Charlie Cook On-Air

Charlie Cook

The R Word

I know many of you as I have been in this business for 40 years. All of my business life has been in radio and most of it in Country Music. I lived in Nashville in the mid and late ’80s but have been coming to town since the mid ’70s for the Country Radio Seminar.

I am currently on the board of both the ACM and the CMA. I was chairman and president of the ACM in the old days and served on the CRB board for over 20 years. I was president of the CRB for a year or two during that span.

Today I am Director of Programming and Brand Management for West Virginia Radio Corp, based in Morgantown, WV and president of McVay/Cook and Associates a media consulting company based in Cleveland. I live in Morgantown and pay property taxes in California. That’s for another article.

This introduction is to lay out some credentials as David Ross has asked me to write a weekly column for MusicRow and I am most often going to come at it from my perspective of being from the radio community.

Hanging out as much as I do with record employees, and others making their living in Country Music I can feel the boos rising from Nashville. I don’t think that the two industries are at cross purposes, but we have some things that should be addressed with a blunt force. I trust that David knows what he is getting into with me as a contributor. I am closer to the end of my career than the beginning of my work life. I am not looking for a job. I have enough friends and I will say what I believe to be true.

I also understand that many others will have a different, very worthwhile opinion. I hope that we can all listen and maybe even change…not our stand on things, but our rigidity towards the other side.

I will talk about things that impact the record, publishing, production and promotion community from the radio side. I want to explore playlist size, PPM (a new system for measuring the radio audience in the top 48 markets), promotion for play, research and many other things that make our jobs easier and harder at the same time.

The R Word
I would like to start off today with the R word. I hear from record promotion staffers (I suspect that this is coming from higher up the chain) that research is the devil’s tool. It is only evil when it presents an excuse for radio to not play or stop playing one of their songs. John Hart is the most popular guy in town when the information is positive. Research cuts both ways and it is only as credible as the source. It is also only as credible as the question asked.

Many music research projects are done in a vacuum. Listeners should be informed why the information is being collected. If you ask a person, “do you like chocolate?” you’re going to get on answer based on how they feel right now about chocolate. If you ask them, “do you like chocolate more than vanilla to the conclusion of not having vanilla for the next ten weeks?” you might get a completely different answer.

“I am going to play you the new Dudley Doofus song. Please tell me, on a scale of one to five how much you like the song.” This is a very different question than, “in the context of the radio station you listen to everyday, how would you rate this Dudley Doofus song? Would you like to hear it more or less than your current favorite song on the radio?”

Let’s get back to my first comment about giving something back to the listener. Giving them more of what they like is all about understanding what makes them gravitate to a specific radio station and a particular artist.

In Nashville you have three radio stations that play current-based Country Music. The top songs are all the same across these three music stations. I can tell you the one station in that mix who is doing some music research. It is WSM-FM. I can tell by the difference in the songs once you get below the top tunes.

You know that there is more than just music in the mix on successful radio stations. If, as I contend, WSM-FM is researching their music, how come they are not the number one Country station in town? Well, they are still trying to find their footing with their morning show. They have been many different things over the years. Live 95, 95 the Wolf and now WSM-FM. The listener knows that 95.5 plays Country Music, but what is happening around the music is less defined.

The company has been successful in Dallas and Indianapolis with their Country products, where they get the morning shows right. Both of these stations have had long time images, built by another company and not tinkered with (outside of personnel) by the parent company. I know that research has driven those decisions.

Asking the listener, understanding the listener and delivering the goods, based on that, will win. Everytime.


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