Jacobs Media's Dave Beasing Diagnoses the Problem, Responds to Questions Posed Partially En Español
YOU CAN’T PUT YOUR ARMS AROUND A MEMORY: This column is way past due, but an ongoing IM conversation with KNDD PD Phil Manning has me distracted. We have 38 years combined PoMo experience between us, spread over many markets, so we're never at a loss for topics of conversation. His response to my whining about how hard it is to get truly “alternative” bands played on most PoMo stations was “callout kills.” Wow, what a great T-shirt, I suggest. A few lines later, we decided on our tagline: “Callout Kills Bands Dead.” The shirt has to be red (for the “red” states), with a can of Raid spraying the CDs of the “passion” bands that don’t research at 150 spins. Order yours now for $20. Proceeds will be used for counter-intelligence (how Alias), which is necessary for a job as counter-intuitive as radio promotion… So, how was your Fall book? Before I started mourning the death of the format (although the black Valentino worn by Cate Blanchett at the SAG Awards would be a fetching look for the memorial service), I decided to get a “climate” check from Jacobs Media consultant Dave Beasing, as it is he who spends far more time in the proverbial “eye of the storm.” Q: Dave, what the hell is going on? Has the bottom fallen out at PoMo radio? A: The significant ratings drops that many stations experienced is a symptom of three major things: 1) Diary returns. Getting a return from 18-24 year-old PoMo listeners is a big problem. Arbitron isn’t offering any immediate solutions, at least none that aren’t a year or two away. 2) Cell phone use. This is a problem for all researchers, not just Arbitron. One of the stations we work with took a Web poll and found that nearly 25% of respondents didn’t have a home phone. Before Arbitron sends out a diary, they first call the potential recipient, asking if they will “agree to accept” this diary. 3) From a lifestyle standpoint, people have more options than FM radio. TSL is negatively impacted by video games, TV, Internet streaming, Mp3 players, etc. No format is affected more than PoMo right now, although this will spread to other demos. Q: Uncle! Uncle! (it’s PMS week so I’m a bit dramatic). A: We have to embrace the iPod as a reality. FM radio is not seen by this generation as the “cool new gadget.” From a station’s point of view, we’re going to have to offer more compelling programming than ever before. Q: But what about stations that try to entice the listener with positioning statements like “radio without the rules,” and then they play the same burnt songs they were playing six months ago? Even the most casual listener can sense how ridiculous that sounds. A: Radio has had a PR problem. They’re going to have to “walk the walk.” This is branding through shared values of what’s important to the audience. If you can get them on your side because you’re making an effort to give them what they want, even though you’re confined by the necessities of commercial radio, they will give you the benefit of the doubt. We can learn from stations that are listener-supported. Look at the NPR model—from the grassroots up, not the corporate office down. Q: Will there be more stations going “adios PoMo, hola El Sol” in the near future? A: I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more stations shake out, but maybe they’ll be replaced by new operators who see the financial upside to the format. Q: Que? A: The PoMo demo is a very attractive audience to reach which the rest of FM doesn’t. Radio shouldn’t write off this demo. There’s great new music coming out, as well as 25 years of Alternative music history. One bad book is survivable; we need to talk to the audience, however. An underlying theme we hear again and again when we do focus groups is that there’s a “specialness” missing to the radio station. When the audience uses words like “generic,” “corporate” and “mainstream,” the station is just another alternative outpost. They want the station to be local-centric, while pushing the boundaries of the mainstream and “putting on a show.” Q: We know the “blue” state stations that are doing this successfully; what about the seemingly impenetrable “red” states? A: KRBZ is a great example of a station in the middle of red state territory. They have a sister station that covers Active Rock, so, with good solid “golds,” they can take chances on new music. On-air PD Lazlo is also #1 18-34 afternoons, fulfilling the “entertainment” part of the challenge. Q: Any final words of wisdom? A: I’m enjoying music meetings more than ever. We have an “embarrassment of riches” of great music to choose from. There isn’t a shortage of music, just not enough slots. If we can have some fun, be passionate about what we do and convey that passion to the audience, we’re going to get through this… Thank you, Dave, as always. Now I’m going to resume my IM-ing with Phil, while trying to stump WFNX’s Keith Dakin’s “Six Degrees of Bill Murray” game, as the Bravery CD plays in the background. I love my job.