Dave Beasing joins us for another guest blog:
If I try to list all the Alternative stations that saw ratings increases, I will inevitably offend someone by leaving them out. Suffice it to say that the Alternative Honor Roll is lengthy this Spring. Some stations (like KROX/Austin, KCXX/Riverside, KEDJ/Phoenix -- woops, I wasn't going to make a list) are experiencing their best ratings in many years.
What do stations like these have in common? A few things:
- They have great airstaffs. By that, I don't just mean these people follow the playlist and read the liners well. Each person on staff plays a distinct role - one that our ongoing research shows listeners grasp. Take KXRK in Salt Lake City, for example. Not only is the character of each member of their top-rated morning show well-defined, each full-time staffer in other dayparts is also. Todd Nuke 'Em in middays is the music expert (who blogs and plays tunes from his iPod). Artie Fufkin in afternoons is the lovable nerd you can't help but laugh AT (not with). Corey O'Brien at nights is the new music guy (who also macks on the girls). Just as a Jack station makes listeners wonder "What's next?" musically, great jocks bring an element of unpredictability also.
- They're not part of radio's establishment. Long before Elliot Spitzer, FM radio had bad P.R. These stations didn't create that problem, but they have taken great pains to separate themselves from it. Whether carefully positioned as "Local" or "Independent" or both, they're definitely not perceived as corporate clones. To the executives reading this, that may sound harsh, but it's nothing new. By its very definition, "Alternative" must be positioned as being outside the mainstream.
- They listen to listeners. What do winning Alternative stations have in common with newer technologies like videogames and iPods? They're interactive. Whether it's installing a listener feedback line, taking an online survey, conducting listener groups at the station or asking opinions at remotes -- every single winning station has found ways to demonstrate that they care about listeners and share their values. That's the ultimate P.R. fix for radio.
- With few exceptions, they stream online. If you're still looking for a way to pay for streaming, try raising the rates because of good midday TSL.
- They're NOT perceived as "Top 40 stations that play New Rock." I defy you to find even one Alternative P1 that wants to hear a record label single repeated every 90 minutes. That's simply not their mindset. These stations do play the hits, but they've found ways to be known for much more than that.
- They play more musical variety than they have in years. That usually means familiar and fresh music, not deep and weird. As Jack stations have proven, the shortest playlist doesn't always win.
- Many of these stations are reaping the rewards of salable demographics. One programmer recently asked me, "My ratings are still higher than KBZT in San Diego's or KNRK in Portland's. Why should I rethink things?" Ask your sales manager. These stations pull in major adult shares. If 12+ mattered, there'd be lots more "Music of Your Life" stations. Do I wish that ad agencies would think of radio as a way to reach fringe demos? Of course. And I also pray for world peace.
- Last but not least, a big thank you to Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Killers, Foo Fighters, Beck, White Stripes, The Bravery and many others. Some of their hits have crossed over to CHR or Active Rock (helping generate cross-cume), but these are Alternative artists who are making great new music. Stations are being choosier about the new music they play at a time when the quality is high. That's powerful. These days, when we play something other than Nirvana, chances are good that it's not a let down.
Congrats to all. A new model for successful Alternative radio is taking shape, and you're helping create it.