R&R (Friday, August 26, 1983)
by Jeff Gelb
WQFM: "Dinosaur" Rules Milwaukee
One way to judge the effect of modern rock on AOR this spring' is to look at a market where it was widely used. In Milwaukee, WLPX was an early and aggressive experimenter with modern rock, which made up a majority of its playlist. When the spring Arbitron results were issued, WLPX had scored significandy lower than previously, while competing AOR WQFM had its best ratings in a year. WQFM was by far the more conservative of the two stations, and its excellent ratings results would indicate that middle America may not he ready for a flood of modern rock on its AOR stations.
Masterminding the programming at WQFM for the last year-and-a-half is Lee Arnold, a 15-year broadcast industry veteran with PD credits at several stations, including WAAF/Worcester, WQXM/Tampa, and WORJ/Orlando. His track record at WQFM is excellent: three wins in a row against former dominant
Modern Vs. Dinosaur Rock
This book Arnold credited his format win to several different elements, but emphasised WLPX's reliance on modern rock: "I look at modern music as today's disco. and WLPX fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I don't think modem music is a format; it's a form of music IF you base a format around it, you might as well do a heavy metal format, or a Southern rock format. None of these are formats, they're just little pieces of the AOR pie.
"If a real good piece of modern rock came out, one that rose above the genre and became mainstream, we played that. That's the way I feel about any music we play; it has to rise above its little sub-category and make it into a mainstream, great song category. If there were 20 modern rock songs out like that right now, I'd be playing them; if there were two, I'd he playing two. Obviously. we played Men At Work, Duran Duran, and A Flock of Seagulls. WLPX annihilated themselves by being 'too hip' to play Sammy Hagar, Bob Seger, or Foreigner. We played the songs that looked right to us as far as the market was concerned, the songs that would do well with the Joe Average who listens to AOR radio."
He recalled, "We were described in the newspaper by my competitors as 'the dinosaur.' Well; I'm happy to be one; after all, dinosaurs lived for two million years, were the most powerful animais that ever walked the face of the earth, and were real peaceful till you screwed with them."
WQFM continued to play "dinosaur rock" throughout the book. As Arnold explained. "People didn't go to sleep one night saying, 'I love Led Zeppelin,' and wake up preferring the Psychedelic Furs. We just retested 'Stairway To Heaven' and 'Free Bird' and they're still two of the highest- testing records you can play on the radio. You need to play them, but you don't have to play them all the time. Songs that had gotten 'toasty' we just moved to slower rotations."
Arnold left little to chance in determining in which songs were hot with his listeners. He used the research systems of consultant John Sebastian (WQFM has since also signed with Pollack Communications Inc. for consultation services). Arnold admitted his initial emotions were mixed over the use of research: "In the time I spent in the record industry promoting albums for RCA and other labels, record research was the only thing I hadn't dealt with and had incredible misunderstandings about. When I got here, Andy Bloom, my Research Director (now MD) showed me how the systems worked. I realized then that research is just another piece of valuable information. I've used John's research system to test every record in our oldies library. Current music has always been added by gut, and checked later with John's methodologies to make sure we made the right decisions.
"You're a fool if you pass up the opportunity to use any informational tool to gain knowledge of your market. If you take the word reseach and substitute information, which is to me synonymous, you can see how vital it is. You don't have to live by it, but you should certainly use it as another tool, because if you're making value judgments based on incomplete information, you're more than likely going to make the wrong decisions."
Takin' It To The Streets
Arnold was aided in his decisions by Asst.PD/Promotions Director John Duncan, who has worked with Arnold at four radio stations. "John's input is invaluable," Arnold enthused. "The major promotions we put together this past book were our 'star flights.' once a week, we gave away trips to glamor markets to see rock and roll. In the middle of the winter, what could be better than a free trip to LA. or Florida to catch Sammy Hagar or whoever? One of the winners also was drawn later to receive a free jeep.
"The main thing we do promotionally, though. are personal appearances by the jocks. In any given week, the fewest personal appearances they've ever made is 26. The only way you win is to be visible in the steeets. The other stations in town are basically invisible; they run some newspaper or TV spots. Well, we run newspaper and TV spots, too, so that negates their entire promotional campaign. The only thing that matters to your audience is, 'Are you real human beings? Can I reach out and touch you? Are you everywhere I go? Do I see you there too?' The audience is just sitting there, waiting to relate to you. All you have to do is to give them a reason to relate. My guys were in every club, bar, and high school. It's invaluable publicity for the station, plus it makes them some money! I've got some rich jocks who can't leave this town!"
WQFM celebrates its 10th year of AOR in September. and Arnold and Duncan are already discussing ways to make it a special time for the station and its listeners.
This aggresive promotional policy helped push the station past its AOR competitor in the ratings. but WQFM did not best the 12+ figure of its CHR competition, WKTI. Arnold was undaunted: "12+ numbers mean less and less all the time. WKTI beat us 12+ by a two-tenths of a share. But they didn't beat us in our adults 18-34 target demo. That's the only demo our sales department is concerned about. We were number one in the market in that demo, along with several others. We own those demos, and that's an essential sales tool.
"Anybody who plays rock and roll in stereo is your competitor. including MTV. I would never do a promotion in conjunction with M'TV. I'll buy spots on their station - as many as they'll sell to me! But I won't sell them spots on my station."
Arnold reflected on WQFM's competition and future: "I have two direct competitors: WKTI and WLPX. This book I concentrated on taking out WLPX, and I feel I have put them away. Now that they've changed formats, I expect to see their numbers added to our own in future books. That will give us a nine or ten share. The CHR competitor will at best get a six or seven, because they have too much competition from the A/C's and soft rockers."
If ArnoId gets his ratings wish, it would be the perfect way for him to help usher in WQFM's second decade of AOR.
Friday, November 25, 1983
Four Who Are Pure
written by Steve Feinstein
Racking your brain trying to decide whether or not your audience will cotton to the latest CHR crossover smash? As you sit in deep thought, with fist under chin like the statue of the "Thinker" in the "Dobie Gillis Show," consider how WQFM/Milwaukee PD Lee Arnold handles crossover records.
Lee blows 'em up right on the air, and he says they blow up real good. He explains he's not doing it to knock the record per se, but to make a statement about his competitors. Never known for being timid, Lee asks his audience if they "can believe there are stations in this town calling themselves rock 'n' roll stations that play this drivel? Have you seen this guy (Boy George of Culture Club)? He wears dresses and has a boyfriend named Marilyn."
Before you consider such drastic action, let's discuss the issue in a rational maner. Until recently, AOR would usually be first on a record, and develop it until CHR stood up and took notice. Shortly thereafter, AOR would ease it into currents or drop it altogether. The reasoning was that the tune would soon burn from CHR's hyper rotation or that it had lost its "hip" identity as an AOR exclusive offering.
Not only does AOR no longer drop those songs like a hot potato once they cross over to CHR, now there are records that seem to be going in the reverse direction - from CHR to AOR. The pattern doesn't necessarily hold true for every market, but songs by artists such as Culture Club, Michael Jackson, and Men WIthout Hats generally went on AOR after CHR.
More important than where the records broke first is the question of whether these artists and records are compatible for AOR. Will they be the cume building savior of AOR or its undoing? The Doubleday and Sandusky stations, among others, believe the former, as they head toward a hybrid position.
The other school of thought sees CHR crossovers in a less favorable light. Tommy Hadges, PD of KLOS/Los Angeles, calls them an "attempt to change the nature of a station. You can't just slip these records in,' they're noticed. My feeling is if you're going to play them, change your call letters and start a whole new station."
Whose Station Is This Anyway
KGB/San Diego PD Larry Bruce provides this scenario: "If you're a rock 'n' roll radio station and listeners punch in and you're playing Lionel Richie, you confuse them. The next time they want to hear rock 'n' roll, maybe they're not going to come back cause they think you've changed format."
While some programmers seek to steal some of CHR's thunder by leaning in its direction musically, Lee Arnold wants to "create an image of being as different from CHR as possible. Some Source people who were in town told me, 'As we went down the dial we knew when we got to your station even without hearing the call letters.' There are four or five radio stations here playing the same songs. Get to my station and you know you're at the rock station in the market."
Our programmers mentioned "image" frequently. For years, AORs steadfastly refused to play artists whose image didn't fit the station's rock image. The success of CHR has led many sages to declare that we're in the era of the hit song, and that audiences don't care about an artist's image as long as the song is great. AOR finds itself exhorted ad nauseam to "play the hits," which is probably the most irritating cliche since "Have a nice day."
Should the sound of a record be the only consideration,, and artist image be damned? Not so, says Tommy Hadges. "There's no doubt that people have attittudes about artists. Barbra Streisand is a fabulous talent, but if she were to come out with a balls-to-the-wall rock record, I don't think our audience would embrace it. Country fans don't want to hear Led Zeppelin's "Hot Dog" on their Country station, either. It may he a country song, but they've got their own favorite groups they respect and fee1 good about."
"Image is everything in radio," says PD Brian Krysz of WGRQ/Buffalo, who won't play a song by an artist "with an image that our core audience wouldn't perceive as hip." However, he would play that same song if the artist were new, with no preconceived image. The trouble with AOR these days, in Brian's eyes and ears, is that "it's gone from playing hit acts to playing hit songs. That narrows the playlist, and you end up playing basically the same songs as CHR."
Larry Bruce proposes that "Everything you do is attempting to solidify an image. Choices that help to create and promote a station identity that's crisp and better-targeted will solidify your market position. Choices that help your image, like playing too much CHR music, detiorate that image with your core listener. If you deny your core by reaching out for the person who is so far from the center of your format that you're only going to get him for two songs anyway, you may be going too far into your cume and not be satisfying your loyal, heavy listeners. From my perspective, 90% of your quarter-hours come from 50% of your cume. I satisfy those loyal listeners before I reach for people who aren't loyal."
"A successful AOR shouldn't overreact to either perceived or anticipated trends," cautions Tommy Hadges. "One of the hardest things to get is a core of loyal station lovers. Building a station image is a very slow, ploddng process Only disaster would lead me to taking any chances to blow off that core."
What Is Hip?
Lee Arnold warns, "You can't screw around with your image. It has to be one of 'We are the rock radio siation.' Otherwise, you are them (CHR), and you make them hip. Why would you want to make somebody hip who's not hip? When they play the same records at the same time CHR does, AORs destroy themselves by making CHR hip. It's the Bobby Hattriks and Dwight Douglases of the world who are slowly but surely turning their AOR stations into CHRs because they don't understand AOR."
Larry Bruce sounds a similar theme, claiming that AOR may be undercutting its validity as a format from within. "When AOR tells its listeners that it's OK to listen to Lionel Richie, it educates them to accept CHR, as the bastion of hipness in 1983, because that's where these records were broken. Rock 'n' roll is a valid, cutting edge format, and AOR has to remain the center of hipness for listeners."
Lee Arnold recalls "the days when if a Top 40 station added record an AOR couldn't play it anymore. Well, those days have come again. They have no image, but they're stealing yours right now. That's the kiss of death."
The first thing they teach you in Program Director's school is the need for a consistent air sound, both in terms of quality and positioning. Tommy Hadges seems to have learned his lessons well, explaining, " Because of the clutter on the dial, we want to he consistent so that when a listener is thinking about a particular type of music, he'll be able to press the KLOS button and find something that is defined in his brain. Being consistent enables listeners to more or less be their own program director. If they want to hear a country song, they know where to go to If they want to hear a rock song, they know where to turn."
Cume To Me
Prevailing wisdom in some quarters these days has it that the more of your CHR competitor's music you play, the more likely you are to build your cume Lee Arnold's perspective runs to the contrary "You build cume by playirg all rock 'n' roll, because then you give the person who wants a rock 'n' roll shot in the arm a place to go for it."
He cites a listener who told him," 'I listen to Top 40 stations, but when I want to hear rock 'n' roll, I turn to WQFM. 'If she turned to us and heard Michael Jackson, she couldn't say that anymore. I can cume this girl by being dlfferent. What everybody thinks they're doing, building cume by playing what CHR plays, is the exact opposite of reality. Wrong. You build your curne by being different so they have a reason to come to you. If you play what CHR plays, why should a listener leave a CHR to come to you?"
"If they want to hear the hits over and over again, they're not going to listen to you anyway," reasons Brian Krysz.
Ever the iconoclast, Lee Arnold hasn't broadened his musical policy since becoming the only AOR in town. "I've gotten more rock 'n' roll, instead of getting wider, which would leave me vulnerable to somebody who could come along and be a rock `n` roll station."
"If you're in a market where you don't have a good, hard-edged CHR competitor It makes a lot of sense to add some records that might potentially attract a larger cume," Tommy Hadges will grant. "But in most major markets, there is such fragmentation you'd be trying to pick up some people who are not going to ever be 100% committed to your station or format, and doing so at the risk of alienating your core audience. You may pick up in cume, but you're losing the heavy quarter-hour listener."
Either way, the airsound itself isn't the primary cume-builder, according to Larry Bruce, "You build cume through advertising, not on your radio station. Cume is a product of external promotion of a solid image. Cume then transposes into quarter-hours by effective programming and fulfilling the prornise you made when you promoted the appealing image."
Viability and Buyability
Is there a big enough audience out there that wants all rock 'n' roll all the time?
Don't look for Tommy Hadges to be wearing a black armband. "Nothing has changed to lead me to believe that there's still not a sizable niche for a radio station that plays hits confined to a particular genre of music, namely rock with a heavier edge aimed at males 18-34. I don't see AOR as a dying format."
"There's as much as a ten share in every single market in America looking for a rock 'n' roll radio station," proclaims Lee Arnold. "The biggest problem in AOR radio is bad sales departments.My sales department knows how to go out there and sell rock 'n' roll. They don't see clients who want 25-34 women. That's a waste of their time. They go out there and sell to people who want 18-34 men.
"If a salesman comes into your station and says, 'What about 25-34 females?', fire hirn and tell him to go work for a station that has them. He's going to the wrong client. He should be finding the client who needs younger men and getting him on the air. Don't waste your tirne at a place that wants a demo that we're never going to get."
"But it Tests Great"
Many of the atations in the vanguard of "The Hybrid-izing Of America" are not green when it comes to research. If their research tells them crossovers are okey-dokey with AOR listeners, why are the research mavens among our programmers begging to differ? Step right up to the microphone, Mr Arnold. "Research tells you two things: what songs not to play, and the songs you can pick from to play. It doesn't say you must play all those songs, it simply says 'From the universe of records you can play, pick the ones that fit the sound of your radio station.'
"Your initial testing is to a broad audience of everybody who samples your station. You'll find a record like Michael Jackson will test well enough overall to play. But when you hone in and test it only to your loyal core, you find the reality is 'Play that record and kill your core.'"
If a record comes out 70%positive and 30% negative, Arnold suggests before slamming it into your powers. "What about that 30% that doesn't like it? How much don't they like it, and are they your core that acounts for 80% of your numbers? Play it to attract fringe and you wind up blowing off your core, even though it looked like good on paper."
The sample includes a lot of people who crosscume AOR and CHR, but Arnold notes, "They listen to the two stations for two different things. They like Michael Jackson on the CHR, but they don't want to hear it on you."
Larry Bruce sums it up succinctly: "I work on my target audience. I don't care what the 12+ listeners think, or the 18-34 listeners think. I care what the 18-34 rock 'n' roll listeners think."
- Tuesday, August 11