Sunday, February 27, 2011


Bill Dodd (current PD at KLOG and KUKN in Longview/Kelso, WA) was the first PD I ever worked for. I’ve learned a ton from him and still seek his advice. Out of all the things Bill has taught me over the years, the one that is the most effective and still my favorite is to “speak in telegrams, not complete sentences.”

The principle is simple. Cut out all the extra words.

When you watch an old Western movie and they are reading a telegram, it normally looks something like this:

“Shoot out. Noon. Tomorrow. Saloon. Need help. Come quick.”

If it were an entire sentence, it would read like this:

“The boys are coming and we are having a shoot out at Noon tomorrow at the Saloon. I really need your help. Can you get here as fast as you can?”

Speaking in telegrams is much more efficient, effective and gets you to the point a lot faster.

Here’s how it relates to your next break on the radio.

FULL SENTENCE BREAK (this was an actual break I heard)
"That’s Keith Urban and Kiss a Girl on 93.3, WXYZ. Good morning, the time is 10:20 and my name is John Doe. Coming up I’m going to play more of your favorite songs. I’ll have the brand new song from Carrie Underwood. Our weather looks like this, sunny and 56 degrees today, clear skies overnight and down to 47 tonight. More sun for tomorrow and around 55 degrees for the high.”

"Keith Urban, Kiss a Girl. 93.3 WXYZ. I’m John Doe. 10:20. I’ve got the brand new one from Carrie Underwood next. Sunny 56 later, clear 47 tonight, back to sun and 55 tomorrow.”

38 fewer words in the telegram break and still able to say the same thing.

It’s simple, just use fewer words. You don’t need to use every available word for your break. Not only will it get you to the point faster, it will increase your energy and momentum.

Go back and listen to an aircheck. Did you speak in a complete sentence, or a telegram?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Phyllis Stark from wrote an article this week in her Stark Country column elaborating more on my recent blog.

Click here to start getting her twice weekly Stark Country.

Can an artist’s “brand” make or break the success of their singles?

Programmers say top tier artists can often get a free pass with listeners, who profess to like their new songs immediately simply due to their affinity for the artist. At the same time, an artist with a tarnished “brand” might not get a fair shake from listeners, even with a great song.

Dial Global VP of programming and Hot Country format PD John Paul recently blogged about the topic after Chris Young landed his third consecutive No. 1 hit with a single his label previously tried and failed with prior to Young’s more recent chart successes. That’s evidence, Paul says, that the format is still artist driven. On the plus side of that equation, Paul says, certain superstars get high marks just for their track records alone.

“We do a daily feature called ‘The Delivery Room’ where we play a new song and take votes,” says Paul. “Many times when people find out it’s someone they know, love and are familiar with, they give it a 10. Some will even say, ‘I didn’t even hear the whole song, but I know it’s George Strait, so I’ll give it a 10.’ Even country listeners will gravitate more to the bigger, familiar and more established stars.”

Quoting consultant Rusty Walker, WCOL Columbus, Ohio, PD John Crenshaw describes it this way: “People don’t know what they like, but they like what they know.”

“Artist brand name does mean something, and I’ve clearly seen certain artists’ songs test better than reality says,” comments KAJA San Antonio PD Travis Moon. “Pretty much any non-polarizing superstar will ‘get a pass’ from the fans when you put them up for a test.”

“Any established artist with hits will get an automatic thumbs up,” says Paul, “at least at the start of the single. After some time, radio will discover that songs from even established artists could be stiffs. [But] the big acts get a free shot in the beginning.”

KEEY (K102) Minneapolis PD Gregg Swedberg agrees with Paul that even songs by superstars must still prove themselves to be hits down the line, despite getting a free ride in the beginning of their chart life. “Artist brand names can sometimes get a record into power, but after it’s really sunk in, it [might] turn out the song isn’t as strong,” he says. “That’s always a fun conversation when the song has to come out of power.”

But an artist’s name can also work against them. Paul cites Jessica Simpson as an example when she tried to switch from a pop to a country career a few years ago.

“I did an experiment when her first single was released to country radio,” Paul recalls. “I put her in my online callout the first few weeks and didn’t use her name. The song did OK. Then I put her name in the callout and the song tanked, badly. People thought the song was OK until they knew it was Jessica Simpson, and then they hated it. Not only did that happen with our online music testing, it happened when we played the song on the air and didn’t tell people who it was. I would bet that’s part of the reason why her country career went nowhere. It was mostly about the artist.”

WUBE/WYGY Cincinnati, PD Grover Collins says that’s not limited to the country format either. “I remember doing nights at a top 40 station when Donny Osmond’s song ‘Soldier Of Love,’ [was released],” he says. “I was told to put it on the air but don’t say who was singing it so people would judge the song just on the song and not be influenced by the artist.”

Knowing how an artist’s name can affect opinions about their single, KSOP Salt Lake City PD Debby Turpin conducts all of her music meetings anonymously. “I play music for the entire staff every week,” she says, “[and] I never tell them who it is, so they form an opinion of the music, not the artist’s track record. Obviously, sometimes you can tell who it is by the voice, but I definitely get more candid feedback when the singer is unknown. Even after years of doing it this way, staff members still ask ‘Well, who is it?’ while trying to decide if they like it or not.”

One record promotion veteran agrees that an artist’s brand can be a double-edged sword. John Ettinger, now a principal in Quarterback Records and Ettinger Talent, worked all of Shania Twain’s hits and remembers her brand becoming fatigued at one point.

“As we turned from the ’90s to the next decade, all of us at Mercury learned a strong lesson,” he recalls. “Shania Twain’s name alone began to provide a certain amount of built-in burn to callout research. We derived that by telling a listener they were hearing Shania, it could add as much as 20% to the ‘tired of it’ answer in callout. If you never said her name, the burn dropped immensely.

“And, of course, after the merger with MCA, we looked down the hall saw the opposite effect happening for George Strait,” Ettinger continues. “I once joked with [then BNA Records VP of promotion] Tom Baldrica that his superstar—Kenny Chesney—wears a cowboy hat, hails from Knoxville, Tenn., and radio listeners figure they can have a beer with him at any time. My superstar is from Canada, lives in Switzerland, and brought more pop to country than all other artists combined. Which one’s harder to work?”

“I do believe that some artists carry negatives,” agrees Swedberg, who groups a whole gender into that category based on his observations of listener response. “Almost all females start with a minus 15%, and if they have a big hit they erase it over time,” he says. “[I’m] not sure why, but females can’t catch a break, but the hits do eventually test, like the current Taylor Swift … It’s really important to keep testing things, and occasionally you have to ride out first results until you get consistent data.”

That bias against new acts—regardless of gender—can make it really hard for a brand new country artist to break at radio. Paul notes that it’s not just listeners, but programmers themselves who naturally choose established stars over unproven newbies.

“Labels have to work really hard to get that first hit,” he says. “Once the star has a couple of hits, it becomes just a little easier to get airplay on the next single.

“Bottom line: PDs and MDs will automatically gravitate more quickly toward songs from established artists that have some hits under their belt,” Paul says. “If you only have a few minutes to listen to music and you have a new Zac Brown Band and something from a brand new artist you haven’t heard of or met, I guarantee the PD or MD will listen to the Zac Brown Band song. It makes it really hard for any new act to cut through.”

WYCD Detroit OM/PD Tim Roberts thinks “quality” can still cut through that clutter. “Sure, artists with negative reputations are going to hurt their chances of gaining acceptance,” he says. “However, honestly, a quality record like Kid Rock had with ‘All Summer Long,’ [even though he] may not be thought of as ‘country,’ can push through because of the quality of the song.

“Certainly with our core fans, a familiar artist probably gets a hall pass and probably is taken a little more seriously,” Roberts continues. “I believe the reason is that a power artist name probably piques interest and makes the fans listen a little closer, especially if the on air talent sets it up correctly. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that air talent really talk up new records.

“Ultimately, great music always rises to the top, but a great name or power artist can help it happen faster for sure,” Roberts adds.

KAJA’s Moon also believes the way the song is positioned on the air—or in the research—can have a big impact on how listeners react to it.

“Sometimes there is some bias in how the song is positioned for the listeners to give you feedback,” he says. “I’ve always tried to keep the testing climate sterile when I do ‘Travis Moon’s Test Tune.’ I remember when we tested Jessica Simpson, I just called her a mystery artist and let listeners grade it on her own merits. Her tune did pretty well in the test. But if I came on and said, ‘Wow, Jessica Simpson is trying to go country. What do you think of this song?’ it is a veiled attempt to fish for negative feedback. I’ve always found that you’ll get the reaction you are looking for depending how you frame a new song in a testing feature.

“That goes for research questions too,” Moon adds. “You can pretty much easily predict the results of this awesome loaded question: ‘Do you prefer hit songs from superstar artists or new songs from brand new artists?’”

“When you have a new song from, say, a Kenny Chesney, he is a brand that listeners are familiar with, and they are going to be much more excited and intrigued to hear a new song from someone that they already have a relationship with than an up and comer or brand new song,” says Collins. “I can’t even tell you how many occasions that we have sat in music meetings, heard a song from a new artist, and the comment would be made ‘That would be a No. 1 song if Kenny Chesney recorded it’ or ‘That would be a No. 1 song if George Strait recorded it.’ It’s forever going to be an ongoing battle, and it’s harder now, obviously, for these new artists with the record companies not making any money, because basically you get one or two shots.”

“Ultimately, listeners like what they know, what is familiar, what has been tested and proven to be quality over time, and what they can count on,” says Clay Hunnicutt, Clear Channel’s VP of country programming, and operations manager for the company’s Atlanta cluster. “Think of George Strait as Coke and Jessica Simpson as an energy drink. There is a certain segment of the audience that wants the new energy drink, but the masses want Coke. The energy drink is important and can carve out great fans and additional usage, especially on the young, engaged end, along with helping to redefine the future with more choices of drinks. As for Coke, people know it, love it, have memories of it, and it’s part of their life. The same with George. He’s been there. His music is a part of us. It’s set time markers in our minds with key events and life changing moments.

“That said, I think that as programmers—and music lovers—we have to build new brands and try to find the next Coke, or the next great ‘brand’ in an artist,” Hunnicutt says. “Because if we only have one choice, and it’s the same year after year after year, the music becomes predictable, disengaging to our audience, and detrimental to finding hits for radio and labels.”

“When you have a string of hits that is years long, it’s hard to deny the instant familiarity of voice and style,” says consultant and veteran programmer Barry Mardit. “For instance, when I hear a George Strait song for the first time, I immediately know it’s George. I can picture George, maybe even what the performance will look like in concert, [and] the video plays in my mind. Therefore, I’m more able to concentrate on the lyrics, which completes the package. An unknown or unfamiliar ‘newbie’ doing the same song doesn’t have that advantage, so it may take longer to sink in.”

In Providence, R.I., however, WCTK (Cat Country 98.1) PD Bob Walker says things can be a little bit easier for new artists. “Our listeners use us as a ‘hit machine,” he says. “The song is usually bigger than the artist (with [Brad] Paisley and Chesney the possible exceptions). We’ve had several big names that can’t run a song up our callout over the past couple of years, while Sunny Sweeney and Thompson Square exploded onto the scene—both with hit songs—almost instantly.

“Now if both majors and newbies are releasing hit songs at the same time, then the major gets the nod for sure,” Walker adds. “It’s comfort food. But when they don’t meet our fan’s expectations, even a big artist name doesn’t get off the ground.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I listen to a lot of radio on the weekends. All different formats. One thing is consistent, most remotes sound terrible. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with remotes. I think they are a great way to billboard your station, (as long as there are tons of banners and the vehicle is parked in a highly visible place) meet listeners and welcome new ones. Most PD’s despise remotes and consider them a tune out. I don’t agree. It’s the client’s :60 commercial. If you weren’t doing the remote break (where you have total control over what goes into that break) traffic would fill the :60 with something else. Most likely something you don’t have control over. Look at remotes as another :60 seconds that you can control. With proper guidance and coaching they don’t have to be a tune out. Here are some tips:

Keep the breaks at :60. Many jocks end up going 1:30 or longer. Unacceptable. If the client is paying for a :60, then that’s what they get. Get a timer for the jock.

Try not to do the breaks via cell phone. Take a laptop and do them in Audition then FTP them back to the station.

Edit the break down before it goes on the air. If you have to interview the client, edit them down and make sure it’s the best :60 seconds. Not only does this benefit the station, it also benefits the client.

Have the talent get there early and walk around the store. They should talk to the owner and get a feel for the business. Just like prepping for their show, they need to prep for the remote breaks. You can always tell when a jock doesn’t know much about the business. That’s when the rambling and clichés hit.

Speaking of clichés, avoid them at all costs. While there are many, here’s a few:
Come by and say hi (this is awful)
You can’t miss us (I recently heard this three times in the same break)
The deals are amazing/unbelievable (avoid hype, while the deals may be good, I’m sure they are not amazing or unbelievable)
We’ll be here until 2 (nobody cares)

Run a pre-produced open for the break voiced by your voice guy. Don’t let the in studio jock talk to the jock doing the remote on the air. That will only make the break longer (and only be entertaining to the two jocks).

Treat the remote break like a commercial. Run it first in the stop set. After all, you want listeners to show up. There’s a better chance of that happening if the break runs first in the stop set and not last. Remotes are a premium and should be treated as one.

If you have a street team/interns with you on location, don’t talk about them being there or put them on the air. Nobody cares.

Focus on the benefits for the listener. Keep the message focused and brief. Your job is to get people to stop by. You don’t do that with a laundry list of things going on. A long list doesn’t make it sound any more exciting. Things the listener cares about will make it more exciting. Find the biggest benefits and promote those.

Every remote should have a special that’s only available while the station is there. This will make the remote even more of a big deal. Work with the AE and the client to find something to promote or win.

Remotes don’t have to be a tune out. If you eliminate the negatives and focus on what makes them great, they can be a win-win for everyone. Put some time into improving your remotes and embrace them. Work with your AE and promotions department to make them special. Who knows, maybe your cume will increase AND you’ll help the bottom line.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


This one is going to strike a nerve and be pretty polarizing.

Chris Young is proof that country radio is still artist driven. He has the #1 song in the country this week with “Voices.” The exact same song he released a few years ago and it didn't do much. Back then he didn’t have any hits under his belt. Now he’s had two back to back number one songs and the label decided to try the song again as a single. It worked.

Miranda Lambert is another one. She had mediocre songs that didn’t really catch, then finally after several tries, “The House That Built Me” paved the way for her to have hit after hit after hit. She’s now up for 7 ACM’s and on fire and it's well deserved.

A weaker example is Jessica Simpson. I did an experiment when her first single was release to country radio. I put her in my online call out the first few weeks and didn’t use her name. The song did OK, then I put her name in the call out and the song tanked, badly. People thought the song was OK until they knew it was Jessica Simpson, and then they hated it. I would bet that’s part of the reason why her country career went nowhere. It was mostly about the artist.

We do a daily feature called “The Delivery Room” where we play a new song and take votes. Many times when people find out it’s someone they know, love and are familiar with, they give it a 10. Some will even say “I didn’t even hear the whole song, but I know it’s George Strait, so I’ll give it a 10.” Even country listeners will gravitate more to the bigger, familiar and more established stars.

All of this makes it really hard for a brand new country act to break at radio. Labels have to work really hard to get that first hit. Once the star has a couple of hits, I expect it becomes just a little easier to get airplay on the next single. PD’s and MD’s will always gravitate to the more established artists with proven hits. Count the unique artists you have in your Selector or Music Master, and then compare it to a CHR or Hot AC. You’ll see my point.

In order for country music to survive, we will always need new stars. That’s why it’s so important for you to find the best new music and when you play it, sell it on the air. It’s part of our job to make new music familiar and create fans of these artists and songs. The bigger fan someone becomes, the more they will listen to your station to hear their favorite star or song. That equals cume and TSL.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


A friend of mine Brian Huen works at Radio Disney in Burbank. Part of his benefits for working there are free passes to Disneyland. He can go anytime he wants. Does he use these free passes? You bet he does.

You see, Brian gets it. He works for a format that is geared toward Tweens (9-16 year olds, the largest demo since the Baby Boomers). That's the target and he knows he needs to stay in touch with them in various ways (he also watches the same TV shows they do, talks to teachers and spends as much time as possible with his nieces and nephews).

What a great tool he has by being able to go to Disneyland when ever he wants. He's never lost that special feeling of being at Disneyland. For many kids and families, it's a once in a lifetime vacation and Brian learns a lot about his job by watching and talking with those families at the park. Plus, being at Disneyland keeps Brian focused and motivated. He knows the day that he stops wanting to go to Disneyland will be the day that he starts to lose touch with his job and the audience.

Most of us don't have a Disneyland in our backyard, but we do have events, remotes and concerts. These are just as important. Especially the concert part. These are your P1's who have spent their hard earned money to see their favorite star. This is a great place to watch and talk to these listeners. Think of it as a mini focus group.

Go where your audience is. Watch them, ask the right questions and use that information to make your station and/or your show better.

Be like Brian and take full advantage of a gigantic resource that is right in your back yard.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I got this from a co-worker today and it made me laugh.

You were first hired by a GM who actually worked in radio before becoming GM.

Radio stations were no place for kids.

You got off on the sound of "dead air" on the competitor's station.

Sales guys wore Old Spice to cover the smell of liquor.

You were playing Elvis' #1 hits when he was alive.

Engineers could actually fix things without sending them back to the manufacturer.

You worked for only ONE station, and you could name the guy who owned it.

You remember when normal people listened to AM radio, and only"hippies" listened to FM.

Radio stations used to have enough on-air talent to field a softball team every summer.

You're at least 10 years older than the last two GMs who fired you.

You used to smoke in a radio station and nobody cared.

Engineers always had the worst body odor, not because they worked too hard, but because they just didn't shower that often.

You know the difference between good reel-to-reel tape and cheap reel-to-reel tape.

Religious radio stations were locally owned, run by an old Protestant minister and his wife, never had more than 20 listeners at any given time ... and still made money.

You have a white wax pencil, a razor blade, and a spool of 3M splicing tape in your desk drawer - - just in case.

You know people who actually listened to baseball games on the radio.

You can post a record, run down the hall, go to the bathroom, and be back in 2:50 for the segue.

The new guy you're training has never listened to an AM

You knew exactly where to put the tone on the end of a carted song.

You spent most of the time on Friday nights giving out the high school football scores. And when they weren't phoned-in, you got really pissed off.

You only did "make-goods" if the client complained. Otherwise, who cares?

You can remember the name of the very first "girl" that was hired in your market as a DJ.

Somebody would say, "You have a face for radio," and it was still funny.

Sixty percent of your wardrobe has a station logo on it.

You always had a screwdriver in the studio so you could take a fouled-up cart apart at a moment's notice.

Agents were people like James Bond and the Man From Uncle.

You would spend hours splicing and editing a parody tape until it was "just right," but didn't give a damn how bad that commercial was you recorded.

You still refer to CDs as "records."

Dinner? Let's see what the last shift left for me in the refrigerator.

The only interaction between you and someone else prior to bedtime is, "Thank you. Please pull ahead to the second window."

Your family thinks you're successful, but you know better.

You played practical jokes on the air without fear of lawsuits.

You've been married at least three times, or never married at all.

You've answeed your home phone with the station call letters.

You used to fight with the news guy over air time. After all, what was more important: your joke about your ex-wife, or that tornado warning?

You knew how to change the ribbon on the teletype machine, but you hated to do it because "...that's the news guy's job."

You had listeners who only tuned in for the news ... and not you. You could never figure that out.

You know at least three people in sales who take credit for you keeping your job.

You have several old aircheck cassettes in a cardboard box in your closet that you wouldn't dream of letting anyone hear anymore, but you'll never throw them out or tape over them. Never!

You can still see scars on your finger when you got cut using a razor blade and cleaned out the cut with head-cleaning alcohol and an extra long cotton swab on a wooden stick.

You still have nightmares of a song running out and not being able to find the control room door.

You've ever told a listener, "Yeah. I'll get that right on for you."

You have a couple of old transistor radios around the house with corroded batteries inside them.

People who ride in your car exclaim, "Why is your radio so loud?"

You remember how upset people used to get about Richard Nixon.

You have at least 19 pictures of you with famous people whom you haven't seen since, and wouldn't know you today if you bit 'em on the ass.

You wish you could have been on "Name That Tune" because you would have won a million bucks.

You even REMEMBER "Name That Tune".

You were a half-hour late for an appearance and blamed it on the directions you received from the salesperson.

You've run a phone contest and nobody called, so you made up a name and gave the tickets to your cousin.