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FORMAT X-RAY: AN AC MUSIC SCHEDULING ANALYSIS (2)

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

Looking for ways to get your target audience to tune in more often and listen longer? Give them a better sense of your station’s sound.

Our ‘Format X-Ray’ of an AC station might give you ideas to optimize your music. Thoughtful category setups and smart format designs can greatly improve your logs and further enhance your flow to then increase your tune-in occasions and expand your Time Spent Listening. So, let’s have a look at rotations & clocks!

‘PLAY THE HITS; NOT MAKE THE HITS’

AC is trend following; not trend setting in terms of playlist adds (image: Island Records)

AC is trend following; not trend setting in terms of playlist adds (image: Island Records)

ANALYZE YOUR MUSIC MARKET

Before we can analyze this station in terms of music category sequence, we have to know which songs are in which category. We can get an idea of tracks rotating frequently (and therefore currents or recurrents) by counting how often a song appears in a day. There are several airplay monitor tools out there, but we did this exercise manually. Apart from taking notes from a three-hour recording, we relied on the station’s website, which allows users to enter a certain time to see which songs played around that time.

The site didn’t show which songs (if any) were played between midnight and 4 a.m., and also the final half hour of that day (between 11:30 and midnight) wasn’t available for this analysis. But we do have a nice 19.5 hours of music data available, which is sufficient to analyze song rotations within high-rotating categories on a basic level. If you don’t have an airplay monitor service (or would like to check its accuracy), you can apply this method to track competing stations on a regular basis, which is relatively easy if the website shows you the full playback history.

SEE YOUR COMPETITOR’S ROTATIONS

The following downloadable spreadsheets (in PDF format) will show you all songs played during these 19.5 hours, sorted in different ways for different purposes, so we can easily identify the most-frequently played songs on the station:

PLAY YOUR ‘CURRENTS’ LONGER

The ‘Possible categories 2 overview’ includes 12 songs that played four or five times during the 19.5 monitored hours. Even if this is a limited sample, it’s likely that they were rotating at least three and possibly up to 12 (although that seems like a lot) Power Currents at the time. It’s indicated by three titles scheduled five times, and nine titles scheduled four times. Some of these nine tracks might have been scheduled one more time (during the 4.5-hour ‘blind spot’). The songs that were played two or three times during those 19.5 hours can, for now, be classified as Secondary Currents or New Songs, depending on their release date.

Obviously, AC stations usually play the hits; not make the hits. Adult Contemporary formats will often add currents later (and often play them longer) than the average CHR or Hot AC would do. An example is I Took a Pill in Ibiza by Mike Posner, which came out in July 2015, but still aired at least four times that day – therefore an apparent Power Current for this AC station, even if it was over a year old when we made this aircheck (Nov. 2016). So, we can now categorize songs that played two or three times a day like this:

New Songs: released during Sept., Oct., & Nov. of 2016 Secondary Currents: released in 2016 or in the second half of 2015

Power Recurrents: released in 2014 or in the first half of 2015

Power Golds: released in 2013 or earlier

‘THE CATEGORY RATIO SHOULD BE EQUAL FROM HOUR TO HOUR’

This category order & ratio could be more consistent (image: Thomas Giger)

This category order & ratio could be more consistent (image: Thomas Giger)

STRENGTHEN YOUR MUSIC POWER

As you see in the ‘Possible categories (sorted by release)’ tab, focusing on tracks from 2013 or earlier, five songs that would usually be a Power Gold are getting the same amount of plays as four songs that would normally be a Power Recurrent. Even if Sportfreunde Stiller’s Applaus, Applaus (German hit song) and Bastille’s Pompeii, both from the first half of 2013, would still be running as Power Recurrents, you’d expect both Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and the two Sunrise Avenue songs on the list — especially their Fairytale Gone Bad from 2006 — to be Power Golds, right?

That Fairytale Gone Bad was played at least twice that day — as much as, for example, Ed Sheeran’s Photograph from 2015 — which could indicate that this station (temporarily) brought back some Power Gold songs as Power Recurrent titles to automatically increase their rotation. Maybe they couldn’t find enough Power Recurrents based on research, and therefore added top-testing Power Golds to the Power Recurrent category? It’s a nice idea, but it diffuses the desired clarity of ‘one theme per category’ and the listener’s (subconscious) natural distinction between songs that are just a few years old and (that therefore play more often than) songs that are older.

VISUALIZE YOUR CATEGORY SEQUENCE

Of course, it could be a coincidence. The music director may have used the extra Viva la Vida, Fairytale Gone Bad and Hollywood Hills tracks to manually replace other titles on the music log for a certain reason, and may have missed or disregarded that these songs were already scheduled elsewhere on that day. Or the scheduling software may have done it for some reason, like bypassing a ‘breakable’ rule?

In any case, we now have a global picture of which songs are likely to be Power Currents, Secondary Currents / New Songs, Power Recurrents, and Power Golds / Power Recurrents, which enables us to analyze this AC station’s music format on a basic level. Getting back to our three-hour aircheck, we can now assign possible music categories to every song played. Again, as we have monitored a single broadcast day, based on 19.5 hours of data, and as we don’t exactly know if these songs are actually in those categories, it’s an indication. But we’ll still get a pretty good insight into this station’s music exposure:

MAKE YOUR FORMAT CONSISTENT

It looks like each of these hours is built in a different way. While it’s okay to have some variety, making a format less predictable, you always want to follow balanced patterns that reflect your entire music format. In other words, while the category order may be slightly different from hour to hour, the category ratio should be basically equal from clock to clock. An improvement could be a better balance of older & newer songs, which now seems off with five versus six versus seven Golds played an hour.

Power Currents and Secondary Recurrents are balanced pretty well, but while Hour 1 and Hour 3 include as much as two Secondary Currents, there are none of those in Hour 2. That hour features a New Current, while the other two hours don’t include one (although it’s perfectly fine for an AC station to schedule an ‘unfamiliar song’ category every other hour; not every hour). Finally, there’s no Power Recurrent in Hour 3 versus Hour 1 and Hour 2. The category order can be better, too, as we see several older (or several newer) songs scheduled back to back on multiple occasions. So there’s a need for more balance and more consistency. Here’s one way to achieve it:

‘THE BEST MIX OF YESTERDAY AND TODAY’

This format could be a good base for this AC station (format & image: Thomas Giger)

This format could be a good base for this AC station (format & image: Thomas Giger)

STREAMLINE YOUR MUSIC CLOCK

The above format example includes what I call a RhythmicRatio™. In this case, older vs. newer songs (classic, contemporary — classic, contemporary) to communicate to listeners the essence of the format, like ‘the best mix of yesterday and today’ or ‘yesterday’s hits and today’s favourites’ (to quote frequently used format positioners). Even though recurrents may be up to a few years old, they’re included on the ‘contemporary’ side of the RhythmicRatio™ flow, as it creates a distinctive contrast with the ‘classic’ part of the music library.

By including only two Power Currents an hour (but with fewer songs in that category than we found in the analysis) and two Secondary Currents an hour (with more songs in that category), there should be an greater feeling of passion for the hottest currents thanks to greater distinction with other currents. The same solution has been applied to each hour’s Power Recurrent slot and Secondary Recurrent slot. New Current is placed in the middle of the hour as it’s now embedded in familiar songs — in this case, two Golds (of which at least one should be a Power Gold).

ROTATE YOUR FORMAT CLOCKS

Note that in one of the hours, one Secondary Current has been replaced by a New Current. Hours 1 & 2 are now based on one basic clock; hours 3 & 4 on another basic clock (where positions of Power Currents and Power Recurrents have been switched). It will help ensure songs from high-rotating categories don’t end up in the same slots within the hour, which would make logs too predictable over time.

A great way to increase this ‘shuffle effect’ is rotating your music clocks across the days of a week or ideally multiple weeks, as explained in previous articles on using format clock grids to rotate hot clocks. I hope this post will give you good ideas to further tweak the music format of your own (Adult Contemporary) station. We’ll do more Format X-Rays in the future. Let us know which format you’d love to have examined next!

(In this straightforward exposure of strengths & weaknesses, the station, show & presenter names, as well as the air check recordings, are not included for respectful discretion towards the radio professionals involved.)

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.