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DOES YOUR MUSIC FORMAT PASS THE 10-MINUTE TEST?


by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

As radio audiences listen in fragments, we as programmers rethink our strategy. Does your format clock pass the 10-minute test?

PPM research shows that across all radio formats & markets in the US, the average listening occasion is 9-10 minutes. This indicates that the often-used 20-minute rule for music scheduling is up for a redefinition. You therefore might want to reflect your entire music format during every 10 minutes; not 20. Here are some ideas to get you started.

‘EACH TYPE OF PLAYER HAS A FIXED POSITION’

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Fixed positions in your format clock for general segments of your music library let you alternately rotate category sublevels for recognisable exposure of your entire format (image: Flickr / Jon Candy)

SEE RESEARCH IN PERSPECTIVE

Considering people usually listen for only 10 minutes per tune-in occasion, we can re-write the traditional radio programming playbook, while keeping in mind that this idea is based on US data, so it doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere. In Europe, the average Time Spent Listening is much higher. Then again, ratings in many European markets are based upon dairy, and Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing — all driven by recall and influenced by ’top of mindness’ — so

the perceived (long) listening time may be different from the actual (shorter) listening time.

GIVE LISTENERS INSTANT GRATIFICATION

Even though you always base your programming strategy on custom research data for your unique market, it’s a universal fact that people listen in shorter increments than we assumed in the pre-PPM age. People will flip a lot between stations that they have top of mind (so branding still matters in PPM, as you wish to maintain or improve that position). Knowing that average TSL and attention spans are relatively short, no matter what the market, makes it even more important to fulfil listener expectations — every single time people tune in.

BUNDLE SIMILAR CATEGORIES TOGETHER

We can now apply this principle to music scheduling. For example, when your music format sequence includes 8 different categories, you can let similar categories alternately appear on the same basic position in the format clock. It’s like a soccer team where each type of player has a fixed position. If the coach substitutes individual players for others, the team construction

and game strategy remain the same. Now, we can take the classic 20-minute rule — reflecting your entire music format in any 20-minute segment — to what I’ll call the 10-minute rule.

‘LOOK AT YOUR FORMAT FROM AN AUDIENCE PERSPECTIVE’

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Basic music categories that listeners will perceive, are ‘older songs’ versus ‘newer songs’, so you could create your music format based on those category groups (image: Thomas Giger)

SPLIT YOUR MUSIC LIBRARY

If you’re programming a Modern AC aimed at 20-40 year-olds, you’ll probably want your music library to go back no further than 30 years ago (when a 40-year old person was 10 years young),

and sound fresh by focusing on the newer segment that goes back no further than 20 years from today (when a now 30-year old person, who might be your defined core target listener, was 10). Another (or an additional) way to create a young image is playing at least 50% currents & recurrents, and no more than 50% classics. Here’s an example of a possible category setup:

Current (e.g. 2019)

C 1 – Power: the most popular current songs right now C 2 – Secondary: current songs on their way up or down

(You may wish to split songs on their way up vs. down, and also add a category for new music, which we’ll both demonstrate in our second example. For this first case, we’ll stick to the above two levels, in order to keep it simple.)

Recurrent (e.g. 2018-2019) R 1 – Power

R 2 – Secondary

Classic Recent (e.g. 2004-2017) A 1 – Power

A 2 – Secondary

Classic Older (e.g. 1990-2003) B 1 – Power

B 2 – Secondary

THINK LIKE A LISTENER

Having 8 active and equally appearing music categories like these seems like way too much to cover the entire format in a 20-minute sweep, because 8 x 3.5 minutes per average song = 28 minutes. If we would edit our songs down to 3 minutes each, that would still be 8 x 3 minutes = 24 minutes, and that’s without commercials! Luckily, there’s an easy solution. It all comes down to how your listeners perceive the songs on your station – so when you determine which song

categories are essential, just look at your format from an audience perspective.

USE 2-POSITION AC CLOCKS

What listeners will distinguish the most, are currents & recurrents vs. recent & older classics. Therefore, we basically only need 2 main positions in our Modern AC format clock – even if it’s

actually filled by no less than 8 different music categories:

  1. ‘Older songs’ – alternately A (1, 2) and B (1, 2)
  2. ‘Newer songs’ – alternately C (1, 2) and R (1, 2)

These 2 basic positions easily fit into the average 10-minute listening occasion, as 2 x 3.5 minutes per average song = 7 minutes. Now, let’s build a format clock based on that!

‘DIFFERENTIATE SECONDARY AND TERTIARY CURRENTS’

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A Modern AC music format including currents, recurrents and classics, with a format clock for music-intensive hours consisting of 16 songs and 2 short breaks (format & image: Thomas Giger)

CONSIDER 2:3 POWER/SECONDARY RATIO

Let’s assume that our Modern AC format should be a 50/50 mix of older and current music, and

that we’re in a very competitive market where we wish to play at least 66% (best-testing) power songs (so every secondary record is followed by two power songs), then one of the format clocks of our ‘station on steroids’ could look like this:

B 1 – Power Classic Older

C 2 – Secondary Current

A 1 – Power Classic Recent

R 1 – Power Recurrent

B 2 – Secondary Classic Older

C 1 – Power Current

A 1 – Power Classic Recent

R 2 – Secondary Recurrent

B 1 – Power Classic Older

C 1 – Power Current

A 2 – Secondary Classic Recent

R 1 – Power Recurrent

B 1 – Power Classic Older C 2 – Secondary Current A 1 – Power Classic Recent R 1 – Power Recurrent

SEPARATE INCREASING & DECREASING CURRENTS

Let’s look at one more case. What if you have a CHR format, which is based on current hits and

some new songs, plus and a back catalogue of recurrents? You can split non-Power Currents into 2 subcategories: Secondary for songs on their way up vs. Tertiary for songs on their way down, according to music research (like call-outs). And when we decide to, say, play songs that are maximum 2 years old with a focus on songs that are less than 1 year old, we could split our recurrents into more recent vs. less recent. Based on this, our music categories could be:

New

N – New (unfamiliar songs, even though the artist might be familiar)

Current

C 1 – Power: the most popular hits

C 2 – Secondary: hits on the way up (increasing popularity, but low burn)

C 3 – Tertiary: hits on the way down (very familiar, but increasing burn)

Recurrent

R 1 – Power Recent (less than 1 year old)

R 2 – Secondary Recent (less than 1 year old) R 3 – Power Older (1-2 years old)

R 4 – Secondary Older (1-2 years old)

SANDWICH UNFAMILIAR & FAMILIAR SONGS

Why don’t we simply include new (N) songs in our tertiary currents (C 3) category? Because even within Top 40, playing unfamiliar music is a bit of a risk. We want to schedule an unfamiliar song in between two familiar ones, and put a (relatively) burned song in between two popular ones. It therefore makes sense to differentiate secondary and tertiary currents; separate currents that are in their adoption vs. their decline phase.

‘50% (OR MORE) OF YOUR LOG SHOULD FEATURE BEST-TESTING SONGS’

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CHR music format, consisting of currents, recurrents and new music, with a program clock for a music-driven show that has room for 16 songs and 2 short (news & service and/or commercial) stopsets (format & image: Thomas Giger)

USE 3-POSITION CHR CLOCKS

A Contemporary Hit Radio audience will often be able to distinguish (unfamiliar) new music from (familiar) chart hits, and current categories from (even more familiar) older songs. Based on this, we could work with 3 main positions in our CHR format clock:

  1. ‘New songs’ – N
  2. ‘Hit songs’ – alternately C 1, 2 & 3
  3. ‘Older songs’ – alternately R 1, 2, 3 & 4

These 3 basic positions almost fit into the average 10-minute listening occasion, as 3 x 3.5 minute per average song = 10.5 minutes. Even if a listener would tune-in for only 9 consecutive minutes, chances are that he or she will hear at least one entire song and a good portion of the two adjacent songs (unless you’re in commercials during that time). Now… how could this CHR  format clock look like?

PLAY MINIMUM 50% POWERS

If you claim to be [Market]’s #1 Hit Music Station, or something along those lines, you’ll want to make sure that every second song is either a current hit or a recent hit. Ideally, 50% (or more) of your log should feature best-testing songs. Let’s assume we’re the only CHR in the market and there’s not a crossover station (like Hot AC) that’s bothering us, so that this minimum percentage

is usually sufficient, then one of the format clocks could look like this:

R 1 – Power Recurrent Recent

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

C 1 – Power Current

C 2 – Secondary Current

R 3 – Power Recurrent Older

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

C 1 – Power Current

C 2 – Secondary Current

R 2 – Secondary Recurrent Recent

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

BUILD IMAGE, CUME & P1s

I hope these cases of a Modern AC and CHR format have inspired you to increase your audience loyalty with every tune-in occasion by creating and consistently fulfilling listener expectations. A 10-minute basic category sequence that meets the duration of the average listening occasion of 9-10 minutes will support your image, build your cume, and may even convert some of your P2 listeners into new P1 fans, as their love for your station grows once they’ll like what they’re hearing and get what they expect (every time, whenever they tune in).

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.