Doc:  Why are nails called "penny," such as 6 penny, 8 penny, and so on?  - Anonymous


Anon:  There are hundreds of articles on the Internet that describe the origin of the use of "penny" to describe nails, but this one is a good explanation.  (You might want to read some of the other articles.  Many are interesting.)

Name of a Radio Station - What’s in a Name?

Is there statistical support to demonstrate whether a station’s frequency should be placed at the beginning or end of the station’s ID?  For example, would it be easier for listeners to recall a radio station as “B100, The Best Hits,” or “The Best Hits, B100?”  I’m told that the latter is better. - Anonymous


Anon:  Although you probably won’t be able to do it, the best way to answer your question is to ask your listeners.  The worst thing you can do is listen to the person (or persons) who say the “latter is better.”


With that said, I can say that I have tested hundreds of radio station name combinations in the past few decades and there is no consistent answer about which order is best.  While some listeners hear, and prefer, the station’s frequency mentioned first, other listeners hear, and prefer, the station’s frequency mentioned last.


In addition, there is no consistency in preference in reference to age, sex, or radio station format.  That’s why it’s important for you to check with your listeners.  If you can’t do that, the best alternative is to use both approaches.  There is nothing wrong with that, and you’ll cover both options.

Name the Vegetable

Sometime ago I followed a test given on the radio that was fun. The host "asked me" to add a series of numbers, then, of all things, asked what was the first vegetable that came to mind. He gave us a moment to answer, which I did aloud. Then he asked if it were a certain vegetable (to remain un-named) and it was! Though he left me feeling extraordinarily common, it was a great bit. Can you help me find that test? Thanks. - Tom


Tom: Go to this site for your answer:

Names in Column

Doc:  Every so often, I see that you include the full names of people in your answers, or sometimes the full name of the person who submits a question to you.  That got to wondering about how many people see those names.  Do you have any idea? - Anonymous


Anon:  No, I didn't have any idea, so I asked Joel Denver.  He put me in touch with Matt Shapo, who works for All Access.  Matt said that gets traffic from 85 countries around the world.


I didn't ask about specific hits, but I know it's in the tens of thousands each day, but at least you know that people from about 85 countries read this column and other pages on All Access.


So, if you want people in at least 85 countries around the world to see your name, include it in your question.

Names (Radio Names & Stage Names)

Is it better to use a real name when going on air, or a made up name? What would be the benefits to both?  Is it really necessary as a woman to take extra precaution by airing with a fake name? - Anonymous


Anon: Interesting question.  I have never seen any research on this topic, so these are just my opinions.  If other readers have more information, I'll post their comments.


I know several dozen people in radio and TV who use stage names.  You may too and may not even know they don't use their real name.  From what I have seen, people who use stage names do so because: (1) their given name may be difficult for some people to pronounce or understand when mentioned on the air; (2) they want to shorten their first or last name to make it easier to pronounce; (3) they want to try to establish an identity by using a unique name; (4) they changed their name (probably years ago) because it sounded too "ethnic," which doesn't seem to matter anymore; and (5) they want to protect their real identity for a variety of reasons, such as avoiding radio groupies and weird people.  There may be more reasons, but these probably cover most of the situations.  (By the way, most on-air radio and TV personalities do not have their phone numbers listed.)


You also ask if it's really necessary for a woman to take extra precaution by using a fake/stage name.  I think that's a personal decision.  I'm not a woman, so I can't identify with the problems of being followed, harassed, stalked, and other things.  However, I would think it would be a good idea if you are concerned with such problems.  There are many weirdoes running around, and if using a stage name reduces your chances of being bothered in any way, then it's probably a good idea to use one.

NCAA Tournament

OK, my roommate and I wasted 45 minutes out of our day yesterday on instant messenger trying to figure this one out. How many possibilities are there in the 64 team NCAA tournament if I wanted to bet every single possible combination of teams? There are 64 total teams, and it brackets down from there through 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, and finally the champion. It's driving me crazy and my brain hurts thinking about it. Thanks doc. - Bill


Bill: Here is your information so you can forget about betting on all the possibilities. I’ll say up front that you have virtually no chance of getting them all correct.


Each game must be calculated separately since each game is a separate mutually exclusive event. So, for example, in Round 1, your odds of selecting all the winners are 2 to the 32nd power, or 1 in 4,294,967,296. (This uses the multiplication rule of probability—the probability that a combination of independent events will occur is the product of the separate probabilities of the events.)


If you do this for all 63 games, you’ll find that your odds of correctly predicting all games correctly are somewhere around 1 in 9.2 quintillion, or 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,780,000.


I have seen different statistical models that estimate the odds at 1 in 100 billion, but that’s not much better.

Negative Political Ads

I’m not sure if anyone else agrees, but I am really tired of watching and hearing negative political ads.  The problem I have is that I recall that negative ads aren’t successful in political campaigns.  If that is true, then why are there so many negative political commercials? - Anonymous


Anon:  One thing to remember when you’re talking about (or investigating) anything related to politics in the United States is that logic, common sense, and intelligence are left at the front doorstep when it comes to communicating to voters.


You are correct in saying that several studies document voter dislike of negative political ads (the same way radio listeners dislike negative radio station ads).  That should be enough evidence, right?  No, it isn’t. 


So then why do the ads continue?  There is one basic reason: Neither the candidates nor their advertising agencies know anything about persuasion and/or advertising.  The ads are conceived and produced by communication morons.  Case closed.

Negative Political Ads - Response

I received the following response to my answer about negative political ads.  I numbered the paragraphs so I could refer to them in my answer.


Dear Dr. Wimmer:


1.  I am a radio guy by profession, but I have considerable experience working in political campaigns at the state and local level since the mid 1970s.  I have been a decision maker for campaigns that had small budgets, and for two that had millions of dollars to spend.  Currently, I am coordinating polling for a state political party’s US Senate campaign, so I need to be anonymous.


2.  You are correct in your assertion that voters dislike negative campaign ads, and that they are not terribly persuasive, but your further assertion that political professionals are “communications morons” is not accurate.


3.  American politics is a zero sum game with extremely high stakes.  Nothing that political professionals do is left to chance.  I assure you that campaigns “go negative” because doing so works.  What people not intimately involved with politics fail to realize is that the purpose of the negative spot is not to get the voter to vote for your guy; it’s to keep him from voting for the other guy.  Or even better, to get him to stay home.


4.  Here is a hypothetical situation:  Smith, the Republican candidate is facing Jones, the Democratic candidate.  Let us assume that the district leans slightly Democratic, but, by looking over the voting records, Smith can see that there is a core Republican vote of around 40%, a core Democratic vote of around 42%, with the rest “floating,” depending on the race.  Of the partisans for each side, some are stuck like glue—they are die-hard Democrats or Republicans.  Others “lean” toward one of the two parties, but will sometimes vote for the other.  Others vote sporadically, if at all.  Under these conditions, which are pretty common in most American jurisdictions, the easiest, most cost-effective way to win the race is to do everything you can to insure turnout by your own partisans, identify hot-button issues for the independents, and address those, and then do everything you can to depress turnout among your opponents’ turnout.  That’s where high-frequency negative ads come in.  It doesn’t matter if the spot isn’t credible.  I have seen high quality academic research that indicates that negative information, even from a low credibility source, will affect people’s perceptions, if repeated often enough.  The attack spot will not usually persuade a weak Democrat to vote Republican (or visa-versa), but it may cause the less-than-committed partisan, or opponent-leaning independent to stay home on election day, or to ignore a down-ballot race.  So, he or she might vote in the Presidential or US Senate race, but ignore the Congressional race.  (For the last 100 years or so, it’s pretty common that the lower the race appears on the ballot physically, the small the number of people who vote in it.)


5.  Voters are more sophisticated about such commercials today than they were when this advertising method was first stumbled upon 25 to 30 years ago, so it doesn’t work as well as it did in the ‘70s.  But it works well enough.


6.  Most political professionals find the attack ad to be distasteful.  But most are also quite Machiavellian, and are willing to pursue whatever means are necessary to insure victory.


7.  At the state level, we do daily tracking polls for our candidates, which ask voters about candidate favorability and their likelihood to vote, as well as questions about the substance found in TV spots.  I assure you that if you’ve bought at least 1000 GRPs, and the spot is well done, people notice and take the information found in the spots into account. And you can see a pretty strong correlation between a well-done negative campaign and the opposing candidate’s favorability ratings.


8.  The problem is that everybody does it now, and, in my opinion, it corrodes trust in the system as a whole.  But, until political people determine that the system doesn’t work, don’t expect it to change.  If more people got involved in politics, educated themselves, and voted, it would be a whole new ballgame.  But I am too cynical in my middle age to believe that will ever happen.


Enjoy the column! - BC


Anon:  First, I’m glad you enjoy the column.  Thanks.  Secondly, thanks for the response to my answer.  It’s always nice to hear different views about anything.  I’d like to address some of the points you made.


I appreciate that fact that you disagree with my closing statement that “political professionals are ‘communication morons’,” but I stand with that statement.  I stand with it because I feel the negative ads are just the tip of the iceberg.  To me, the negative ads are the visible “skin lesions” on a rotting body.  And you provide support for my perception when you say things such as:


Paragraph 3: “What people not intimately involved with politics fail to realize is that the purpose of the negative spot is not to get the voter to vote for your guy; it’s to keep him from voting for the other guy.  Or even better, to get him to stay home.”  What happened to political commercials that discuss a candidate’s strengths?  Are “positive ads” used less frequently now because candidates (some, many, most, all?) don’t have any strengths to discuss?  Have we reached a point where the “least objectionable candidate” is selected by the party—a point where it doesn’t really matter who runs, or what the person’s qualifications are, because the advertising campaign will simply attack the other candidate?


This may or may not be true, but from an average voter’s perspective (I have been involved in political research for many years), the negative advertising approach illustrates candidate weakness, not candidate strength.  Sure, negative ads may “work” in persuading voters to believe that an opposing candidate is pond scum, but is that the foundation of American politics?  (Candidate A:  “I don’t know a darn thing about what I’m doing, but my opponent is pond scum, so don’t vote for him.  Better yet, don’t vote at all, and maybe I can slide into the office on my own slime.”)  That’s a really cool approach and speaks well for American politics.


You support this argument in your Paragraph 6 when you say, “Most political professionals find the attack ad to be distasteful.  But most are also quite Machiavellian, and are willing to pursue whatever means are necessary to insure victory.”


Paragraph 5:  "Voters are more sophisticated about such commercials today than they were when this advertising method was first stumbled upon 25 to 30 years ago, so it doesn’t work as well as it did in the ‘70s.  But it works well enough.”  First, if voters are more sophisticated about negative ads, then why use them?  Secondly, I don’t buy for one second that voters are more sophisticated.  Where’s the proof?


The “voters are more sophisticated about such commercials” is a logical fallacy known as a deductive inference, in which an argument claims that the truth of its premise (“Voters are more sophisticated about such commercials today than they were when this advertising method was first stumbled upon 25 to 30 years ago...”) guarantees the truth of its conclusions (“…so it doesn’t work as well as it did in the ‘70s).  Sorry, I can’t buy your argument.


Paragraph 6:  You say that, "Most political professionals find the attack ad to be distasteful.  But most are also quite Machiavellian, and are willing to pursue whatever means are necessary to insure victory.”  Since Machiavelli’s fundamental thesis in “The Prince” is a discussion of governmental policy based on retaining power rather than pursuing ideals, I have to say that I believe your summary is correct.  But I have a problem with this approach and it further supports my “communication morons” comment.


My fundamental approach in research is to find out what people want and give it to them.  It is not to give people what I (or someone else) think is correct, necessary, or anything else.  A communications “genius” asks people what they want so the messages can fit their needs, wants, and desires.  If both voters and politicians do not like negative advertising, then why use them?  That’s the approach of a communication “moron.”  (Find out what the people want, then give them the opposite.)  I don’t get it.  Why not pursue “whatever means necessary” to communicate useful and relevant messages to voters?


Paragraph 7:  You say that, “…you can see a pretty strong correlation between a well-done negative campaign and the opposing candidate’s favorability ratings.”  First, I’m not sure what a “well-done negative campaign” is.  In my mind, and I may be a moron in a variety of ways, a negative campaign is a low-level, cheap shot approach used by politicians and advertising agencies to cover up a candidate’s lack of qualifications.  To me, an approach such as this cannot be “well-done.”  (“Candidate A is really good at denigrating his/her opponent.”  That’s a dignified profession/approach?  I don’t get it.)


Secondly, the relationship between voters’ use of the media and their voting behavior is a multivariate situation.  I know this because my Ph.D. dissertation investigated these relationships.  While the correlation you mention may exist, I find it difficult to believe (without seeing a scientific study) that the relationship is univariate in nature.


Paragraph 8:  You say that, “The problem is that everybody does it now, and, in my opinion, it corrodes trust in the system as a whole.”  What do many children hear from their parents?  I think it’s something like, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.”  Consequently, just because “everybody does it now” (negative political ads), doesn’t make it right.  Or, as I often say in this column, “That don’t be right.”


You also say that, “If more people got involved in politics, educated themselves, and voted, it would be a whole new ballgame.”  I think you hit the nail on the head here, but it may be that the negativism created by the “political people” perpetuates the apathy many “common” citizens have towards politics and effectively pushes them away from wanting to become more involved.


My belief is that most politicians and advertising agencies are not complete morons, but rather morons when it comes to communication.  As I said earlier, if both politicians and voters find negative advertising distasteful, then why use the approach?


I also agree with you when you say, “…don’t expect it to change.”  I don’t think it will either because there are too many lemmings in politics and they will just follow the group regardless of whether the group is right or wrong.


But then, what do I know?

Negative Political Ads – Follow-up

I don’t want to get into a debate here, but I wanted to make one further comment, and then retire from the soapbox.  You asked, “Why not pursue  ‘whatever means necessary’ to communicate useful and relevant messages to voters?”


The answer is, unfortunately, is that it costs more, and is more difficult to do.  Many Americans are always willing to believe the absolute worst about politicians, but fewer are willing to believe the best.  Thus, it is easier to tear down one’s opponent than build up your guy.  And with finite resources, political managers tend to do what is easiest and cheapest.


I don’t think negative ads would work in any other marketplace.  If McDonald’s attacked Burger King, for example, it wouldn’t necessarily help McDonald’s.  The consumer might just spend that money elsewhere, and not patronize either hamburger chain.  Politics is different.  Regardless of how many people might be turned off by negative spots, and how low the turnout, one of the two major candidates is going to win, and reap all the rewards, and the other will lose and get nothing.  In such a zero sum game, the negative campaign has a certain terrible logic driving it. - BC

BC:  Thanks again for the response and I’ll step off the soapbox too.  It’s unfortunate that negative political ads are used because of Occam’s Razor—they are cheaper and easier to produce.  Money and hard work surrender to simplicity.

In your last sentence you say, “In such a zero sum game, the negative campaign has a certain terrible logic driving it.”  I think that pretty much sums up why I’m not involved in politics.  I couldn’t live each day with such a “logical” perspective.

Negotiating Salary

Doc:  Any suggestions or strategies on how to negotiate what you're worth, salary wise?  How do I prove I'm worth more than am being offered?  Broadcasting is known as a low paying career, but I want to start making what I'm worth in the marketplace.  Thanks in advance for your help. - The Great One


TGO:  As you probably know, the worth or value of anything, including you and me, is what someone is willing to pay.  For example, for less than $100, you can buy an atomic watch that shows the exact time.  Or, for about $15,000, you can buy a Rolex that isn’t as accurate.  Is the Rolex worth it?  It is to someone who thinks so.  (Not all people who can afford a Rolex actually buy one.)

Here’s another example….Many professional baseball players are paid millions of dollars each year and have batting averages of .250.  In other words, they are successful only 25% of the time they are at bat.  Are they worth it?  They are to the owners who pay them.

Determining a personal worth is not always easy.  In some industries, salaries are well defined and there isn’t a lot of flexibility.  This isn’t true in radio.  Here are a few things to consider…

First, there are many articles on the Internet about salary negotiation and you may want to look at some of them.  Second, although there isn’t a lot of information about radio salaries on the Internet, there are a few articles that might help.  Third, the worth of anything is a combination of reality and fantasy.  Sure, a Rolex is a good watch that is well made and very reliable.  But there is also the mystique of Rolex that increases its value—a mystique (perceived value) created by the company itself.  A Rolex may not really be worth $15,000+, but the reality/fantasy combination has made the cost “legitimate” to some people.

This approach is also true for the “worth” of a person.  You need to prove your worth to the person who signs your check.  What are other people in your position paid?  What are your responsibilities?  How many hours do you put it?  What do you contribute to the radio station’s success?  In what ways are you different from anyone else who might apply for the position?

You’re worth is what you make it.  Get the information together and present it to your boss.

New Jocks - Advice

What would you tell new jocks about the things they should and should not do on the air? - Anonymous

Anon:  Whoa!  Complicated question there, my friend.  I don’t want to write another textbook here, so I’ll just highlight a few points that I have learned from the research I have done during the past few decades.

Some Things New Jocks Needs to Know

  1. Presentation:  All on-air personalities must realize that there are many, many types of people in the audience, and each person hears and understands things differently.  Some people pick up things quickly and some do not.  In addition, the listeners are involved in an almost infinite number of activities while they are listening (work, play, etc.).  Since there are so many different types of people doing so many different things, it’s important for all on-air personalities to speak slowly and clearly.  I don’t mean that jocks should sound as though they are talking to a 2-year old child.  However, many listeners say something like, “I can’t understand the DJ because he/she talks too fast, runs one sentence into another, and mumbles a lot.”  These are not characteristics of a professional communicator.

  2. Listener Awareness  An audience during any given hour (and probably any given minute) during any daypart consists of listeners who are in various stages of understanding about the radio station and show they are listening to.  Some listeners have been around for days, weeks, months, or years, and some have just tuned in for the first time.  The problem is that we (including all jocks on the planet) do not know how many of each group of listeners is in the audience.  And there is no way to find out.

All people go through 5 Stages of Communication before they decide to do anything (unawareness, awareness, comprehension, conviction, action).  The “action” stage in this case is when a listener decides to listen to a radio station (or jock’s show), or maybe even decide that the radio station or jock is their favorite.  (For more information about the Stages, click here: 5 Stages of Communication.

Because no one knows exactly who is in the audience, it’s necessary for a jock to address each of the five stages—probably every day.  The listeners need to know (or be reminded) about the radio station, when things are on, who the voices belong to, and everything else.  Many jocks assume that “everybody knows” when the news, traffic, and weather reports are on, how much music the station plays, the names of the personalities on the air, and everything else.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Even long-time listeners forget things.  They need to be told.

A jock can increase his/her audience size significantly simply by addressing the 5 Stages of Communication, but most don’t know anything about the process.

  1. Sales:  When jocks are asked to explain their main responsibility on the air, most will use the word “entertainer” or “entertainment.”  There is nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that a jock’s main responsibility is sales—not advertising sales, but sales of the station and sales of himself/herself.  Everything a jock says should provide a compelling reason for listeners to stayed tuned in.  The jock (or whomever) IS the radio station when he/she is on the air, and every spoken word must be relevant, compelling, and targeted to selling the radio station and himself/herself.

  2. Talk TO not AT:  Many listeners complain that jocks don’t talk TO them either by the words they use, or what they talk about.  A good example of this is when a jock talks about what happened on the show yesterday.  What about the people who didn’t listen yesterday?  They are lost.  The jock is talking AT them, not TO them.  Jocks who talk about things that happened yesterday (or any previous day), or talk about something in the news or themselves without providing some background, demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of his/her job, the audience, and communications.

That’s a start.

New PD

I am flying across the country soon for final interviews to be PD for a station that is in a market and region I am totally unfamiliar with. What kind of research ‘checklist’ would you suggest to best prepare me for this, and what resources can I utilize to learn about the market, demographics, lifestyles, etc.?

As an experienced PD, I have always used perceptual studies and music tests to help my team build a strategic plan, but when you don’t have the job yet, those studies are obviously not in my personal budget! I look forward to your reply. Thanks. - New Market PD

New PD: You have a compound question here. Are you asking for demographic and lifestyle information about the: (1) new market; or, (2) new radio station? I’ll answer both.

Market: There should be plenty of information on the Internet...try this or this.  If these don't, then use a search engine to find information about the market.

Radio station: I don’t know how much you know about the radio station, but you can get some ratings information from Arbitron, All Access, or R & R. In addition, go to the radio station’s web site. If it has one, you should be able to learn a lot (that’s what your competitors do).

However, I don’t believe that your new employers expect you to know a lot about demographics and lifestyles of the radio station’s listeners before you start the gig. What most employers look for is a PD who knows: (1) that such information is necessary; (2) how to pull this information from various research studies; and (3) how to use this information in decision-making. You obviously fit all three categories.


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