by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com
Does your music format reflect your station’s USP, turning listeners into brand devotees by consistently meeting positive expectations?
The essence of radio programming might be ‘saying what you do’ while ‘doing what you say’; each & every time someone tunes in. The more stations in your market, the more essential your distinction (and the more segmented your approach). Some inspiration to give your brand an exclusive music image — and to be consistent in doing so!
‘All (power) songs in every batch should receive enough exposure before going inactive’
It’s an important aspect of platooning parts of your music library (image: 123RF / Cougarsan )
1. Diﬀerentiate your library deliberately
If you have a direct (or close) competitor in terms of music format and/or audience demographic, create a distinct sound profile, also through music scheduling; starting with your playlist. When conducting your mapping studies, auditorium music tests and callout music research, you’ll likely identify songs that your competition also spins. Play all power songs for your target demo that fit your format core, but test — and, if eligible, play — some (secondary) songs that your rivals are leaving out, and leave out some (secondary) songs that your opponents do play.
When your format includes currents, it’s even easier to create a distinct music profile, because of the higher rotation (more exposure) compared to recurrents & classics. How quickly your station adds new music compared to other stations can position you as an early adopter / trend setting / more progressive vs. a late adopter / trend following / more conservative brand. So when your format competitor has a slightly ‘older’ image, you may benefit by positioning yourself as a bit ‘younger’ station by (spinning a bit more current music and/or) adding new songs a bit sooner, conveying a greater sense of being up to date.
2. Separate your categories clearly
Speaking of new music; keeping these unfamiliar songs apart from familiar currents, recurrents & classics can help you achieve your desired familiarity level in every program hour. Power Current and Secondary Current categories should never include brand new releases. That would create format diﬀusion and familiarity imbalance, as some of your logs would include a smaller amount of familiar music compared to others. Fresh tracks belong into a New Music category, and its position within your clocks should be kept apart from your Power & Secondary Current slots, allowing you to reach a consistent ratio of new vs. established music for your station.
You also want consistent popularity (‘power’) ratios in any given hour. Something like a Stay Current category (for songs that are in between their current vs. recurrent cycles) requires proper maintenance, or it can quickly deteriorate your music logs. Check on a frequent and regular basis which songs still qualify to be played now, and eventually which songs should be moved to your Power Recurrent or Secondary Recurrent list or should be (temporarily or permanently) switched to ‘inactive’. Remove any song that doesn’t qualify any longer to keep playing nothing but strong music for your audience. Start cleaning up your highest-rotating; most-exposed categories.
3. Platoon your playlist equally
An image of ‘sounding fresh’ doesn’t only depend on playing a decent amount of current music; it can also come from regularly platooning a certain part of your playlist; switching a batch of active songs to ‘temporarily inactive’ (while switching an equal batch of inactive songs back to ‘active’), which is usually done with back catalogues of recurrents & classics. Platooning is a fantastic tool to achieve a sense of “wow… I haven’t heard that song in a long time!”. Which categories and which percentage of those you’ll platoon with which frequency depends on several factors, like your overall format and individual rotations.
Within a current-based format, your New Music, Secondary Current, Power Current and Stay Current cycle will be dynamic enough, so you could platoon 1/3rd of your (Power Recurrent and) Secondary Recurrent list every 2-4 weeks. Slower-rotating categories, such as (Power Gold and) Secondary Gold, could be platooned every 2-4 months. All (power) songs in every batch should receive enough exposure before going inactive. Also, rather platoon similar groups of songs within each category (e.g. not a huge group of up-tempo songs in one batch, and then a large collective of slow-tempo songs in another batch) to maintain your music images.
‘Include rules that diﬀerentiate your format from others’
Any music genres associated with your competition should be scheduled carefully (image: 123RF / Alexander Bedrin)
4. Code your songs consistently
You can also achieve clear music positions through consistent sound codes. Think of audience expectations (based on listening experience and brand image) of your station and of your rivals. Ask yourself (and do research to find out) which music genres and sound types are expected from you, and which ones are attributed to others — when building your database as well as coding all titles. Any sounds that are more attributed to competitors should be left out or (when they test well, and are compatible with the rest of your format’s music cluster) should be considered as ‘extremes’ within your playlist and therefore spread out, using code-based separation rules.
Let single person code your entire library to be consistent, and code songs one by one; one aspect at a time to stay focused. Example: first code the genre of every song; then the tempo of every song; etc., rather than all aspects of one song; then all aspects of another song. Never use existing sound codes from external music libraries; always recode it for your local situation. Also recode your library every 6-12 months or every 3-6 months when you’re contemporary-based, as music tastes, song perceptions and market situations are changing all the time! For example, a song that may feel like ‘extreme’ now, might be accepted as ‘mainstream’ in a year from now.
5. Implement your rules strategically
Use scheduling rules that diﬀerentiate your format from others. When your competition has a strong position for Soft Pop, while you have a strong image for Mainstream Pop, then any Soft Pop work on your playlist is a deviation from your format core and should be scheduled carefully. You want to avoid two Soft Pop titles being scheduled back to back, and let a Soft Pop song be followed by two or three Mainstream Pop tracks— ideally also covering multiple (sub) genres of Mainstream Pop for music variety along the way. In this example, you may also deliberately add most of your Soft Pop songs to your secondary rotations (instead of to your power categories).
While you want to oﬀer your audience variety in tempo, gender, energy, texture, and what not, you may need to focus on a couple of criteria that are essential and/or that are diﬀerentiating for your format, positioning your station against others by building your music image. Communicate your core format clearly, every time a listener tunes in, and deliver your music promise all the time.
When you’re a CHR, you want variety; not sound like an Urban-driven Rhythmic CHR during one half hour, and then like a Pop/Rock-intensive Hot AC during another half hour. Take the 10-minute test to see how your station is servicing the average PPM panelist or diary keeper with consistent balance of all genres within your format, or if you can still tweak your scheduling rules a bit.
Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.