You know how I've been grumbling about the utter lack of variety, innovation, and trust in the intelligence of the listeners among radio stations? Well, via Michael Croft, it appears that hope is on the way.
The sleek electronic device pictured on Q101's Web site looks an awful lot like an mp3 player.
Then there's the station's new slogan, "Now on shuffle."
WKQX-FM 101.1--Q101--is one of hundreds of stations across the country expanding its playlist and format to survive new media's attack on radio. Digital music players, satellite radio services and Internet radio stations offer listeners more music variety with few, if any, commercials, and radio execs are realizing that spinning the same hits over and over--industry practice for the last 20 years--isn't so appealing anymore.
Mike Stern, vice president of programming for Emmis Radio Chicago, said changing media habits demand a new approach for radio. "With an iPod in their hands, people are getting used to having a huge variety," Stern said.
Beginning this month, the Emmis Communications station adjusted its format and started rotating 1,000 to 1,200 different songs, up from around 200.
The music genre is still alternative modern rock, only now instead of playing hits from just the past few years, Q101 also is drawing on hits from the late '70s and everything in between, from the Ramones to Depeche Mode to Nirvana to Linkin Park and Audioslave.
"These are songs that are familiar. When listeners ask for more variety, radio has answered by going deeper, but we're spreading widthwise," Stern said.
Why the sudden popularity of variety after the longtime success of targeting? For the last 20 years, the dominant radio programming theory held that stations should play a few hundred songs over and over to attract and keep a specific core audience.
People today are desperate for change and diversity, said Mike Henry, chief executive of Paragon Media Strategies and a consultant who helped developed the breakout format known as "Jack," which plays hits across different genres from classic rock to hip-hop to country. That might mean playing Madonna next to Led Zeppelin next to John Mayer next to Alicia Keyes next to Franz Ferdinand.
"The Jack formula has worked and defied radio wisdom because it appeals to a pent-up demand that has grown and grown as radio has delivered narrower and narrower content," Henry said. "A lot of people want to be surprised, they want variety."
Local hip-hop and R&B station WGCI-FM 107.5 sticks to the well-proven formula: a narrow selection of songs that resonate with listeners.
"People don't stand next to the radio 24 hours a day. You need to play hit songs as often as possible because people punch in and punch out," said Elroy Smith, WGCI operations manager and program director.
WGCI's active playlist includes about 300 songs that, depending on popularity, can get upwards of 50 spins a week.
Listeners may say they want variety, but they like the hits, and typically the most narrow stations are the most successful, said Rod Phillips, program director of Kiss FM 103.5, which plays 100 different songs a week.
"Who are they going after? There's not a playlist that men and women 18 to 34 will both like." Phillips said. "This all things to all people is hard to pull off."
Variety isn't a new concept, and in some forms it seems to work.
Look, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with tight-format stations, or that the iPod model of radio programming is some kind of New Paradigm that will Change Everything. I'm just saying what I've been saying all along - that there is an audience for this sort of thing, and that a radio programmer with a bit of vision can have a profitable station by catering to it. Will Ken Charles or someone like him have the guts to focus group this concept and see what can be done with it? One can only hope.Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 12, 2005 to Music | TrackBack