Moneyball: Is Your Station an Appliance or a Show?


Looking ahead to a fresh NuVoodoo Ratings Prospects Study in the New Year – which is six weeks away – we were looking at things we’d asked about in past studies but haven’t updated recently. In 2024 it will be ten years since we asked respondents which of two descriptions was closer to how they thought of FM radio stations:

  • It’s like a shopping mall where different stations as like stores with distinct offerings.
  • It’s an old appliance that used to be better at playing music you like.

In 2014 the numbers decidedly favored the idea of stations as stores in a mall – with heavier listeners far more inclined toward the mall/stores comparison and a heading for a third of lighter listeners comparing radio to an appliance that used to work better.

In addition to varying by usage level, these opinions also varied by music format constituency. CHR P1s strongly favored radio as distinct brand offerings, while AC – generally the least foreground of the major music formats – is where more conjured up an old appliance.

These data are from nearly a decade ago and even then we noted it was a national sample and specific local stations were undoubtedly healthier. At the time we also noted that the numbers underscored the need to continually reinvent, re-engage and re-imagine our on-air products.

Discussing studies with stations, managers often cite that they want to know what listeners think of their station. The truth is, of course, that listeners rarely think about stations – they spend their time thinking about their lives. Their jobs. Their health. Their kids. Their money. The things that are really important to them.

To encourage consumers to care about stations, it’s incumbent that we care about them. While many programmers, managers, and radio station staff members care deeply about our listeners and their markets, absent a crisis or local disaster, there’s rarely the opportunity to demonstrate how much they care. Unless your station takes the initiative.

Nearly nine years ago we last asked respondents how important a favorite music radio station or a favorite morning radio show was to them. Even then the generational lines were drawn. With any 25+ demo slice, their favorite music radio station was important to more than was Social Media – though it wasn’t until we jettisoned those born after 1960 that music radio was a clear winner over Social Media. Keep in mind these are data from 2015, people born starting in 1961 – after 1960 – are now 62.

It makes sense that radio could not compete for daily importance in the lives of those who’ve come of age during the advent of Social Media. Your Social Media channel is all about you – people, brands, interests important to you. At best, your favorite music radio station is supposed to be for people like you – not you specifically.

Many of us grew up at a time when radio was our connection to whatever was cool in our youth culture. Network TV didn’t have time or recognize the need to resonate with youth. So-called underground newspapers in some cities helped, but only published weekly. We connected with our culture back then via radio stations with DJ’s who lived and breathed the music culture of the day and connected us to upcoming concerts long before email blasts from Ticketmaster or the artists themselves were imagined.

Programming veterans talk about the “predictable unpredictability” that some stations used to strive for in the past – and many of the very best still do today. It’s a reminder that radio is an entertainment medium and not a utility. There’d be calamitous outcomes if the power company decided it would be fun to change from 60 Hertz to 66 Hertz for a few minutes every few hours or the water company decided to pump Coca Cola instead of water on April Fools’ Day.

But radio needs those irregularities to remain interesting and relevant. It’s the oh-wow or other pleasantly unexpected song in each segment. It’s the promotion wrapped around an event in the market but twisted just enough to get a smile and become worthy of mentioning to friends. It’s thinking about radio as a medium that creates a community – and not just a commodity.

We’re looking forward to getting fresh data on these questions in early 2024. What do you think those numbers will look like?