New PD - Research

I am a new PD and I’m trying to learn everything I can. Can you tell me what is the most common problem you encounter with PDs using research? Thanks. - MT

MT: I wouldn’t call it a "problem," I would call it a characteristic. However, this characteristic doesn’t relate only to PDs, but also to GMs, OMs, and all the double-letter or triple-letter designations of people at radio stations.

The characteristic is this: an uncanny ability to transform something simple into something complicated. This is particularly true with music tests. Some of the "formulas" I see PDs (and others) develop for interpreting music tests are just amazing. I’m sure William of Occam (Occam’s Razor) would be dumbfounded if he could see some of these formulas.

If you’re trying to learn, then learn to keep things simple. Don’t make things unnecessarily complicated. I’m not referring only to music tests, but to all research you will encounter. If conducted correctly, research is a simple process. Don’t add stress to your job by complicating simple procedures.

This characteristic was highlighted to me today when one of my friends called to say that he was on Mapquest for over 30 minutes trying to figure out the easiest way to get from a city in Ohio to a city in Maryland. He asked for my help. So . . . I reached over for my Atlas and gave him the directions in about 30 seconds. 1 + 1 = 2 . . . . you don’t have to say that 1 + 1 = the square root of 81 minus 1 minus the square root of 4 divided by 3 times 1.

New Radio Station

Hi there. What’s most important in the launch period of a new station in a competitive market? Is it building the music image or a good breakfast show? I feel we cannot concentrate on both and we can only launch the station once. Can we run with a relatively weak breakfast show while selling the music image of the station? For how long can we do that, as a good breakfast show is very important, as we all know.

I also feel that it takes time for any new fresh morning show to settle and that we have to give that time. However, the wrong music will put us into enormous problems right from the beginning. What do you think?" - Jack

Jack: You ask your question and then answer it yourself by saying that you cannot concentrate on both music and the morning show. But then you ask what I think.

Here’s what I think . . . A radio station is a multi-faceted entity. There is music (or talk), the morning show and other dayparts, personalities, service elements, formatics, commercials, and more. All of these things work together to produce the product.

You are about to present your product to the listeners. Do you want to present the entire product or only part of it? Do you want listeners to judge your new radio station on only a few of the elements or all of them? Do you want a person to tune in and say, "The music is OK, but the morning show sucks." (Or vice versa.)

There is no doubt that launching a new radio station takes a lot of work. But based on what I have heard from radio listeners, I think you need to face the situation and put in the work necessary to offer the entire product when you launch. You say that you’re in a competitive market. You may put yourself behind the 8-ball by offering listeners an incomplete product. You might not get a second chance with these people.

With that said, if it comes down to the fact that you literally cannot do both things before the launch and are forced to pick one, then my vote would be to have the music right. You can put on your morning show within 30 days. (But I really don’t like that choice.)

New York (9-11)Disaster

I have seen several weird emails and photos about the New York disaster. Don’t you think all of this information is very strange? - Anonymous


Anon: Yes, there are many weird things going around the Internet. They are weird because most of them are hoaxes. Check this out: Hoax.

New York Times Ad Costs

Doctor:  A friend just told me he saw a two-page ad for Hellboy in the New York Times.  What does an ad like that cost?  Thanks. - Tom


Tom:  I’m not sure if the production company has some type of frequency discount, but   Click Here for the New York Times ad rates for “Motion Pictures” (as of mid 2004).


You’ll see that there are four different prices depending on the whether the ad runs during the week, on Sunday, or if it’s “Nationwide” or “Global.”  I’m sure you’ll fall over when you see that the prices for a two-page ad are (without ad agency reduction of 15%):


Nationwide Weekly:  $187,236

Nationwide Sunday:   $225,288

Global Weekly:          $261,828

Global Sunday:           $299,880


I talked to my good friend in Ohio who is involved in newspaper advertising and he said that you’d have to be a moron to pay those prices.  He said that the production company probably negotiated a lower rate.


My question to you is:  Do you think that’s worth the price?  My thought is, “Gag me with a beaker.”


Roger, I always love your straightforward answers and listener focus. Please help debunk a couple of myths about news and ‘quarter hours.’ My GM is adamant about getting the news within one minute of the top of the hour (all music station). I say it doesn't matter. By the way, we do news at the top and bottom of the hour. Also, give us your read on sweeping the quarter hour with music. Again, I say people don't listen to the radio that way. The most accurately programmed and audience focused station wins every time! Right? Isn't all this just "radio science?" - MB

MB: I understand the first part of your question, and am confused on the second part.

What I understand: In reference to your news question, the thousands of research projects I have seen show that most radio listeners (in any format) agree with your GM—not because of Arbitron ratings or quarter hours, but rather because they want to hear things at the same time. If you say that you have news on hour and half-hour, then that’s what they expect. If you say traffic on the "10s," that’s what they expect. If you don’t deliver what you promise, listeners get very upset.

Radio listeners are human beings and human beings are creatures of habit. We all do things the same way almost every day, which includes radio listening. I have heard a countless number of listeners say that they schedule their days based on what’s on their favorite radio station. They know if they are early or late for work based on what’s on the radio. If you mess around with your news times—or times for any other feature—you are going against the grain of listener expectations. And . . . Mother Nature says, "Don’t mess with expectations."

Now to the part I don’t understand: You say that listeners don’t listen that way (sweeping the quarter hour). You may be right that some don’t, but I would bet that some do. How much is "some?" I have no idea. But I do have a strong idea that if you assume that your listeners act as a unified group, you are wrong. They don’t.

Is sweeping a quarter hour a good idea? It all depends on whether you subscribe to the idea that listeners write down (in Arbitron) exactly when they listen. Sweeping quarter hours may be more useful in Nielsen TV households (because of the People Meter), but I’m really not convinced that it is guaranteed to get you two quarter hours. You’re probably not hurting yourself if you do sweep the quarter hours.

What I really don’t understand: You say that, "The most accurately programmed and audience focused station wins every time! Right? Isn't all this just ‘radio science?’" The answer to your first question is yes—the most accurately programmed and focused radio station does win every time. The answer to your second question, even though it comes across as a negative, is yes—radio is also a "science."

Any successful business requires a combination of art and science. If you perceive it any other way, then you’re going to have a tough time. Science, the vehicle to collect objective information, provides artists with information to make better decisions. Science eliminates the reliance on fad, intuition, opinions, urban legends, and myth. Learn from it and use it.

News on Music Formats

Somebody told me the other day that “research” indicates news is consistently a turn-off in music formats, with the possible exception of mornings.  Of course, they couldn’t qualify their statements, and I haven’t been able to find anything on the web that would back that up.  Obviously, each station’s audience is different, but do listeners generally indicate news outside of morning drive is a turn-off?


Bonus question: is full-service dead?  Thanks. - Gene


Gene:  The first two sentences of your question made me think about three things:


1.  I’m amused at the number of people who preface a comment by saying, “Research shows…” and, as you say, they can’t back up the statement.  Which research?  For which market?  When was it conducted?  Who conducted it?  What was the format?


2.  If research does “show” this, it doesn’t mean it relates to your audience.  This is something you need to find out about your listeners.  You can’t use information from another radio station or another market.


3.  I’m also amused at the number of people who believe that music radio listeners are interested only in listening to music.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Music listeners are “normal” people who want to know what’s going on just like non-music radio listeners.


OK, with those things out of the way, I can say that I have a few hundred studies for all types of music radio formats in all market sizes that verify that your “somebody” is wrong.  While music radio listeners may not want to hear a 30-minute news block on a music radio station, they are interested in what’s going on.  In fact, one of the main complaints music radio listeners have is that their favorite radio station (music radio) never tells them what’s going on.  I frequently hear people say something like, “I didn’t know anything about the [disaster, breaking news story] because the radio station I was listening to was playing music.”


As I said, while music radio listeners do not seem to want a long news segment on a music radio station (if they do, they go to a news station), they expect two things: (1) Brief headlines about the most important things going on during the day (I have never found an audience for any type of music radio station that says they are not interested at all in hearing the news—at least the headlines; and (2) Break-ins on programming (even cutting a song short) to report an emergency situation.


And yes, I can back that up.  However, as I mentioned, you should ask your own listeners.  They may want a 10- or 15-minute news segment.  I don’t know for sure.

News/Talk Definition

I am looking for the industry-accepted definition of ‘News/Talk Radio.’ Would you please send your description? Thank you. – Anonymous

Anon: I usually try to highlight something about the questions I receive. This process may help people understand the difficulties in asking questions. For example, if I were a respondent in a perceptual study and you asked me this question, I wouldn’t be certain about what you wanted from me. Are you asking me for an industry-accepted definition or my definition? Or, are you saying that my definition will become (or is) the industry-accepted definition? See what I mean?

Anyway, here is a shot . . . which is now the industry-accepted definition . . .

News/Talk Radio: An AM or FM radio format that combines, in varying amounts, a variety of news and information programs along with a variety of local and/or syndicated talk shows.

News/Talk Demographic

What type of consumer listens to news talk radio? - Anonymous


Anon: I have been doing research for News/Talk radio stations for about 25 years, and this is what I know . . .


I'm serious as can be when I say that a News/Talk radio station attracts the demographic that it targets.  If the station's target is Women 25-40, and everything on the radio station relates to this group, then the radio station will attract Women 25-40.


The problem with many News/Talk radio stations is that the PDs (or whoever is in charge) program to a format that was, not what the format can be.  Much of the programming is repetitive, stale, and/or antiquated and naturally produces a target audience of people 35+ (or older) who listen to the stuff because that's all they are given.


The 3-Step Rule to Success that I have been "pushing" for the past 25+ years applies to all radio formats: (1) Find out what the listeners want; (2) Give it to them; and (3) Tell them that you gave it to them.  If a News/Talk radio station wants a different listener demographic, then it must give that demographic what it wants.

News/Talk and More

Hi, Dr. Wimmer.  I have 3 questions for you:


1.  We all know how important it is what goes between songs.  Can you give me the names and definitions for the different elements most programmers use in their programming?  (Liners, sweepers, jingles, bumpers, etc.)


2. Are there any commercial AM or FM Talk Radio stations simulcasting in the Internet?


3. Where on the Internet can I learn more about this format?


As always, thanks for your great help and knowledge sharing.  Best regards from Bogotá, Colombia - Tito


Tito:  Hi to you too.  You keep me busy with your questions.  Here are three answers:

  1. I don’t like to reinvent the information wheel, so I found some neat material from a class syllabus at the University of Delaware that explains liners, jingles, and other items.  Click here: Filler Materials.

  2. There are many good News/Talk radio stations on the Internet.  I set up a search for you to get started.  Click here: News/Talk Radio Stations.

  3. I think you can learn a lot about News/Talk radio stations by going to their websites and also by reading articles about the format.  I set up two searches for you to do that.  Click here: News/Talk Radio and News/Talk Elements.

I hope things are going well in Bogotá and you’re welcome for the answers.  I hope I answered your questions.

News Voice

I work at a talk format station and I want to improve my on-air delivery. Can you suggest a book (that's not too expensive) or the benefit of your own experience as to what I can do to sound more professional on the air? I have been in print media for 13 years and I want to make the transition to broadcast. I like broadcast journalism and I want to be the best I can in front of a microphone. Please help me." - Anonymous

Anon: You can find several books about voice and delivery on Go there and search for books on "radio voice."

However, I think you may be overlooking a good source—the other on-air personalities at your radio station and your PD. Tell them about your interest in sounding more professional. I’m sure these people would be happy to help you.

Newspaper Endorsements

Hi Doc:  When I watch political ads on TV, many of the candidates include that they have been endorsed by one newspaper or another.  My reaction every time is, "Who cares?"  My question is: What influence do newspaper endorsements have on political campaigns? - Anonymous


Anon:  Interesting question.  While I could summarize many research studies about the topic, I think you will find your answer in this well written article.


I have always found political endorsements by newspapers to be very interesting.  I have wondered for many years why a newspaper editor or editorial board thinks he/she/they have any credibility in reference to endorsing anything.  In most studies I have conducted, the vast majority of people say that they never read the editorial pages in newspapers.  But what do I know.

Newspaper Photographs

I am doing an undergraduate research study on the impact of photography in newspapers. I am having a rough time finding a communications theory to back up my project and am wondering if you have any suggestions. I could even use a psychology theory on image recall or how images relate to memory. Also, do you know of any good online sources for newspaper research, specifically, photography in newspapers? Thanks so much for your help! A desperate but thankful student. - Joel


Joel: If you have been reading this column for a while, you should know that I’m not going to give you the exact information you need because I want you to learn how to search for things on the Internet. With that in mind, I believe you’ll find enough information if you go to and do a search for these items:


1.  Significance of newspaper photographs

2.  Significance of newspaper pictures

3.  Affect of newspaper photographs (also use "effect")

4.  Effect of newspaper pictures (also use "affect")


As for information about newspaper research, do a search for "newspaper research."


By the way, one problem I had with your question is that you said you are having a rough time finding a communications theory to back up your project. You never mentioned what your theory is, so I have no idea what you are attempting to test. Are photographs good? Bad? What?


Finally, are you sure you want to test a theory? Do you think it would be better for you to test a research question? There is a difference.

Niche Formats

Formats come and go. I remember that many people in the mid-90s were singing the praises of niche formats such as "Arrow," which focused on 70s gold without the deep album cuts. It turned out that that format was good for 3 or 4 books and then it was "Goodbye."  Now we (parts of the country) are seeing an increased popularity in "Jammin' Oldies" and "Country Legends."

My question is this: are these viable, long run formats? What must they do different than current intensive formats such as CHR and AOR? I mean, really, how many times can you play "Rubberband Man" or "Smokey Mountain Rain" and expect the audience to come back? I know the answer depends in some part on the market and the competitors. – Anonymous

Anon: First, like people in all types of businesses, radio people are always looking for something new to give to the audience. This is a natural. How many things in life stay the same forever? Not many. Anyway, radio formats have come and gone since Marconi made his first broadcast across the Atlantic Ocean and there is no reason to suspect that this pattern will not continue.

So we get formats called "Arrow," "Jammin’ Oldies," "Country Legends," and others. However, there was a time when there was only ONE type of AC, CHR, Rock, Country, News/Talk. We now have "Mainstream AC," "Hot AC," "80s based AC," and more. Formats constantly evolve—that’s the nature of the business.

However, your question about the life of these formats is a different matter. I’m sure that many other people have thought about the same thing, including me. My experience with formats indicates that the life of a format is not always based on audience desires, but rather on the desires of the PD and others at the radio station. I could use an example such as "Jammin’ Oldies," but I don’t need to since the process is just about the same for all new formats. Here are the typical steps in the process . . .


1.   A new format is developed that is based on some type of audience research.

2.   The format goes on the air, and if done correctly, becomes popular.

3.   After a few ratings books, some people at the radio station (or corporate headquarters) start to criticize something about the radio station—the repetition, the playlist, the formatics, etc. Why? Because the format has been the same for "too long" and must be tweaked. (There are many radio people who like to fix things that aren’t broken.)

4.   The audience still likes the original product, but the nervous radio people make changes anyway because they "know better." The era is expanded, tempo is changed, recurrents or currents are added. All these changes are made to "freshen" a radio station that the audience doesn’t think is stale. ("Let’s give them what we think they want.")

5.   The newly "tweaked" format usually bears very little likeness to the original format and usually fails in the ratings. What’s the decision? Bring in a new format and start the cycle over again.

Now . . . I’m not saying that a format should not be tweaked to clear up problems. Changes are sometimes necessary. However, the problems should be real, not merely perceived. For example, why do most Mainstream AC radio stations eventually drift toward Hot AC? What I usually see is that the listeners like the radio station, but the PD thinks the music to too "slow" or "soft." The tempo is increased, the radio station takes a ratings hit, and everyone stands around scratching their heads wondering what happened. (What happened was that something was fixed that wasn’t broken. Remember "New" Coca-Cola?)

I understand very clearly that radio is an art form. I understand very clearly that to a good PD, a format is like raising a baby and there is a lot of emotion tied to the product. I understand very clearly that people in the radio business may get nervous about the "staleness" of a format because they hear it every hour of every day. However, like you, I don’t understand why there is a need to mess with success.

Maybe it’s not cool to attend a convention and tell your buddies that you have been doing the same format for 5 years. Maybe it’s more exciting to tell your buddies that you’re doing something new. If that’s the case, just imagine what Alex Trebek has to say about his job on Jeopardy!. At every TV convention, he has to tell his buddies something like, "Yea, I’m still doing the same #1 rated question-and-answer game show thing." I wonder if he thinks about tweaking the format of the show?

A format that is found to be viable should continue to be so if it is tweaked, not butchered. Many of the formats you refer to as "3 or 4 book wonders" were butchered. When they died, they were but mere skeletons of the original idea.

Nielsen Radio Ratings

Doc: I'm sure you read about Clear Channel and Cumulus working with Nielsen to survey listeners beginning next year.  What do you make of their "sticker" approach?  What do you make of a once yearly survey? - Anonymous


Anon: Yes, I have read about the proposed diary ratings system.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Diaries have been shown to be ineffective in collecting listening information because listeners aren't good at keeping the correct information.

  2. In addition to forgetting to log the radio stations they listened to and at what times, listeners forget which radio stations they listen to, known as phantom cume.

  3. Because of all the problems with diaries, Arbitron designed a new approach, the Portable People Meter, to eliminate errors introduced by respondents who don't know what they're doing and can't remember what day it is.  The meter is really the only way to eliminate the errors made by respondents.

  4. The diary "sticker" approach, where radio stations' call letters and frequencies are on small "Post-It" like notes on pages in the diary, were designed to reduce phantom cume and also make it easier for respondents to complete their diaries.  The purpose of the stickers is to try to make it as easy as possible for people who have trouble following directions—kind of like the way fast food restaurants replaced numbers on their cash registers with pictures of their menu items so the workers wouldn't have trouble entering numbers.

  5. I don't think there is a major problem with use of stickers.  If it's easier, then that's great.  The problem is that many markets have dozens of radio stations and the diaries will have to contain many, many pages of stickers.  Good for my 3-year-old granddaughter, but not for adults recording their radio listening.

  6. The one survey per year is absolutely ridiculous.  Radio listening, like the use of most of the other mass media, is very seasonal—radio listening varies depending on the time of year and the type of activities (such as baseball and football).  Having one survey will significantly skew the listening results.  A radio station that may be Number 1 during the Summer may be #10 during the Winter.  What happens to that radio station's revenue if the survey is conducted during the Winter?

  7. I only mentioned one problem with the single book idea—there are many.  I can't believe anyone would suggest that approach.

The information I read says that Cumulus and Clear Channel will help Nielsen develop this new system.  With all due respect to the three companies, my comment is, "Oh, please."  Those are just a few thoughts.

Nielsen Radio Ratings - Comment

Doc:  Great analysis of the Cumulus/Clear Channel/Nielsen ratings' idea.  I thought the one book per year approach was nonsensical too, but I wanted your insight.


However, it's about time Arbitron has some competition.  Competition forces you to be better, true?  I have a hunch and I'd love your thoughts.  Is the idea for a new ratings methodology a ploy by Clear Channel and Cumulus to leverage a reduced fee from Arbitron for the continuation of their business?  Love the column! - Anonymous


Anon: I'm glad you enjoy the column.  Thanks, and on to your question . . .


First, it's always fashionable in the radio industry to criticize Arbitron.  The task of gathering radio listening data is an amazingly complex and expensive process and it's easy for just about anyone to find a few errors now and then.  In fact, some people spend most of their time criticizing Arbitron.  I guess they need something to do and feel as though they are contributing to the welfare of the radio industry.  I don't know.


Anyway, audience measurements for all the mass media are tough to accomplish.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of details that must be addressed in order to insure that the data are valid and reliable.  I think Arbitron does a decent job overall, but that doesn't mean that everything the company does is the best way to do it.  Virtually all research methods are under constant scrutiny by researchers to determine if there is a better way to accomplish the task(s) at hand.


I can't remember a time when I didn't hear that Arbitron needs competition.  During my 30+ years in the radio business, I have seen many competitors come and go.  The companies criticize Arbitron and claim to have a better approach.  In all situations, the new companies have folded after only a few months or years.  Why?  Because, as I said, gathering radio listening data is an enormously complex and expensive process.  The new companies jump into the "ratings business," quickly become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and close their doors.


Is competition good for a business?  Sure it is, but I don't think Arbitron needs competitors to encourage them to develop a better product.  I know many of the decision makers at Arbitron and I don't believe they sit around and say something like, "Hey, we're the only ratings company around, so let's just produce a product that is the easiest and cheapest to provide."  The Arbitron people I know are always looking for better ways to produce listening data, and I don't think a new competitor, including the new option proposed by the three companies will have any affect on Arbitron's interest in providing good research information.


You asked if the idea for a new ratings methodology is a "ploy by Clear Channel and Cumulus to leverage a reduced fee from Arbitron for the continuation of their business."  Oh, I'm sure that's possible, but I can't say for sure.  However, if that is true, it should tell you something about the management of the two companies.


One more thing . . . Do I recall correctly that representatives from Cumulus and Clear Channel criticized the diary approach to gather radio listening information?  I could be wrong, but it seems rather odd that they would now support a diary-based system.

Nielsen Radio Ratings - One More

DR: What are your thoughts on the aided recall Nielsen is going to use with its diary system?  How can you get an honest sample only once per year?  What will be printed on those stickers Nielsen wants to use—monikers, call letters, frequencies?  What order are they placed on the page?  If you're the first station printed on the sticker page, will listeners automatically assume you're the number 1 station?  Thanks for your assistance. - The Great One


TGO: I already made a few comments about the proposed Nielsen sticker diaries in the previous two questions, but you asked a few other things I didn't address, so here are your answers . . .


How can you get an honest sample only once per year?  I assume your word, "honest," refers to valid and reliable research.  There is no problem with getting an "honest" sample if the study is done only once each year.  The problem is that a once-per-year survey of radio listening behavior can produce data that relate only to the specific time when the study was conducted.


Radio stations and listeners change throughout the year.  There are also significant seasonal listening differences throughout the year.  While the sample used for the ratings may be perfect, it would be wrong to use the results from a once-per-year survey for other times throughout the year because of the changes we know happen to radio stations and listeners.  A once-per-year ratings book is not a good idea.  That's why Arbitron, several years ago, went to several books or continuous measurement.


What will be printed on those stickers Nielsen wants to use—monikers, call letters, frequencies?  I assume the exact content for the stickers will be discussed for a while before a final decision is made.  However, the stickers should contain the information you mentioned and nothing else.


What order are they [radio stations] placed on the page?   I don't know what Nielsen will do, but in order to be fair, the radio stations should be listed by their frequency.


If you're the first station printed on the sticker page, will listeners automatically assume you're the number 1 station?  I don't think that would be a problem if the radio stations are listed by their frequencies.


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