Production 212: Number One? At What, Exactly?

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

It’s time to slim down. Fall is upon us and with it comes a LOT less cover. The flab we’ve been working on since before the Summer began, needs to go… and no, I don’t mean fat! I’m talking about all those sweepers that are crispy-fried critters, lurking in the system, played out beyond anything that could be called reasonable. Oh, come on. We all do it. We produce a bunch of sweepers that everybody loves and then don’t think about them again until a few months later as we drive home and hear one. Oops.

Every PD I’ve ever worked for has gone through this kind of exercise periodically, and I have to say that it never gets easy. You have to pull things that you’re very proud of, knowing they’ll never live again outside your own demo reel. The first reaction I have every time they start talking about ‘slimming down,’ is to say, “You’re killing the personality of the station!” We don’t want to be a jukebox radio station!”

I’ve been slimming down lately, pulling old sweepers and stagers, re-cutting some, just deleting others.

I once had a visitor from Kuwait come by the station who was really disappointed that we had “fallen out of number one status” in New York. I laughed out loud and then apologized, explaining that we had only stopped saying we were number one. He asked, “But, if you’re number one, don’t you want your listeners to know it?” Good question. I think I might have failed in that instance to come up with an equally good answer, so I decided to marshal my thoughts and give a full explanation here.

A lot of smart programming people have been saying that today’s audience is a lot smarter and hipper than we ever give them credit for. Listeners aren’t as susceptible to hype as they used to be, and because they have so many alternative ways to entertain themselves, are more likely to go someplace where they don’t get the ‘treatment.’

Now, I’ve never been a fan of just accepting what the smart programmers say at face value. Smart programmers have told us, several times, that CHR as a format is dead. They’re also the ones who predicted the demise of terrestrial radio with the advent of satellite, streaming and iPod technologies. They are the ones who told us that the audience doesn’t like commercials. Well… CHR is alive and well, broadcast radio is still the number one choice for in-car listening, and the whole ‘commercials are bad’ line of thinking is just stupid. (How many people watch the Superbowl just for the commercials?)

This time, however, the smart programmers might have something. The old “Sunday at Raceway Park” kind of commercial is definitely not working anymore, but then we’ve known that for some time. Yelling at the listener just feels counter-productive, regardless of what the message contains. On a more subliminal level, constantly telling them that we’re number one seems a bit over the top now too. That’s why, even Z100, which for years was New York’s Number One Hit Music Station is now simply New York’s Hit Music Station. Oh, we’re still the number one hit music station in the Big Apple, but I doubt sincerely that constantly reminding the listener that we are is helping to secure new listeners or even helping cement P1 status with them. Always delivering the product we promise is the best way to accomplish that.

The other aspect of constantly saying we’re number one, versus just being number one is the number of radio stations that say they are, when they really aren’t. Some crafty PDs will glom onto some obscure statistic and trumpet it to the world, claiming number one status, but honestly, how many people care if you’re the number one station with albino Croatians who’ve emigrated in the last 12 months? How useful is it to brag about being number one with one-eyed clerics on the south side of town? Of course, they don’t explain exactly what they’re number one at, but the audience is going to figure out, sooner or later, that there can’t be several number one stations in a given market. Being number one simply has no meaning after a while, so why bother?

I find it much more useful to make a declarative statement about what the radio station really is; such as, “One station, ALL the hits.” Z100 is, “New York’s HIT music station,” makes much more sense and thus brands us as the only station where you get hit music. Of course, that’s not entirely true either. There are at least 5 other stations in NYC where you can hear hit music, but making that statement forces any competitor to become the pretender to the throne. This takes us right back to the basic marketing tenet described by Trout & Trout as “First in, wins.” Before any radio station can climb our ladder, we have to make a mistake, stand aside, and LET them surpass us as the hit music leader. As long as I am doing the branding, that’s just not gonna happen.

When Apple first introduced the iPad, I recognized immediately that Steve Jobs and his team had done it again. Here is a product that is so far outside the normal computing paradigm, it simply had to change the personal computing landscape. Since then, a few other companies have come out with similar devices, most notably the XOOM and HP Tablets. HP has since given up. They started selling their tablet for substantially less, thinking they could flood the market and gobble up some of the monstrous lead Apple already had, but within a couple of weeks they announced they were quitting. Even for less than half of what Apple was charging, they couldn’t make a dent. In fact, some came to regard their tablet as obviously inferior because it cost so much less. I fully expect the XOOM will fall to the side as well, but will take much longer because the pockets at Microsoft are so incredibly deep. HP figured out that in order to beat Apple, Apple would have to screw up somehow. That’s not gonna happen… ever. HP gave up the chase.

Z100 is never going to step aside to allow any competitor to slide by either. Even when we had no real competition, we always strove to make our product the absolute best. We brand and program as though we have major competitors every day of the year. It’s how we’re wired. That’s why we’re not just the number one hit music station any more. Other stations need not apply, but we love when you try. It just makes us better.

For my sound this month, a beatmix/beatmatch promo that really takes ownership of the hits in New York. After all, we are THE hit music station.

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