You Research the Bricks. How’s the Mortar?

Years ago music research was a secret weapon for stations in larger markets.  Those early music tests were often counter-intuitive for programmers – this can’t be right, a song that’s a big hit has terrible scores … a stiff has great scores.  Stations that took the information to heart and used it to re-engineer their playlists scored big in the ratings.

As the years have rolled by music research has become the ante just to stay in the game.  While we’re partial to our music testing solutions at NuVoodoo, OMR (Online Music Research – an online replacement for callout), OMT (Online Music Test – an online replacement for auditorium tests) and our new OMT Mini (for when you only need to test up to 300 titles), there are many companies selling music research.

But, what about the content between the songs?  If you think of a station’s music selection as the bricks used to build your station’s wall, then the stuff between the songs is the mortar.  The mortar holds the music together, adds entertainment value, helps to communicate the station’s brand and differentiates the station from competitors – both terrestrial and online.  At the risk of over-extending the metaphor, a wall built with great bricks and substandard mortar is a weak wall.

At NuVoodoo, we have years of experience researching between-the-songs content, both within our perceptual studies and as stand-alone studies for clients.  Initial reactions to these data are often reminiscent of reactions to early music tests – this can’t be right, that’s a great piece of production.

Our internet-connected world has raised the stakes on entertainment expectations.  A piece of production that might have been incredible theater-of-the-mind 20 years ago is now met with a shrug.  A bit that would have had people driving off the road in laughter years ago is now cute.  Local radio used to be in competition for mind share with other radio stations, local TV stations and the major networks.  Today even basic cable has gotten into the game with high production values and great writing – not to mention the constant barrage of entertaining, compelling bits of content consumers swim through in Social Media.

In addition to wanting fewer commercials, consumers also complain about the commercials themselves.  At WBEB in Philadelphia, Jerry Lee has been researching commercials for years, trying to aid clients in getting greater engagement from his station’s listeners.  It’s a great idea, since improving the commercials serves both advertisers and listeners.  But many advertisers are resistant to such change and sales departments are rarely in a strong position to dictate creative changes to clients.

So, we change the things we can and accept the things we cannot change (while trying to find a way to change them anyway).  With the pursuit of ratings increasingly a survival contest, it makes sense to do whatever you can to ensure that everything you control in your station’s programming stream be as good as possible for listeners.  What choice is there?