-book markets, concentrating on the important fall and spring books) all on-air contests should use the theme “the longer you listen, the more you can win”…anything to increase TSL. Have the audience count the number of times a particular song is played or give away money each time a song is played. Contest that give different clues across dayparts are a must.

Lost among all of the “cute” promotions are the two old stanbys that seem to always generate TSL. Any form of the “High Low Jackpot” or “Cash Call” will work. It’s important to use these contests sparingly. If you use either constantly, they seem to lose some of their power. But twice a year, they will work.

Remember, do not overstep the rules Arbitron insists you follow. Although restrictions do exist, they are easy to work around. With all due respect, Arbitron will oblige in guiding you through questions about contesting. On the other hand, do not be afraid to go right up to the line. Being on the edge is what makes a great programmer.

These are just a few of the many ideas shared by others. It’s how you should approach programming. What about sales?

Too many sales departments don’t sell the radio station; they just present numbers. Innovative techniques can stimulate sales, particularly on the local level. Have all of your current advertisers write letters to your sales people telling a success story of their last time-buy. Compile a book of these letters and have the account executives take them on calls. Nothing sells a client quicker than to see one of his competitors using a successful promotion or spot buy.

Go overboard on pictures. Take hundreds at every promotion. It’s great to show lines of people waiting to attend or a crowd at the promotion, but also get specific. Have well-dressed people hold up their business cards for photos. Show your clients the type of upscale people who are drawn to your radio station. Make a book of these photos and have the account executives use it when selling.

It’s the video age; use it! Compile a station composite on video. It should show a little of the inner workings of the station, station promotions and testimonials from listeners and advertisers. Show this to clients.

These are just a few of the “back-to-basics” ideas that can help you program to your audience through Arbitron’s methodology on a limited budget. Since Arbitron’s methods are basic, your programming and sales techniques shouldn’t be any more sophisticated. If you are using others that you consider successful, let us know and we’ll share them with our readers.

And lest we forget the most important process in attaining Arbitron success…pray!

Gone Fishing

07/09/1993

A while ago in this column, I used the phrase, “The Fish Are In The Trees.” It was a joke…a euphemism. I used it to describe, among other things, the reporting system used by R&R.

I only intended on using it once.

Other anomalies occurred and I was forced to follow shortly with another editorial entitled, “More Fish.”

I swore that was the last time.

Suddenly, there’s an outbreak of fish hiding in the leaves. Every time I walk under a tree, I have to brush scales off my shoulders. There’s a shark tree in my front yard, a bass tree across the street from the office and a tuna tree in my bedroom. (And everyone knows you can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Yada yada.)

For months, The Network Forty has echoed the voices of our industry by questioning the methodology behind R&R’s reporting criteria. We’ve asked why the total number of stations is limited. We’ve tried to find out what exact criteria constitutes a reporting station. We’ve asked why certain, more deserving, aren’t included in the sample. We’ve asked what determines a station’s status in a particular format and many other seemingly easy questions.

These editorials aren’t the sole opinions of The Network Forty as a magazine or mine as the author. They’re reflections of the feelings of our industry as a whole.

We applaud R&R for their consistency: They’ve refused to enlighten the industry they serve with any explanation whatsoever.

And just when we thought the disease was confined to only one publication, disturbing information indicates the virus is spreading.

Is this arrogance contagious?

Billboard is now manipulating their reporting stations to serve their needs.

(Editor’s Note: You can relax, Joel. This one isn’t about you…entirely.)

The entire industry has welcomed BDS as a method to accurately reflect radio airplay. It has taken the guesswork out of the charts. But why does Billboard have a problem defining reporting stations? In his infinite wisdom, Michael Ellis, as Joel before him, has determined he and he alone is competent in pigeonholing stations. Forget how the stations position themselves: it is the “Almighty Michael” who will now make the ultimate determination.

Cloning Joel, Michael began his manipulations with WPLJ and other AC-leaning stations. To his credit, shortly after making these changes, Michael reversed himself and put these stations back into the mainstream…for the time being. He got the message quickly from industry leaders. Joel has also heard the natives. Those stations are being added back into the list of R&R’s mainstream reporters. If they have room.

My question is: “Why did you do it in the first place?”

Can I make an observation? Guys, it ain’t that difficult.

The Network Forty accepts playlists from all stations that want to report. Every radio station featuring current music is eligible. All these reports are compiled into our “Mainstream Chart.” After using that entire universe, we then break the information into specifics. Stations whose audience skew younger and those who skew older are prioritized for our “Target Charts.” Those stations that fragment musically are used to generate our “Alternative” and “Crossover Charts.”

Bottom line: We use all the available information. We don’t manipulate data. We let the universe determine the outcome. It’s the first rule of generating accurate research.

The audience listens to music…not formats. Why do we feel the need to specifically define particular stations? To serve our own needs? Bing!

In 1974, when radio was less fragmented, Paul Drew, then Vice President of Programming of the powerful RKO Radio chain, offered a cash incentive to the PD who could come up with the definition of Top 40. This came at a time when the entire industry looked at the RKO chain as the definition of Top 40.

The cash is still waiting to be claimed.

Any radio station that plays current music should be welcomed by our industry and given all the tools to make it grow and prosper. Those who make the criteria for success harder are the only cutting their own throats. When radio stations featuring current music are denied the opportunity to gain popularity, receive promotions and increase profit by their inability to attain needed publicity and accolades, we’re all doomed.

Do you get it? Magazines don’t play music. We don’t create formats. We can only reflect the attitudes of our industry, accurately report available information and increase the visibility of successful records and individuals. If you manipulate radio stations for your own advantage, how do you expect them to trust you when you report a particular song is a hit? Or format? Or promotion?

We should all champion all radio stations that expose new product. To do otherwise only exposes a thinly disguised attempt to increase our own importance.

News flash, Joel and Michael: The future of our business…our future…is new music. Without it, music radio dies…record companies die…entertainment magazines die…only K-Mart remains to sell the oldies…for a while.

And guys, I, for one, don’t want to spend the rest of my life announcing the “blue light special” on aisle four.

Poe-Tential

07/02/1993

Observations On The Bobby Poe Convention

This convention was more confusing than most. It was listed as the 23rd Annual, yet I have a flyer, reprinted on a later page, that lists the 2nd annual as happening in 1959. But as Bobby himself said, “Aw, Gerry, don’t confuse me with the facts.” (Bobby actually had no affiliation with this other convention…it was before his time.)

Attending the Poe Convention always brings back great memories. No other convention shares the glorious history of the Poe. It was the first real convention I attended as a “Baby Program Director,” and, in fact, it changed my life…well, at least the way I chose to live it.

I learned at those early Poe’s, among other things, that one could stay drunk for three days running. Indeed, it was a badge of honor. I learned the proper method of packing a sheet of toilet paper in one’s backside before lighting the other end and streaking the lobby. I learned how to play poker. I met my first hooker…a platonic meeting, of course. I learned to argue my point. I witnessed the famous escalator incident. (There were no more than 20 of us, yet since that time, at least 500 people claim to have been involved.) Most of all, I learned to network with my peers.

It’s not as much fun as it used to be. (Is anything as good as we remember it?) But it staill ain’t half bad.

There were some disturbing signs. The highlight of the convention was MCA’s showing of Jurassic Park. It emptied the lobby on Friday night. The thought of program directors and promotion people leaving the Bobby Poe Convention to see a movie seems somehow out of whack. The fact that so many of the alleged cutting edge programmers hadn’t seen the #1 movie in the country is scary enough. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt: Maybe, in typical radio fashion, they were just waiting for a free showing.

Whatever the case, it ruined a good poker game.

The meetings (the “beady-eyed stuff,” to quote Bobby) actually began on time. That wasn’t fair to those of us who are accustomed to everything running hours late. It wasn’t so long ago that Bobby actually locked the doors to the meeting rooms and declared the bar open at nine in the morning.

The most boring panel? The consultants panel. I know. I hosted it and I almost went to sleep. Benson and Vallie tried to be funny, but it was a tough room. In my conversations with them before the meeting in The Network Forty suite, I became convinced that they (and John Gorman) are committed to putting the flash back in Top 40 radio. However, the panel didn’t sparkle. All I heard was that we should continue to get 20-35 year-old females. Hell, I’ve been trying to do that most of my life!

Almost as boring was the talk by the Arbitron reps. Do these people really believe the drivel they spout? All they proved was that anyone can manipulate “figures” to make their case. At that point, arsenic seemed inviting.

The VP/Promotions panel was the most interesting…that is, when host Michael Ellis would allow subjects other than BDS to be discussed. And that wasn’t often. Was it just me (it probably was) or did Michael sound suspiciously like someone else I’ve criticized in referring to BDS problems being fixed “in the near future” and advances “coming in just a little while?”

I found it interesting that many Promotion VPs are using research data to convince reluctant radio programmers to add their records. It wasn’t long ago that these same people were bemoaning the fact that PDs were citing research to keep many records off their playlists. I hope we, as a business, don’t forget that a record can “sound” good. Let’s not lose our passion for music. If a promotion person can’t tell a PD, “Listen to this song. It sounds like a smash,” then we’re in trouble. “Computer-friendly” cannot become the criteria for a hit song.

The “Programmers’ Hotbox” produced the buzz of the convention. Mark Driscoll used an unfortunate choice of words in describing WPGC. Driscoll was wrong. He has faxed an apology to the industry. But I wonder how many of those who are currently nailing him to the cross have been guilty of similar comments in private? I’ve known Mark for years. He can be justly accused of being many things…a racist isn’t one of them. Instead of vilifying Driscoll, let’s use his mistake as a reminder that stereotypical comments are unacceptable in any form or forum.

The hottest record suite? Sony had it cornered Friday night by turning two meeting rooms into a gambling casino. If you won big, you could swap your chips for Sony products. Atlantic put their suite next door and shared the overflow. Motown raged on Saturday.

The winners? As always, there were many. The Bobby Poe Convention is unique for one reason: Bobby Poe.

He’s been a friend and character to our business for years and years. Right or wrong, he can never be accused of not caring. He is passionate in his beliefs and in his determination to share them with anyone who will listen. We go to the Poe convention because we love Bobby. In two years, it will be the 25th Anniversary Convention.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Satanic Books

6/25/1993

Long ago and far away, an idea was born. Radio, with no knowledge of what the future would bring, fed and nurtured this concept. Little did we know that we were creating a monster. The monster grew to dinosauric proportions until it controlled and threatened our professional lives. Jurassic Park? Nope.

Arbitron.

The fact that radio spends untold millions of dollars each year to continue a methodology that became obsolete years ago boggles the mind. But we do. Asking people to keep a diary to record their radio listening habits is ridiculous. Daring to suggest that the information recorded is even close to accurate is insane. Paying a company to provide this “research” is ridiculously insane.

With the possible exception of meteorologists who seldom get the forecasts right (but do provide some comic relief), is there another example of such a massive waste of money on information that is patently inaccurate? Other than R&R’s Parallel System, none comes to mind. Arbitron will argue that their methodology is the best available.

Bullshit.

Television, which is much more diary-friendly (it’s easier to fill in the blanks when you’re sitting down watching a long program), distrusts this type of research and is expanding their “people meter” data as quickly as possible. The Neilson ratings, which have been constantly criticized for the small sample, at least can guarantee that the people surveyed are actually watching what they sample…or at the very least that the TV is indeed turned on.

But Arbitron’s radio methodology? It’s a crapshoot at best. And you can get much better odds in Las Vegas. The methodology is inept. The sample, however, makes the methodology look positively pristine. How many of your friends have ever been asked to participate in an Arbitron survey? Have you met someone who has been a part of one? Distance yourself from your vocation for a second and think about whether or not you would participate if asked.

Arbitron could better screen their participants by asking one question. Do you have a life? If the answer is no, then they would make the perfect diary recipient.

Let’s just pretend the following “example” is accurate:

Foregoing the difficult screening process Arbitron uses to select participants (“You’ll do it? Oh, thank God.”), let’s say that Mom has agreed to play along. She’s also volunteered for her family. Besides her, there’s Dad, a 20-year-old son who’s home from college, a 17-year-old daughter who is a senior in high school, another daughter who just turned 13 and the grandfather, who is 65.

On Thursday, Mom reminds everyone to fill out their diary. Dad mumbles something about having to make a living and tosses his in the general direction of the trash. Mom, of course, picks it up. She’s pocketed the six dollars already and feels obligated. The son tells anyone who will listen that it is another form of “Big Brother” and an attempt by a sinister government organization to censor his mind. The 17-year-old things it’s cool and can’t wait to tell her friends. The 13-year-old will fill hers out meticulously because it’s the first time in her life anyone has asked her opinion about anything. Grandpa sits down in front of the radio after the family leaves and carefully outlines his listening habits, making many comments in the space provided. The fact that he normally never listens to the radio doesn’t matter. He has nothing else to do and this is like working again. He’s missed that part of his life since his retirement.

Friday comes. Mom and Dad leave for a weekend trip. The diaries remain at home. The son is already out of the mix. The high school senior has dates Friday and Saturday nights and will spend the daytime hours water skiing at the lake. The youngest and the oldest continue to record their listening habits.

The following Thursday, Mom is reminded to return the diaries. She panics. She has forgotten the promise she made the week before. But she already spent the money. And then what happens?

If she works, she probably asks her co-workers what radio station is playing in the office. She then writes in her diary that she listened to that station during her working hours. She asks Dad if he filled his out. He curses and turns on the ballgame. The son is out casing a nearby 7-11 store and his oldest sister is with him. Mom either copies what she’s written in their diaries or (more likely) gives the diaries to the youngest daughter or Grandpa and has them copy their listening habits. Then she mails them back with a clear conscience.

Absurd? Hardly.

Exaggerated? Only a little.

The radio industry (and by association, the record industry) is being held hostage by Arbitron’s methodology. And we compound the mistake by paying them for it.

The fish are in the trees.

If every radio station put the money it spends on Arbitron in a trust account and gave the NAB a mandate to come up with a better system, it could be done simpler, more accurately and cheaper. With that money, we could cross-reference a telephone, diary and personal interview system. Or we could develop an electronic monitoring system. BDS does it for airplay. If that’s an invasion of privacy, we could get the cooperation from households that would allow their homes and cars to be digitized to detect radio listening. Or we could research other avenues that would be even more accurate.

So why don’t we?

Bing!

X-Rated

6/11/1993

There was an interesting article in a recent edition of USA Today. The feature outlined the difficulties facing the advertising community in effectively reaching the new demographic where everybody loves to hate: Generation X.

Putting aside any ill feelings one has for the typical dreck Madison Avenue shoves down our throats, the fact is that radio, like every other business entity in this country, has suddenly come to the realization that (1) many of the 47 million 17-28-year-olds have credit cards and most importantly, (2) they know how to use them. Make no mistake about it: with a spending power of $125 billion, Generation X is the “in” demo cell of the day. So it makes perfect business sense for programmers to curry the “X Factor’s” interest and favor.

The USA Today piece claims that attracting the baby busters is anything but easy, as Madison Avenue is quickly finding out. “There’s no question we ain’t got it right yet,” one ad man admits in the story. “It’s the same mistake advertisers made when they first discovered working women, portraying everyone in a business suit and carrying a briefcase. All of a sudden, Generation X is speaking obnoxiously and wearing a baseball cap turned sideways. Thinking they’re all the same is a deadly mistake.”

What becomes a Generation X’er the most? To reiterate what others have noted in the past, they are a contradictory species. Just as many are unemployed as are on a career track. Some are optimistic; others cynical. Unlike the baby boomers, the X-clan doesn’t believe that they’ll get their share of the American dream. For every B-buster full of rebellion, another one has angst in his/her pants. (The preceding pun courtesy of the Mael room.) Worst of all, generally they hate being stereotyped.

Adds another ad man, “It’s incredibly difficult to get under their radar. They’ve been so saturated with ads that they almost tune out everything. The know they’re being sold to and most want nothing to do with it.” From that, the writer concludes, “It’s no wonder one of X’ers’ favorite musical groups is the Spin Doctors.”

No, we don’t know what that means, either…except to convince us that the USA Today writer knows not of what he reports.

A prime example of advertising missing the boat is the Subaru Impreza TV spot, one that was produced specifically X-rated for the psychographic. The commercial has a hyper, 20-something dweeb favorably comparing the new Impreza to Punk Rock. Just like the way Punk Rock woke up the music scene, he postulates, the Impreza is waking up the doldrums of the car scene. Uh huh. Reportedly, sales of the car are 50% below target.

So the Generation X’ers didn’t like the commercial…who the hell did? Outside of the fact that no one in their right mind would buy dental floss from that guy, let alone a $10,000 car, the whole message is blatantly false. Now we realize that the phrase “truth in advertising” carries as much significance as “military intelligence” and “we’re considering if for next week,” but Impreza Geek would have a more convincing line if he said it was God’s favorite car.

Fact: Punk Rock wasn’t greeted as a refreshing change of pace when it first hit back in the late ’70s. Except for a small, vocal minority, the music business in general and radio in particular hated Punk Rock. The EBS spots got more rotations than all the pre-’80s Punk Rock songs put together. It wasn’t until Nirvana hit that Mainstream radio realized it was safe for Top 40…and only by calling it “Grunge Rock.”

Nevertheless, as a public service, The Network Forty has a few hints in dealing with Generation X, since over half of our staff is that age. But regard these with a few thousand grains of salt. Only half of the half agree that these hints are accurate. The other half…the apathetic and arbitrary ones…either didn’t cared or denied everything. So, some of the do’s could be don’ts to half your listeners…or vice versa.

Liners: The key to remember is that you can’t impress a Gen X’er with boasts of “more music” and “less talk.” Do: “Coming up, one of my favorite new cuts…” But you have to mean it. Don’t: Next up, another 10-in-a-row.” By and large, this audience is interested in specifics, not vague generalities.

Slogan: Above all, an effective GX slogan must exhibit the proper attitude…highly suspicious and very anti-cutesy. GX doesn’t mind being dissed if it’s done with a certain amount of class. Do: “WGNX, The Sound of One Ear Listening.” Don’t: “WGNX, Eat Shit and Die.” A bit too much.

Air Personalities: This is the easiest to figure. As Impreza Putz vividly illustrated, you can’t be the hyper, uptempo, weasel heard on many stations after dark. On the other hand, the cut-but-teasing, naughty-but-nice, won’t-you-be-my-neighbor mid-day jock won’t fly either. Above all, the talent must be into the music. They have to be knowledgeable. The audience will quickly know if they aren’t and will tune them out. However, if they connect, they’ll be there constantly. Do: “I’ve got free tickets to see Pearl Jam and I’ll sell them to the 3rd caller.” Don’t: “I have free tickets to see Pearl Jam and I hear she sings real good.”

Mix Shows: In this case, it’s not how the songs are mixed, it’s how they’re edited that counts. Some great music will alienate the GX listener, so some major revisions are in order. Do: Re-edit the Who’s “My Generation” so Roger Daltrey sings, “I hope you die before I get old.” Don’t: Play anything that’s a House or Dance Mix, unless you’ve learned the art of scratching CDs.

Contesting: A GX listener would rather masturbate with a cheese grater than participate in a “53rd caller wins tickets” ploy. Also remember, this generation can read and write. They will participate heavily in “write in” contests as long as you ask them their opinion, not just their name on a postcard or fax. A savvy promo whiz has to consider their individualistic, distrustful nature in staging events. Do it for a cause, not just to win a prize. Helpful hint: Anything related to ecology will work big. Do: a promotion where the winners get to have their favorite trees planted at their house or in front of their apartment. Don’t: Boast that all the drummers who play on the records you broadcast use drumsticks made from trees that died a natural death.

That’s just a few ideas that may or may not work. This generation makes us think. Interestingly enough, they are ever-changing and they will not fall for the same old same old. Innovation, thought and genuine care will produce a bonanza. What’s out today may very well be in tomorrow, so don’t throw anything away. Tomorrow, you may well ue it for the landfills of their minds.

“Bell-bottom blues, you made me cry…”

How Long?

5/21/1993

How long will we as an industry continue to subscribe to an outdated system of measuring the success of our product? The radio and recording industries are made up of some of the brightest and most innovative thinkers in the world. Yet in this instance, we continue to be the dog wagged by the tail.

The recording industry is driven by hit records. Whether or not a song is a hit is ultimately measured by sales. Although different influences are now combining to move CDs and tapes (see the current article in “Radio & Retail in this issue), the primary force behind selling records has been and continues to be radio airplay. How long will th e recording industry continue to spend millions of dollars promoting records in markets that won’t sell 10 copies?

How long will record companies allow R&R to dictate what radio stations are important? Since record companies will show profits or losses based on their ability to move product, should they participate in deciding who’s important? We need some sort of measurement to plot the success of specific records. But this plotting must be based on some measure of reality…not a vague gauge made up to fit within the parameters of a magazine.

How long will the record industry allow a trade magazine to dictate the parameters? Isn’t a trade magazine’s responsibility to accurately reflect and report the facts? Only tabloid journalists make up facts to fit a story. R&R’s tabloid charts reflect a record’s success about as much as Arbitron accurately reflects radio listeners. We know they’re bogus, yet we as an industry continue to accept their results and pay for them.

R&R’s charts do not accurately reflect the success of a record. They do not accurately reflect airplay. They don’t reflect sales.

R&R’s sample base does not even pretend to be scientific. No one can explain why certain radio stations are included in the sample base and others aren’t. God bless his pointed little head, not even Joel can do that.

The Network Forty includes all radio stations that fit the format criteria. All. And why not? If you are a Mainstream Top 40 radio station and we are dedicated to reflecting Mainstream Top 40, we want the information. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that the larger the sample, the more accurate the research. We also weigh each station according to total possible detections. A reporter in New York will get a heavier weighting than one in Butte, but both reports will be accepted…gladly. R&R could do the same. But it doesn’t.

In addition to The Chart, which we look at as a program director’s prediction of music popularity based on anticipated airplay, sales and requests for the upcoming week, we also compile The Network Forty’s exclusive Plays Per Week Chart and regional breakdowns. What is the PPW Chart? As a medium market program director explained to his RCA rep last week, “It’s BDS for the rest of us.” From reporting stations’ computer-driven music software, The Network Forty compiles a listing of the number of times each record is played during the past week. We exhibit these two charts side by side so you can immediately compare our “projected” chart with an actual compilation of the past week’s airplay.

To compile these two charts, it’s more costly and time consuming for both us and the participating radio stations. We want accurate information. R&R obviously doesn’t care about accurate information…and why should they? They’ve been calling the shots for years now…but they may be running out of bullets.

Is our PPW chart as accurate as BDS? Yes. Compare the charts in the limited number of BDS markets. The results are almost exactly the same. The Network Forty PPW chart may reflect a slightly higher number of detections for titles that were occasionally dropped from actual airplay because of time restraints. The same can be said of the BDS computers that credit airplay from songs used in promos.

And the PPW chart is the only chart reflecting airplay in the many markets not served by BDS.

Is it possible for a program director to manipulate music software to show bogus information? Of course. But it’s complicated and time consuming. If he will go to that much trouble, he’ll also play songs six times during overnights to boost the BDS play. Dishonest people will find a way to manipulate any source of information.

There are only two accurate gauges of actual airplay: BDS and the exclusive Network Forty PPW. If we as an industry are interested in accurate, reflective information, why to we continue to “play the game” with R&R? There is no longer a reason.

How long will this bullshit go on?