Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Last month I started giving a synopsis of my recent speeches at a regional radio convention in Morgantown, West Virginia. It was a great learning experience for me, beyond seeing some new geography. I discovered that regardless of what size market one is working in, we all tend to make the same mistakes, and we all tend to reach the same conclusions about our audience, most of which are either dead wrong or skewed beyond reasonable.

I ended things last with a plea to programmers to not cede their audience to the competition during commercial breaks, saying that the listeners don’t tune out because of commercials… they tune out because of bad commercials! Then I promised some ideas about how to keep your audience from punching out. So this month, this space is directed mainly to Program Directors, with special interest for Production Directors.

The first step is obvious from what I’ve been saying here. Make your commercials better. Gosh, Dave… that’s the main reason I read RAP Magazine! OK. I get that, but let’s listen like a listener for a minute and see what that really means.

Why do listeners tune to your frequency? Why do they tune to any frequency? It’s to be entertained. You know this instinctively. You design all your programming around this ideal. Yet I hear station after station treat their commercials like the proverbial red headed stepchild. It’s the dark side of radio. It’s… icky! Programmers constantly turn that portion of their broadcast day over to someone in traffic and continuity whose only real concern is to keep the car dealers from running adjacently. What are you thinking? That 8 to 10 (or more) minutes of every hour is just as precious as the other 50 or so minutes, so step two is – you need to take control.

Now, I’m sure everyone knows about quarter-hour maintenance, so I won’t go on too much about that, except to say it’s something everyone should do. I’ll have more on that in a minute. Once the commercials start, you desperately need to control the content, as much as you can. The order in which commercials play is every bit as critical as the order of the songs you play. Make certain that the most entertaining commercial in the set plays first. The least entertaining commercial should play dead last. I like to call this process STACKING the SET.

Whatever combination of minutes and units you play in your stop sets, your audience figures out pretty quickly what you’re doing, time-wise. They know almost to the second how long they have to scan the dial for a station that is at the moment providing more entertainment. Now, just for an example, let’s say you’re running three one–minute commercials. If the first spot has real entertainment value, they’ll stick around and listen. (So far, you haven’t given them any reason to punch out.) If the second spot is entertaining enough, they’ll leave the buttons alone and listen to the second spot. Now, they’ve invested most of the stop set’s time in your radio station. As a BONUS, they’ve actually listened to your client’s commercials! (What a concept!) Even if the last spot is one of those dreadful dry-read, price-item, “25 convenient locations” spots we all get stuck with, the listener is aware of the fact that they have less than a minute to go before their favorite song will play. (See, you told them that it was “coming up after this short break” in doing your proper quarter-hour maintenance.) How likely are they to tune out at this point? Not very.

Clearly, if before the set, you promise their favorite song after the commercials, you have to deliver. If you offer them a chance to win tickets, their favorite artist’s CD or a million dollars, you have to deliver. Don’t jerk them around. They know it when you do it, believe me. Basically, before the commercials start you want to make an appointment with the listener for after the commercials are done, and you have to keep that appointment, every time. If you have STACKED the SET, and you deliver whatever you have promised, you will find your Time Spent Listening climbing and thus, your Average Quarter Hours jumping.

OK, so as a programmer HOW do you STACK the SET? Clearly, you aren’t going to run commercials through Selector® to make the ideal stop set. You probably don’t have the time to listen to and evaluate every commercial on the station, but your Production Director does. All they do during their workday is listen to every commercial that runs on your station. (If your station has the luxury of employing a dub-monkey or two, the Production Director will need to take the time to listen to all the “dub” spots.) Have him/her grade every spot on the air and make some kind of notation somewhere that your traffic/continuity people can find easily.

As a starting point, here are some guidelines that make sense: 1) Fully Sung Jingle, 2) Donut Jingle With Some Announcing, 3) Music And Strong Effects, 4) Music Only, 5) Dry Read

Tempo should also factor into the equation. Faster is generally better because it will usually have more energy and flow. So, if you have two spots in category 2, the one with a faster tempo would usually go first. The grades would be 2Fst and 2Med and they would play in that order. Now, the traffic/continuity people have a ready guide as to what order spots should play. (They’ll still have to worry about client separation, but that’s just how it is.)

Of course, all of this is rather subjective. That’s why only one person in the station should do it. And, there are exceptions to every rule. For example, a concert spot (on a music station) would almost always run first in the set because the listener will almost always find it “of interest.” (Of interest will generally trump entertaining.) So the concert spot would automatically get a 1Fst score, even though jingles play no role in the spot.

So, there it is. Make an appointment with your listeners before your stop set, STACK the SET, then deliver on the appointment afterwards and you will stop giving up your audience every time you go to break. You will not only see your TSL and AQH grow, you will see the number of exclusive P1 listeners grow.

Next month, I’ll get into Branding versus Imaging. Most people think they mean the same thing. Most people are wrong. I’ll have some audio samples for you on the CD. We’ll actually spend most of the column on branding and how to do it. Bring your safety goggles and hard hats.