Monday, June 18, 2012

Triple A Radio in 1999

Seventeen Years Ago, Lee Arnold Marketing Sponsored The AAA Panel at the Conclave.
My dear friend, the late Mike Lyons, moderated. I thought you might enjoy this look back at the AAA Format.

FRIDAY, JULY 23, 1999
9:00 A.M.
Be careful what you wish for. We've sponsored the AAA panel at the Great Midwest Conclave in Minneapolis for the last three years and this year we wanted a 9 A.M.slot. And we got it, along with a sharp panel but this early in the day you just want to get traction. Or at least a half gallon of coffee, which was readily available, thank god (or Governor Ventura). I hate boilerplate, boring convention panels just as much as you do , so as the caffiene kicked in, I got to the tough questions right out of the box on Friday July 23.

Good morning! I'm Mike Lyons, VP of AAA promotion at Lee Arnold Marketing and I'd like to introduce the members of our AAA panel. Mike Perry-VP Programming for the Premiere Marketing Group in Columbia, Missouri which is 4 stations including KBXR. Jessie Scott, former programmer at WRLT Nashville and WMMO Orlando, now the Americana editor at Gavin. David Rahn, best known as the "R" in SBR Creative Media, the leading AAA format consultant. David spent years at KBCO as promotion director . Also joining us is Howard Leon from Universal Records and Jim Kerr , who is Alternative and interim AAA format editor at Radio and Records.

LYONS: We'll start with you Jim. Last year on this panel you mentioned the goal of getting as many stations as possible on the RnR AAA panel to help equalize the disparities between a KQRS and a WXPN. But since then you've ended up eliminating three reporters. Will the panel expand again?

KERR : The simple answer is yes. AAA is a very broad format and it helps to have as many stations as possible.

LYONS: Is there any way for KBXR or KBAC to get back on?

KERR: It sounds like, what you're asking is: why were they dropped?

LYONS: Well, Mike's here from KBXR to say his piece. I just notice that KBAC often gets better numbers in Albuquerque than CIDR, WXRV and WRNR get in their respective markets 12+.

KERR: Nobody can argue the case better than Mike Perry has in the last two months. The bottom line for the drops in the AAA chart at RnR were simple. All RnR formats dropped markets with less than 150,000 population, especially in the CHR/Pop and Country formats. The moves on the AAA chart were just to get in line with those formats as far as market size. (ML note: markets dropped from the RnR AAA chart were #223,Burlington,Vermont-WNCS/ #224 Santa Fe, New Mexico-KBAC and #240 Columbia, Missouri-KBXR)

LYONS: Mike Perry-what did you talk about with Jim regarding your market size?

PERRY: In the near future we will expand our market size. It's an artificially small metro.

LYONS: It's just one county, right?

PERRY: It's just one county. 27 miles away from us is the state capitol and that's not in the metro. More realistic for us is a three county metro which would be about 200,000 people 12+ which would easily meet RnR criteria. We are a larger market than that one single county indicates. We're a $10 million radio market. We do more revenue in Columbia than some markets in the top 100 that are shadows of larger markets. So, I think we're viable from a population standpoint, billing and from the record company perspective too. We have three universities in the city limits and seven in the surrounding area. So we can move a lot of music and help form music tastes in our market with so many students. Jim and Kevin at RnR have talked quite a bit about making an exception for us. In our format, we need more voices rather than less and my rational is that, for the URBAN AC, for the NAC and for AAA, all these panels have less than 50 members and I hope the rational for these panels could support an exception being made. In our format, all three of the reporters dropped have been credible and with only 32 reporters right now, putting the three back on would help the format's viability, the chart's viability and help reduce the volatility. That's my thinking and, frankly, I've been given an open ear from RnR and it's been a very respectful dialogue and I'm still hoping that ,if not through our market expansion (the redefinition of our metro), that we can report again prior to that time.

KERR : I think it's important to realize that this move had nothing to do with KBXR as a radio station. It really came down to a matter of fairness. To not put one format above another. I don't want to be the negative guy here but this is all missing the point. What we should be talking about is stations that are kicking ass instead of talking about making exceptions or changing the bar.

PERRY : Well, this was the first topic being brought up but I agree with you Jim. I mean, some AAA stations have had more of a passion for music than they have a passion for winning but there are so many stations in this format that are top 5 25-54 adults and its not such a niche format.

LYONS: Jessie, tell us about some of the success stories in the Americana format. For those not following the format, they may not have heard about successes in Dallas, Knoxville and Monterey.

SCOTT: I started at Gavin as Americana editor in January and one of the mandates was to grow the panel. When I took over there were 70 some reporters. We then did a mailer to the 2300 non-reporting country stations around the nation looking for people that played Delbert McClinton or Lucinda Williams and we expanded to 95 reporters which included a Clear Channel station that covers the northern half of Denver. One of the complaints about Americana before has been :there are no major-market stations, they don't sell records and they're tiny little stations playing to cows instead of people. Now there are significant markets involved. There's a station in Atlanta that is a 10,000 watt AM doing very well, especially in their effect on sales. It may be a little early to see Arbitron ratings for some new station on my panel but the record sales are very noticeable. KPIG has had an incredible history. Laura Hopper is a passionate programmer who stuck to her guns several years ago and won when new owners said "we're changing format!." The PIG has enjoyed its greatest ratings since then as an Americana/AAA station. It's an institution. We have a station in Dallas, ,KHYI, with a compromised signal, that is now showing up 12+ in Dallas. That AAA spirit is represented well in many new markets. There has to be a place to break music in this day and age and these two formats (AAA and Americana) do that.

LYONS: Howard Leon, isn't it true that the AAA and Americana formats are supported by the labels because, where else are you going to start records? Broadcasting is still faster than the Web.

LEON: It's TOO supported by the record industry. It is way too, for want of a better word, over-priced. And over-valued. In my opinion, there are some really great radio stations out there. But there's no sense of format, no community. It's a market by market situation. You go in and support radio stations that support you. That means you're looking for rotations. You're looking for getting the record heard. There are statistics on how much a record needs to be played before people really start hearing it and many of these AAA stations never reach that point or the stations bail on a record WAY before it creates any kind of impact. They're so passionate about music, it goes in one ear and out the other and they're on to the next thing. And this elitist attitude about fresh music…….there's fresh music on Top 40, there's fresh music on Country, there's fresh music on every format. But there are certain realities and just pragmatic conditions that AAA ignores. And because there are so few stations and people scramble to get their airplay on those stations, they are willing to spend WAY too much money and get WAY too little, and hope for the best. That it breaks in another format.

LYONS: How do you REALLY feel? I talked with Dennis Constantine and Susan Castle this week about spins and both mentioned that their spin counts are up to about 350 for a track compared to maybe 150 or 200 just a few years ago. So spins are increasing at many of the AAA winners to help claim these songs and artists quicker. Jim, you gave an even better example of the need for spin increases two weeks ago on the frequency lounge.

KERR: I can tell you that, in alternative radio, it's not unusual for the biggest records to get well over 1000 spins before it's even considered for going into recurrent. So, if an AAA station is considering 350 spins enough to go to recurrent, there are formats which aren't even confident about putting a song into research until it gets 350 spins. So… in terms of the KFOG posting on the freq.lounge, I posited "how much of the cume audience of KFOG would hear a song if it's spun 80 times a week on KFOG. Now, of course, they're not going to spin a song 80 times a week and they are driven by their core, but it was enlightening to know that if KFOG spins a record 80 times a week, less than half of their cume will hear it 5 times in that week. Just to put it in perspective.

LYONS:Now David, basically SBR consults some 'higher rotation' stations like WTTS, KTCZ,KAEP,KENZ…..KFOG and WXRT are a little different.

RAHN: Those of you who know me. I'm not on the music side of things in our company but as a general rule, we've always advocated giving songs the spins they deserve. We can do the math, just like Jim, and see how long it really does take for a song to be heard. And not only heard, but LOVED and associated with the radio station. As a listener myself to AAA, having spent the last 20 years in Boulder ,at first working at KBCO and now as a listener for the last eight years, you know, it's the special songs about the station, the unique songs on the station that keep me tuned in. They make me come back for more and make me think that if I'm not listening, I'm missing something. As a practical matter, look at all the SBR clients, we work with most of the real successful AAA stations around the country and they are practicing higher spins. Yes, AAA's are more driven by their P-1's and you have to look at that more practically. 6 spins is not right and 80 spins is not right. The number is closer to halfway in between than anything else.

LEON: And it's different at every radio station too.

RAHN:Yeah, we were talking about this before the session here. AAA is targeted to baby boomers and the stations that have been with the format for a long time got to this group when they were younger. When I first started at KBCO, we were an 18-34 radio station. We were very pleased to be #1 18-34. Several years later we started to look at 25-54. Then by the late '80's we were 25-54. Now they're looking at 35-54 as their core audience and the pool of potential listeners is getting smaller. So now, out of necessity, these stations have to focus more and more on their core and their P-1's. While at the same time looking at their younger end, they have to do it with hotter spins because that's the kind of radio that THAT demographic is accustomed to. It's a balancing act. I will tell you, I've never seen a AAA station that has a repetition problem in research. We have never even tested the boundaries of that.

PERRY: This is something that has evolved. When we turned KBXR on in 1993, SBR helped us and worked with us for 5 years and we still have contact. The model was different for spins back then. We had a certain idealism about what we could do as a format. The more successful AAA stations have evolved and increased their spins and have subverted, to a degree, their passion for music to a passion for winning. We still have the ideals but we have to put a finer point on those ideals to make them work in this day and age. And I disagree with you Howard. There IS a commonality to this format and it isn't primarily music. It's the ethos, the stationality, the presentation. That is what is common at KGSR, and KBXR and KAEP. I remember in 1993 the format consensus was that 100 spins was time to consider recurrent. Now 100 spins is the time we consider committing to 200 or 300 more spins for that song. If you're going to grow, you have to evolve.

RAHN: I want to back up and underscore one thing Mike just said in response to Howard's earlier statement about AAA being a format. I got involved with this before it WAS a format. There were stations around the country who, playlist-wise didn't have too much in common with KBCO but the concept, the ethos was similar. Forward thinking, musically adult, interesting, lifestyle oriented, respectful, intelligent.

LEON: You mean Modern AC?

RAHN: No. That's not what I'm talking about. What I've just said, could you use that to describe most Modern AC's?

LEON: Yes!

RAHN: C'mon! There's a different mindset, a different lifestyle. There's more of an AC mindset. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

LEON: Many Modern AC's target adult females. They name them female. ALICE. Lifestyle. Knowing your audience and your demographics.

RAHN: As far as being musically interesting and leading?

LEON: I always used to call Modern AC's "Alternative Recurrents". Altrex.

RAHN: Well, we consult some Modern AC's and I think that it is a format that really, wisely took the best of AAA and packaged it in a very mainstream way. A lot of AAA 's could learn from what Modern AC has done. But I still contend, though there are exceptions, that for the most part these stations are rooted in AC and when the winds of music change, they've got their finger in the air and they're going to go whichever way the music is going. And that's a very different mentality from a AAA or Rock mindset that declares "we're gonna make some things happen. We're gonna LEAD musically."

LYONS: Let's move to a question about Mediabase. I've heard about the difficulty Mediabase has had recognizing AAA and NAC songs. Jim, Jessie-how is this going to be dealt with? Are you going to search for smarter music people? Is it budgeted?

KERR: I hate to be coy but that's really a question for someone at Mediabase.

SCOTT: I can address it by just a hair. One of the things Mediabase does, is hire people. And there is an extensive musical test that they have to pass to be a monitor.

LEON: Rock n Roll Jeopardy?

SCOTT: Exactly.

KERR: Kevin McCabe is the director of formats and charts at RnR and he is our primary man who deals with Mediabase (Kevin joins the panel from the audience)

McCABE: Radio and Records elected, when we transitioned ten formats to Mediabase to not include AAA in the transition. It was our feeling that we had enough to do in getting ten formats converted without worrying that this very special format might have some holes musically. After looking at the Mediabase data , while we are very confident in it, there are some special challenges. Like KPIG in Monterey. We need to work with Mediabase to make sure they're getting every single detection at every station. So, on behalf of Rich Meyer , the president of Mediabase, he is very determined and very dedicated to the AAA format. And he's doing 20 stations now but he'd like to grow the total and when he does grow the total and we feel confident in the data, we're going to include that in RnR. But, I think it's a work in progress. There are special needs and considerations for this format. I'm not sure how the Gavin publication treated the AAA format with Mediabase but we elected not to do it at this time. It is going to come in the future, though.

SCOTT: We have some with and some without Mediabase and I know somewhere down the road we will be dealing with it at Americana as well as AAA. Part of it is getting the music into these folks hands so that they're familiar with deeper cuts on albums instead of just the single.

LYONS: I want to move to the Web now by first explaining THE FREQ LOUNGE that Jim and I were referring to earlier in that KFOG hypothetical. Paulette McCubbin, who did AAA with Lee Arnold before me, last year began a website and chat room devoted specifically to the AAA and Americana formats. It's the FREQUENCYLOUNGE.COM and it's become invaluable to us in the radio and record business who now hit it regularly. Speaking of the Web, doesn't it make sense to take some of the value-added promo stuff from sales and put it on your website. Instead of those Saturday and Sunday remote appearances, you give them a banner ad on your site?

RAHN: Well, the leading stations that we work with went through that phase abut three years ago. Putting some accounts on their website. Then they realized that they has just moved the clutter from on-the-air to on-the-website. We think there's a potential there to sell that website space on its own. Not just for value added deals, but to generate revenue on its own. Several stations we work with do not do any trade or value added at all. It is provided for sale. Links are NOT provided for free. They're available for sale. For cash. And that's where it's going.

PERRY: We've has a website for four years now. We launched it by having people register to win a trip to L.A. to see STING at the Hollywood Bowl. We use it for feedback, voting, involvement in on-the-air promotions. It expands our reach in the market.

LYONS: Do you let people play contests on it?

PERRY: Absolutely. We just did the Top 102 albums of all time and let people vote on the website.

RAHN: Five or ten years ago. One of the things I promoted so much, as a marketing person, was database, database, database. Some stations did it but most took a half -hearted approach. Now, some of the stations that did it that generated mail databases are trying hard now to convert that database to e-mail. If you're not building an e-mail database at your radio station right now , you should be. With special contesting, off-air contesting, website game pages, clubs etc. The same rule applies now to what we were talking about 5 years ago-you should have 30% of your cume in a database. An e-mail database costs nothing to mail. You've just got to mail them good stuff. The other wonderful thing about it is, you can start using your e-mail database immediately! You get 100 names, you can start using them and increase from there.

LYONS: Sorry, we're out of time. Thank you all very much for being here this morning. The Governor wants us out of here now so that Sable can set up for the NAC panel.


Blogger Dan Kelley said...

Excellent! Thanks for posting Lee.

7:07 PM  

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