Charlie Cook On Air

A Kinder, Gentler Ratings Period

This is a very important time of the year for smaller market radio stations. We have already talked about the top 48 markets being measured for 13 months a year (only Arbitron has figured out how to charge a monthly fee 13 times).

This year Arbitron measures medium and smaller markets from September 15-December 7. Radio stations do things during this 12 week period (and another 12 weeks in the Spring) that they don’t do during the Summer or other non-rated periods.

Often stations tighten down on the music that they play, believing that listeners actually make choices based on familiar/favorite music. How dare those programmers mess with Scott Borchetta’s marketing plan.

Considering so many in the record industry spent their formative years on radio I am surprised that they don’t understand this programming anxiety and cut radio some slack. What the heck are the record folks thinking releasing new music in the last quarter of the year, knowing that radio is locked in a battle for their ratings life?

Okay, I hope that you get the point. From now to the end of the year is VERY important to both sides of the business. Records has to get the new music exposed to take advantage of the Christmas buying season. I don’t know what percentage of their budget is hit from now through New Year’s Day (don’t forget gift cards). I’m sure that bonuses are on the line. But I can tell you that 50-60% of a small to medium market radio station’s success is set in the next month or two.

So what can the two industries do to make sure both have success? Can we strive to be kinder and gentler for the next couple of months?

Music Row is meeting radio more than halfway. With CD releases from Lady A, George Strait, Martina and Dierks this Fall and with new product from newcomers like Luke Bryan and Eric Church creating a lot of excitement we should all be excited about our fortunes.

Add to this the CMA Awards show right in the middle of the radio rating period and we have a lot to talk and be eager about. Let’s make sure that we get the record buyers and the radio listeners enthusiastic too.

We can do that by working together for the greater good. How about both sides pulling out music-based promotions this rating period? I am not a fan of radio stations giving away CDs or downloads. I know that it is an easy deal to pull off. Record companies get way more promotion for each give away than they could pay for. A $15 CD gets promotional time, solicit time and delivery time, and the radio station gets “free” stuff to give away.

The problem: this is a zero sum game.

If you were in the focus group panel during CRS 2011, I asked a participant who had won a Reba CD from her favorite radio station what she did with that CD. She told us that she took it to her car and listened over and over to it on the way to and from work. Presumably this is time she would have been listening to her favorite radio station.

Not the end of the world in an Arbitron diary rated market—people list “top of mind” listening habits more than anything—but in PPM markets that listening is like an empty seat on Delta. Once it’s in the air you are never getting the revenue back. Once that quarter hour ticks to the next you lost audience, and likely from an active listener who spends a great deal of time with your station.

But what other things can you do? How about autographed material from the artists? Pictures? Once at an auction I bought a script for the TV show Adventures of Superman. I don’t know why, but I did. You know what would be cool to win? An autographed lyric sheet from a hit song. A phone call from Luke Bryan. Heck, I know he would do that. He is a great guy and he loves to talk to his fans. We’re close to 2012. Why not do a down and dirty station calendar that lists the top songs of the year so far? Just a one sheet that can be traded out. Get the okay to include some pictures and I can guarantee you that it will land on the refrigerator for 2012, with your call letters and pictures of their favorites.

Let’s get creative this quarter and make everyone a winner.

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