Thursday, September 10, 2009

N.Y., L.A. CBS Stations Shake Up Top 40 Radio

In mid-July, CBS Radio top 40 WXRK (92.3 Now) New York placed "Replay" from Iyaz (pictured) into medium rotation, after the track generated a flood of text messages when Sean Kingston played the catchy, Caribbean-flavored tune during a live interview with Now afternoon jock TicTak.

Six weeks later, "Replay," which has yet to chart on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 list, is the fledgling station's 12th-most-played track with 64 spins, according to Nielsen BDS. While WXRK is the only New York station playing it, "Replay" has racked up 19,000 digital downloads in the New York market in the first three weeks following its release, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Iyaz's experience is the latest sign of the surprising heft wielded by the new top 40 stations that CBS launched earlier this year in the nation's two largest radio markets. Now and its West Coast bookend, KAMP (Amp 97.1) Los Angeles, are helping expose numerous artists, quickening the pace that songs cross over from urban and rhythmic outlets and helping spur sales, label promotion executives say.

Though neither has the reach of New York's WHTZ (Z100) and L.A.'s KIIS-FM, Clear Channel's iconic top 40s that have dominated their markets for decades, the newcomers are making an impact. "Now is showing itself to be a station that can break records in the market," says Phil Nieves, senior director of promotion at Ultra Records, whose former No. 1 Hot Dance Airplay track "Feel Your Love" by Kim Sozzi has received 682 plays on the station as of Aug. 30.

There's more at stake than two markets: If Amp and Now succeed over the long term, CBS and other broadcasters could flip stations in other markets to top 40, a format that performs exceptionally well when measured by Arbitron's Portable People Meter ratings service but has largely been limited to one per market for decades. Click here to read the complete story in Billboard (subscription required).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stream It Like You Mean It

Last month, Esurance took the wraps off one of the more unusual promos to come along in the interactive-media age. Recruiting its cartoon spokesperson Erin Esurance (the spandex-clad insurance spy with the pink hair), the Web-based auto insurer invited would-be directors to create a music video riffing off one of 10 dance numbers selected from recent Bollywood films. Launched in partnership with cable TV network IFC—aiming to promote its “Wake Up to Bollywood” film series—the “Esurance Bollywood Casting Call” promised a suitably themed grand prize. The winning homemade video will be turned into a cartoon episode starring Erin herself, and then aired on IFC.

As a piece of Web-based participatory marketing, the Casting Call had a lot going for it—uniqueness, brand exposure and, of course, a good chance of soliciting clever material. But Esurance had a problem: How to reach hard-core Bollywood fans. After all, the popularity of “Slumdog Millionaire” notwithstanding, not everyone in the U.S. knows the words to “Bas Ek King” from “Singh Is Kinng” or the dance moves to “Tandoori Nights” from the film “Karzzzz.” The company needed a way to reach a highly specific audience while also keeping the appeal broad and national in scope.

The answer was Internet radio. Esurance developed a 30-second spot featuring Erin’s voice: “Showcase your acting chops and moves!” she pitched. Then, while running a light schedule on broad-appeal channels, Esurance ran the spot heavily on Web streams of East Indian music, which boasted the kind of listeners who can hum a few bars of “Marjaani Marjaani.”

According to the company’s media director, Darren Howard, the choice of streaming radio was simple. “We can go to our streaming vendors and find those specific channels that play that type of music and would draw interest in our contest,” he says. “It’s not something you can do on terrestrial radio.”

Esurance has made streaming a key component of its media mix since November 2006. While TV still gets the bulk of its ad dollars, the company is funneling half its radio budget online this year. And it’s hardly the only advertiser sinking its marketing dollars into Internet radio. Web-based companies like LendingTree, and Orbitz have made the medium part of their marketing mix for several years now. But streaming’s popularity with a demographically desirable and ever-widening audience (according to Arbitron/Edison Research, online radio reaches one in five consumers each week in the 25-54 age group) has turned the heads of older and more traditional brands. Walmart, Ace Hardware and Procter & Gamble are among the companies buying streaming time today. According to Priscilla Fladgler, radio supervisor for media agency Mullen, “There’s a lot more interest from our non-Web-based accounts.”

Much like the slumdog millionare Jamal, Internet radio has emerged as a young and unlikely success story. But it is not without its challenges. While the medium has proven itself a worthy buy for national campaigns, for example, Webcasters have yet to make significant inroads into the lucrative local marketplace. Agencies also complain that, in a frenzy to deliver sufficient impressions, some Webcasters end up annoying listeners by airing the same spot too frequently, while others mislead clients by padding their advertising proposals with international listeners that are not relevant to the buy. Perhaps most significantly, while Web-radio audiences can be quantified with far more precision than can those of terrestrial radio, advertisers universally complain about a dearth of reliable, comprehensive demographic data.

Read the complete story on how a growing list of advertisers are making Internet radio part of their media plans in Mediaweek by clicking here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Haley's Vision For Radio’s Digital Future

MINNEAPOLIS – Fresh from a 4-day road-trip of pitching national advertisers, RAB president and CEO Jeff Haley offered his vision for radio’s digital future here July 17– one that expands the medium beyond a multi-platform delivery system to an online retailer.

In his first Conclave Learning Conference appearance, Haley cited sales tracking systems used by Coca Cola, one of the clients he visited, to illustrate how radio audience measurement and accountability to advertisers need to evolve. “You can sit at Coca Cola in Atlanta and know how many palettes of Coke Zero moved in any market yesterday. Digital gives us the same ability to do that with our listeners to help us better craft our programming,” he said.

Avoiding the subject of free-falling radio revenue, Haley looked ahead to a time when consumers can access product info, download digital coupons and make purchases from radio-equipped, Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices. “Radio on cell phones will be the perception game changer for us,” he said, pointing to Microsoft’s Zune mp3 player, which has sold 4-million units in the U.S. and offers iTunes song tagging for devices that are WiFi-enabled.

Haley wants to employ RDS data, embedded in station signals, to expand his “buy from FM” concept beyond music downloads. “The idea that our content is all purchase-enabled, that changes the listener’s relationship with the station. Imagine you’re listening to an interview about the economy’s impact on retirement. You buy the podcast and receive free advice from your local Allstate agent.”

Radio has a long way to go before this dream can become reality. Apple dominates the portable music player market and has refused to incorporate FM tuners. And the radio industry faces an uphill battle in getting handset manufacturers to include radio receivers.

However many broadcasters already use their Web sites, listener databases and texting programs to promote listener engagement with marketers’ brands. Haley sees this as a more immediate way for broadcasters to provide the transparency and accountability advertisers increasingly expect from media. For example, of the one million weekly listeners to Emmis alternative WKQX (Q101)/Chicago, 150,000 have opted into its loyal listener club, giving the station detailed knowledge of its audience, such as which events, contests, offers and survey questions individual members have responded to. “This creates a powerful tool for targeting specific audiences and matching their interests with advertiser and partner offers,” Haley said. “As the database grows, the permission to market to each individual creates a valuable asset.”

Haley also touted new in-dash HD radios that include an 8-inch screen, enough room for broadcasters to display a message to text the station to win concert tickets to see the artist whose song is airing or to show real-time traffic data. But Internet radio in vehicles is still 10-15 years away and will only be available in the top 50 markets, he predicted. “Audiences will go to the brands they know and love and trust, if we give them the ability to listen. It will be incumbent for us to be there in a big way and craft our content to fit their needs and to brand it with our advertising partners.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Arbitron, Nielsen And The Radio Ratings Game

MINNEAPOLIS – On the heels of rolling out its Portable People Meter (PPM) ratings service in Hispanic-heavy Miami and four other new markets last month, minority broadcasters have turned up the heat on Arbitron. Speaking at the Conclave’s Ratings Roundup session here July 16, Gerry Boehme, executive VP of Katz Media Group, added a deeper layer to the conversation about why many ethnic radio stations show ratings declines after transitioning from Arbitron's diary service.

Acknowledging that Arbitron’s ability to adequately represent minority audiences in its ratings panels is an issue, Boehme also noted that ethnic and younger listeners tend not to participate in research studies as much as older demographics do. Compounding the problem, the PPM reports shorter listening patterns than the diary. This is especially harmful to ethnic stations, which often had the longest Time Spent Listening of all formats under the diary. And while many stations have benefited from the vastly larger cume audiences detected by the meter, Spanish language operators aren’t among them – they’re far less likely to pick up additional listening from English-speaking audiences. “This is a really tough issue and one of the most visible sampling issues in PPM,” Boehme said.

The session also opened a wider window on Nielsen’s new diary ratings service, which fielded in 51 small markets in the spring with results expected later this summer. Larger in size than Arbitron’s diary, the sticker diary is designed to collect what Nielsen Radio Audience Measurement senior client service manager Brent Lightfoot (pictured) called “buyer-graphic data.” In addition to several questions in the front of the diary about the respondent’s age range, gender, language preference, income level, education, employment status and household size, there are 21 additional lifestyle questions in the back section. Lightfoot said the sticker diary is intended to “deliver an end to end sales solution, ratings and top line qualitative information from a single source."

Stickers are included for “every reasonably listenable station in the market” and list call letters and frequency – but not station handles, such as the Wolf or Mix, although diary instructions encourage participants to write them in. Nielsen says the diaries have proven to be “easy to use, easy to edit, consistent and accurate and fair.”

But session moderator Steve Goldstein, executive VP of Saga Communications and a former member of the Arbitron Advisory Council, chided Nielsen for only testing the sticker diary “in one market, for one week in a very white-bread market.” Lightfoot defended the Lexington, Ky., pilot study, saying it returned an in-tab sample of 588 and was intended only to ensure that “all of our systems were working” and not to produce ratings currency. Nielsen is using an entirely address-based sample to reach the roughly 20% of American homes that are cell phone-only, while Arbitron’s diary service has moved to a hybrid of telephone and address based recruitment.

Goldstein also questioned launching a diary service that measures markets once a year when the media trend is instant real-time measurement. Lightfoot explained that broadcasters in small and medium markets couldn’t afford electronic measurement. "If we were to go into a large market, it would be with electronic," he said.

Meanwhile, 20 markets have transitioned to Arbitron’s metered ratings service, with 13 more on the launch pad before year-end. Dr. Ed Cohen, Arbitron VP of research policy and communication, said the PPM is helping stations improve programming with “instantaneous feedback on what the listeners are truly doing.” The meter shows “listeners don’t like clutter,” Cohen said. “Whenever the mic is open on a music station, you’re exposed. Wining music stations in PPM generally talk less and play more music, have fewer stopsets, usually two not three, and have more occasions of listening.”

But Boehme criticized Arbitron for insufficient sample sizes for the PPM: “They’re not big enough and when they get to smaller markets, they will be even more of a problem. Arbitron produces consistent ratings but uses inadequate sample sizes, and that includes its diary service.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How To Upset The Status Quo

MINNEAPOLIS –The annual Conclave radio conference opened up Thursday afternoon (July 16) with a textbook story of how old-school, street-level warfare can still damage entrenched competitors, especially in today’s environment of cutbacks and limited resources. Ron Allen (pictured above, right) PD at country KVWF (the Wolf)/Wichita, told the tale of how, in February 2008, Connoisseur Media signed on as the market’s seventh country station and how the Wolf has since defeated all but two of them. In the winter 2009 Arbitron ratings, KVWF is one-tenth of a share away from the market’s No. 2 country outlet.

Renegade branding, complete with on-air howls and a 25-foot inflatable wolf for appearances, made the station stand out, Allen said. Instead of another lackluster station van, Wolf staffers drive a bright orange truck – with paw prints all over it.

“We blind-sided the competition; they weren’t expecting the full court press,” Allen told attendees at the Country Cage Match session, moderated Joel Raab, president of Joel Raab Associates. “We came in with the attitude that every event will be challenged.”

As the last one to the dance, KVWF had to improvise to put its paw prints on concerts and other events traditionally dominated by its established competitors. When the Wolf was told it could not participate in an event at the 10,000-capacity Kansas Coliseum, the station set up large displays at three main access points to the venue, giving it what Allen called “high visibility.”

Don Jacobs, market manager/VP of the Results Radio cluster in Sioux Falls S.D., also shared war stories from a new country sign-on. When Garth Brooks came to town for six sell-outs, Jacobs distributed 6,000 Brooks masks with the station’s Kickin’ Country logo printed on the back. “When you’re in later than everyone else, you have to take a different approach,” he said.

Mark Phillips, PD at the nation’s first Wolf – Cumulus Media’s KPLX/ Dallas – bemoaned that many stations don’t excel at the basics: “Everybody is short-staffed, resources are limited, but I still hear a lot of basics that aren’t being done right, starting with the music.” Remarkably, Phillips pulls a four-hour afternoon shift in radio’s fifth largest market. “People think I’m crazy but you need to lead by example.” The strategy appears to be working: KPLX is No. 2 in the market among listeners 6+ in Arbitron’s June PPM report with a cume of 1.2 million.

Phillips says his day starts at 5 a.m., taking notes on the morning show, monitoring the competition, working on the music. By two in the afternoon, it’s show prep time. In between, he says he makes a lot of time for communicating with the airstaff. “When people are insecure about their jobs, you need to make them feel important. There’s a difference between leading and managing.”

Country Radio Broadcasters executive director Ed Salamon (pictured above, left) shared 10 programming strategies from his tenure at WHN/New York in the ‘70s.

“The country life group in New York wasn’t obvious,” he said. (The No. 1 radio market has since gone decades without a full-signaled country outlet.) So Salamon had to “find out exactly what it was about country music that made sense for our listeners” and that included not using the word “country” in on-air imaging. “We used a lot of listener voices on the air, taking advantage of all the beautifully unique accents, from Long Island to the Bronx to New Jersey. And we campaigned like politicians to win listeners over one at a time.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who Will Make Headlines This Week At The Conclave?

Last July, David Rehr made headlines with his now infamous Conclave comment: “I’d rather slit my throat than negotiate” with the music industry. The in-your-face lobbyist, then head of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, was responding to a question about proposed legislation that would require radio stations to pay a fee to artists and labels to air their music. This year, it’s the head of radio’s other advocacy group, Jeff Haley, president and CEO of the Radio Advertising Bureau, in the leadoff Conclave keynote position.

Don’t look for anything quite as inflammatory from Haley. His Friday morning (July 17) keynote will focus on radio’s position on the current audio programming canvas. Jeff’s one of radio’s most vocal proponents of platform-agnostic delivery, so expect a good portion of his speech to focus on opportunities for radio content in a digital and interactive world.

Right after Haley’s keynote, consultant Fred Jacobs will help plot a roadmap for radio’s digital future with the latest results from the annual Jacobs Media Tech Survey of rock listeners. The results are striking, Jacobs says, because they illustrate how tech habits are rapidly changing, how new technologies and gadgets are gaining in importance and how radio can participate in this revolution. An enormous piece of the digital revolution is mobile. Developers from Flycast, Kwingo and Localtone Interactive will present an overview of the mobile marketplace Friday afternoon. Sessions devoted to social networking and online video, fast becoming an important element not only for air talent but also the sales department, are also on the Conclave agenda.

Despite its “We Hear You” PR campaign, Arbitron continues to take body blows for alleged shortcomings in its PPM electronic measurement service, a topic likely to surface during the Ratings Roundup Thursday (July 16). The session is designed to bring attendees up to speed on radio’s changing ratings landscape with executives from Arbitron and Nielsen presenting programming tactics gleaned from the PPM that can be applied in all markets and how Nielsen’s new sticker diary service works. But it’s doubtful that Arbitron VP of research policy and communication Dr. Ed Cohen will escape the session without having to address the mounting criticism.

Corporate downsizings and payola compliance officers have changed the ways labels and radio interact, even as radio’s digital platforms have created additional outlets for the two industries to work together to expose artists. Top programmers and promo execs will discuss how the radio-label relationship has evolved in a session dubbed “No Hits Barred.” Later in a Friday afternoon keynote, Brian Jennings, former VP of talk programming for Citadel and author of “Censorship: The Threat to Silence Talk Radio,” will offer an historic view of the Fairness Doctrine and explain why equal time restrictions are unconstitutional.

I’ll be reporting on the action July 16-18 from the Conclave – as I have for more than a decade, for leading industry publications such as Radio & Records, Billboard Radio Monitor and FMQB. Visit Heine-Sight ( for the latest Conclave updates.