Don’t Just Talk…Think About Boring Radio (Archives)

© 2001, Terrell M. McDaniel, Ph.D.
Gavin Magazine, April 27, 2001 – Archived

The recent fervor started by the published comments of some Nashville label execs about how boring country radio is – or isn’t – has provided lots of stimulating talk in the industry over the past couple of weeks.

As an industrial/organizational psychologist, I study these problems in businesses, and I’d like to present a few observations on where this debate springs from, and a model that might offer some solutions as well as some context for your water cooler discussions, and hopefully, management meetings.

The first concept this matter brings to mind is the Product Adoption Curve, a marketing model developed back in the 60s; a bell-shaped model divides consumers (and in this instance, Country radio listeners and industry insiders) into several groups:

· The Lunatic Fringe are those that jump on a new product very early, when no one else understands or cares.

· The Innovators adopt it a little later and help to refine it. They legitimize it and are the “opinion makers” that catch the attention of the Early Adopters.

· The Early Adopters than develop uses of the product and recommend it to the general public.

· Businesses make their best profits on the next group, the Early Majority, who weigh the price to the benefit of the product, and make it a big success at, say, Walmart.

· Their satisfaction persuades the Late Majority, who are low risk takers and price conscious consumers.

· Finally come the Laggards: you know, the bunch who are just now hearing about this Garth Brooks fellow, and are so enthused that they are upgrading their hi-fi to CD capability.

The record execs who have been in the news recently are the same ones who brought you some of the staple acts of country radio. They are also the bunch who provided some dogs, or some really great acts that you loved personally, but didn’t play, so the acts changed to another format or just faded away.

Chances are, these producer guys belong in the first group or two of the adoption curve, and it’s a good thing: somebody in their shoes is going to produce the Next Big Thing. If these guys were too satisfied right now, in light of what has been going on in country radio over the past couple of years, your future would look a lot dimmer. As it is, they are back in the A&R department doing demos on a kid with a synth-fiddle, a cowboy hat, a yodel-rap-fusion thing going, and a couple of very hip tattoos. You laugh? You must be a more conservative, Late Majority type.

And do these giants of the record industry get frustrated by trying to please you, the radio programmer? Heck, yes: they are artistic guys, not marketers. If you are looking for marketers, dial zero to go back to the switchboard and ask for promotions. Producers and record execs walk the line between “catering too much to radio” (finding records that will get played a lot but don’t expand the artistic envelope) and “getting too artsy” (please see “dogs,” “changed format” and “faded away” above). Their compromise is to “find an act (they can) believe in.” This usually means acts that feel artsy enough but are also likely to gain momentum as they ride the product adoption curve.

So, be pleased – even excited — that there are a bunch of bored and frustrated Music Row producers, driving around looking for acts that will someday excite your listeners, build momentum, make lots of bucks and numbers for your station, and then, ultimately, seem ho-hum and “long in the tooth” because, well, everybody’s sort of heard them.

But this whole line of talk ignores the real important person in this equation: you. Remember, the product adoption curve is about people , not products. There are a few important questions you can ask about the people involved in making a radio station exciting. These questions should not be asked only about music, but about every ingredient in your station’s sound and identity.

Which category do you fall in, personally? Which category fits your boss? Your GM? Your corporate execs? Who are the people or organizations that you, or your station, look to for new innovations? Where do these folks fall on the curve? Can you identify listener groups, day-part audiences, live venues, or other consumers that fall into the different groups? How about particular vendors, competitors, or sponsors? And how do you pay attention to each of the groups? How do you monitor their preferences and choice patterns? Does this model help you know how to prioritize the use of your resources? Do you have a process for bringing innovations along?

It is essential that you answer these questions for this reason: As a product matures, the corporate pressure is to focus on the people in the Early and Late Majority because that’s where the numbers and the easy money are, so it is easy to take your profits and focus on efficiency — corporate execs like that sort of stuff. The problem is that the people in the “early groups” define the excitement, direction and future of Country music and country radio. Those groups are where most of the creativity and liveliness is most appreciated and sought after.

As for your listenership, if your numbers dip, the country fans who were the first to go are the Lunatic Fringe and The Innovators – and they are taking the successive groups with them! To succeed, they’re the ones you have to get back!

In the meantime, think about this stuff! Discuss it! Study! Imagine! And don’t necessarily jump on the yodel-rap-fusion trend just yet

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