Obama Financial Plan Suggestion

Doc: One of my listeners mentioned an email going around that is a plan for economic recovery.  She said it was something about giving older people $1 million.  Do you know about an email like this?  - Anonymous


Anon: I'm just taking a guess, but this may be it.  I received this from a friend a few days ago . . .


Dear President Obama,


How do we fix the mess we're in?  The answer is Patriotic Retirement.  There are about 40 million people over 50 in the work force.  Pay each one of them one million dollars as severance, tax free, with the following stipulations:

If more money is needed, see that all the members of Congress and their constituents pay their taxes.


Problems solved.


Very interesting.  The problem with this idea is that it would take $40 Trillion to pay the people over 50.  That's a bit much.


I have a question about being objective in research. I have seen you conduct focus groups and wonder how you stay objective when people say all sorts of weird things. - Richard

Richard: I’m not sure which Richard you are, but you could have asked me this question after you saw the groups. Anyway . . .

One of the rules of scientific research is that the researcher must make every effort to remain objective and "let the chips fall where they may." Focus groups are a particularly difficult research methodology because the moderator has the potential to influence everything the respondents say—whether he/she knows it or not.

I follow one simple rule: Don’t react positively or negatively to anything. I never say anything like, "good answer," or "your answer doesn’t fit" (unless the person is totally off the topic). It is important to keep a poker face regardless of what people say, although I do laugh at funny comments.

My approach to moderating is to provide an introduction that makes the respondents feel at ease. I try to create an environment that encourages them to say anything about the topic, whether it’s positive or negative, or whether it’s a minority or majority opinion. I treat each person as the most important person in the group.

With this environment, then, it is imperative that I don’t judge the respondents’ comments. If I give any hint of a judgment, it will affect the group.

I think that experience is a major part of learning to be objective. I have conducted about 3,000 focus groups in my career and I have seen and heard many, many strange things—I could tell you hundreds of stories. I have learned to expect anything and react to nothing. My reactions are saved for the report I write after the groups are finished.

Obscenity Complaint

Although I consider myself fairly liberal in my approach to things, I was listening to a radio station this morning and heard the announcers talking about things that I consider extremely obscene—I mean disgusting.  It seemed as though they thought they were being cute, but they weren’t.  How can I complain to the FCC about this behavior?  - Anonymous


Anon:  The FCC has a page that discusses how to file a complaint.  Just click here: Radio and TV Complaints.

Ockham’s Razor

Would you explain Ockham’s Razor? - Kent


Kent:  The philosopher William of Ockham was born in Surrey, England in 1285 and died somewhere around 1349.  Among other things, he developed a principle that has become known as Ockham’s Razor (also spelled Occam).  In short, the principle states that the simplest approach is usually the best.  The concept is also known as the Law of Parsimony or the Parsimony Principle.


Many people claim that Willy didn’t invent the underlying concept of the “Razor,” but it was so frequently attributed to him that he is credited as the “inventor” of using the simplest approach.


Although Ockham’s Razor and the Parsimony Principle were originally used primarily in science, the concept is now used in all fields, even everyday life.

Ockham’s Razor - Presentation

I’m a PD for an AC radio station. We just had a telephone study done and the researcher (the president of the company) came to the radio station to present the results. I didn’t understand many things in the presentation and don’t understand many of the things in the written report. When I asked questions to try to clear things up, the answers just got me more confused. What books or articles can I read so that I can understand this stuff? - Anonymous

Anon: You’ll notice that I edited your question. I don’t think it’s necessary for readers to know your radio station or the name of the researcher. On to your answer.

I may have a head full of cotton, but I don’t think it’s your responsibility to read books or articles to find out what your researcher is saying. That’s the researcher’s job. My advice to you is to continually ask for clarification until you get the answers you want and deserve.

Your presentation and written report should follow Ockham’s Razor (the simplest approach is the best). Something "don’t be right" if you’re having difficulty understanding your study and things need to be corrected (simplified). Demand it. You’re the PD.

Ocean's Eleven

In the movie, "Ocean's Eleven," the guys steal about $160 million in $100 bills.  They walk out of the casino with all the money in duffle bags.  My questions are: How much does $160 million in $100 bills weigh, and would it be possible for the men to carry all that in duffle bags?- Dean


Dean: Hey, when you watch a movie, keep saying to yourself, "It's only a movie."  In essence, this means that you need to keep in mind the concept of "Suspension of Reality."  So let's analyze the facts . . .

  1. We know that $160,000,000 in $100 bills means that we have 1,600,000 bills.

  2. All U.S. bills weigh 1 gram (regardless of denomination).

  3. All the bills, therefore, weigh 1,600,000 grams.

  4. There are 454 grams in a pound, which means that the money weighs 3,524 pounds, or 1.76 tons.

  5. I think there are 10 thieves who carry the money since Danny Ocean is doing something else at the time.

  6. If this is true, then the money is divided into 10 bags, and each bag would weigh about 352 pounds.

  7. It's unlikely that any of the thieves could carry one of the bags without some difficulty, or without being noticed.

Suspension of Reality.

Odd Snowfall or Aliens?

Doc: It snowed in our area yesterday and outside of our radio station is a split-rail fence. I can see three segments of the fence from my office window. The top rails on the left and right segments have about 1” of snow, but the top rail in the middle segment has about 4” of snow. How can that be? How can it snow more in the middle fence segment than on the two sides of the middle segment? Aliens or something? - Anonymous

Anon: I’ll have to admit that I laughed when I read your question. I don’t think I can attribute the phenomenon to aliens. I think there is a better answer and the key to your answer is “split-rail fence,” and a good example of one is shown in this photo.  On to your question . . .

As the photo shows, the posts and rails in a split-rail fence are not uniform in how they are cut. While the height of the posts and the length of the rails are the same, the width dimensions of the posts and rails are different – due to the fact that the items are split, not cut with a saw.

Instead of aliens causing the difference in snow depth on the rails, or some amazing atmospheric phenomenon, I believe you are experiencing an interesting optical illusion. My guess is that the tops of the rails on the left and right segments are close to parallel to the ground (that is, they are flat), and the top rail in the middle segment is angled toward you (the radio station) at a severe angle. What you are seeing is not 4” of snow on the rail of the middle segment, but 1” of snow on an angle that makes it look like 4” from your vantage point. However, if you see an alien out there in the near future, please let me know and I’ll change my answer.

Odds in Recruiting

What are the odds of recruiting someone who works in the media industry for a radio focus group or music test? – Anonymous

Anon: Interesting question and one that I have never been asked before. I can only guess here since there are so many variables. However, I checked the telephone call disposition summaries for several dozen telephone studies. This sheet shows how many people were disqualified for either working in the media industry or related to someone who is (the so-called "media security" question).

The range is about 2% to 5%, so that would be my guess on the odds of recruiting one of these people for a focus group or music test. (I’m assuming that all the respondents told the truth.)

Old Arbitron Books

I'm looking for Arbitron numbers for a radio station in a top 25 market (12+ market share, cume, and market rank) from 1990 to 993. Where can I find that kind of information? Does Arbitron (or anyone else) have some kind of archive system where someone can look over old books and get past ratings, cume, and market ranks, etc.? - Chris


Chris: I contacted Pierre Bouvard at Arbitron and he said their regional offices have the books and an assistant could make copies of certain pages. The offices are in Atlanta (770-551-1400), Chicago (312-542-1900), Dallas (972-385-5388), Los Angeles (310-824-6600), New York (212-887-1300), and Washington/Baltimore (410-312-8000).


I’m also fairly sure that the University of Georgia in Athens has old Arbitron books.

"Old School"

Doc:  Do you know when the term, "Old School" was first used to describe a type of music? - Anonymous

Anon: As you may know, I don't like to reinvent the "information wheel," and there is a good description of the origin of the term on this web page.


The article explains that the term was first used in the 19th century in reference to religious groups and was probably first used in reference to music in the mid-1980s.  I think this is correct.


The Urban Dictionary says:


Old School (sp. Ol Skool) is a term that originated sometime in the very early 1990's [sic] with the introduction of Hip-Hop (which was the dance anyone could do, originaly [sic] consisting of foot-work and had its roots in jazz-funk).


I know this is wrong because I remember testing the meaning and perception of "Old School," "Dusties," and "Oldies" in the mid-1980s.


If you want more information, there are other articles about "Old School" in this search.

Oldies Music

How can anyone like Oldies music? - Rick


Rick: Oh, let me take a guess that you are not over the age of 21.  Let’s take a close look at your question by asking a few other questions. How can anyone like:

How can anyone like Oldies music?  Because they just do. That’s why.  They like it because they grew up with the music, or they like it because they acquired an interest in the music from parents, other family members, or friends.

Oldies Music Grammar

Doc: If a radio stations plays music from the 70s and 80s, what is the correct way to write (or type) that?  Is it "Music from the 70s and 80s" or "Music from the 70's and 80's?"  I see it written several ways and don't know which one is correct.  Where does the apostrophe go?  Thanks. - Anonymous


Anon:  I have seen the same problem.  Many radio stations that play music from specific decades incorrectly identify their format.  I think the best way to answer your question is to show the variety of ways an apostrophe can be used when describing decades of music.  I'll use the 1970 decade as an example.

  1. Music from the 70's.  Incorrect.  This means nothing because the apostrophe is used incorrectly.

  2. Music from the 70s.  Correct because the "s" indicates that music from all the years in the decade are played (plural form of 70).

  3. 70s Music.  Incorrect.  An apostrophe is needed to indicate a possessive.

  4. 70's Music.  Correct if the intent is to indicate that only music from 1970 is played.  Incorrect if the intent is to indicate that music from all the decade is played.

  5. 70s' Music.  Correct if the intent is to indicate that music from all the years in the decade are played.

OK, those are the basic rules.  Here are some options:

  1. WAAA: Best of the 70's, 80's, 90's.  Incorrect.

  2. WAAA: Best of the 70s, 80s, 90s.  Correct.

  3. WAAA: Best of the '70's, '80's, '90's.  Incorrect, although apostrophe to indicate missing "19" is correct.

  4. WAAA: Best of the '70s, '80s, '90s.  Correct.

  5. 70s, 80s, 90s Music: WAAA.  Incorrect.

  6. 70's, 80's, 90's Music: WAAA.  Incorrect., unless the radio station plays only music from 1970, 1980, and 1990.

  7. 70s', 80s', 90s' Music: WAAA.  Correct.

  8. '70s', '80s', '90s' Music: WAAA.  Correct.

Percentage of the population that knows the difference between all these choices:    Very small.

Oldies Music Listeners

Just curious.  Do young people (18-24) listen to Oldies music on the radio? - Anonymous


Anon:  The “Format Trends” page on Arbitron’s website shows about a 2.0 share for Oldies with 18-24 year olds (Mon-Sun, 6am-Mid).  Obviously, this share will differ from market to market since the Arbitron data are for the total U.S.

Oldies Music Questions

I am aware that one of the corporate giants is demanding its 60’s era Oldies stations to play lots of 70s, ostensibly to lower the demographic. Since this was apparently done by fiat, and wasn’t something that the core listeners "asked" for, what would you think of a move like this?


Also, is an Oldies radio station destined to become the next "Music of Your Life" station and just fade away when the baby boomers get too old for advertisers to care about? I seem to remember the Oldies revival that took place while I was in high school, after "American Graffiti" and "Happy Days. Thanks. - Anonymous


Anon: I wish I could tell you how many phone calls and emails I receive from people who work for radio groups who say things similar to what you state in your question. Nearly all of their comments start with, "You won’t believe what they did now!" I hear stories about format changes made because someone at the corporate level thinks it is a good idea. Most recently, I have been receiving many comments about budget cuts—radio station managers are being told to cut expenses in every area including programming, advertising, promotion, and research expenses. In some cases, the cuts are to zero.


The trend you identify (your example of the corporate command to play music from the 70s on 60s-based radio stations) is not unique from what I hear. The trend is that a new "Regional VP" (or whomever) who oversees many, many radio stations is making decisions about local radio stations. Apparently, these people think they know what listeners in their markets want without ever asking them.


I assume the decision to add 70s music to a 60s-based radio station is made because it seems like the right thing to do. The problem with the "seems like" decisions is that most are usually wrong.


So what does this do to radio? From the comments I see and hear from listeners, their favorite radio stations are no longer providing what they want to hear. Their choice is to go elsewhere—tape, CD, and MP3. In essence, radio stations are forcing their listeners to go to other media. But it doesn’t appear that too many corporate people care about this situation. If they did, advertising, promotion, and research budgets wouldn’t be cut to zero.


OK, with all that said, you need to realize that the radio industry has changed dramatically in the past three to five years. (I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t already know.) In today’s world, the only goal of many radio operators is to produce a profit (the bottom line). Why is that? Well…profit is the sole interest of publicly owned companies. The people who run the companies own a lot of stock in the company, and therefore, the attention is on the price of the stock. If a company’s profits aren’t in line with projections, the first decision is to cut expenses, not improve the product. This is demonstrated by corporate decisions to change programming without asking listeners, cutting adverting, promotion, and research money, and by continually adding more advertising units (which, in turn, makes the product even worse.)


So the decision to add 70s music to 60s-based radio stations is not surprising—not in today’s radio environment. My guess is that you should expect more of these types of decisions because that’s the way radio operates today.


I need to add here some radio companies still emphasize the importance of a quality product. These companies know that their profits will be fine if they provide listeners with a product the listeners want.


Now to your second question about 60s Oldies…I’m not a clairvoyant and I don’t read Tarot Cards like the woman who advertises on TV. However, I do know that most things change. The "Music of Your Life" format was targeted for a specific age group and these people did in fact fade away. However, not all of the radio stations in the MOYL format rolled over and died…many changed to other formats.


My guess…and that’s what I’m doing here…is that 60s-based radio stations will probably change too. But I don’t know if the change to 70s music is the right one. Each generation tends to have its "own music." Many of the people who grew up with 60s music do not like music from the 70s, so we can’t automatically assume that the 70s-based Oldies station will attract them.


Looking at this logically, my guess is that 60s-based Oldies stations will fade away as the primary audience fades away, and something else will take its place. This will also be true for 70s music, 80s music, rap, and everything else.


I guess we could refer to Darwin’s theory and say that radio programming is the survival of the fittest. If the audience for a radio format is no longer available, then logical that the format will disappear and something else will takes its place (or be available on only a few radio stations.)


By the way, as I said, this doesn’t mean that it’s logical to add 70s music to 60s-based radio station without asking the audience.

Oldies Music Tests

OK.  Here’s one for you.  Why do Oldies PDs and consultants test the same batch of songs year after year?  Is “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones going to test differently in 2002 than in 2001?  I’m just curious. - Anonymous

Anon:  Good question.  Here are three reasons why:

  1. The PDs, consultants, and I’ll add researchers, are following a tenet (rule) of scientific research in that they are replicating (repeating) a study to determine if any changes occur.  Just because a song tests well one year does not mean that it will test the same way the next year.  The only way to find out is to replicate the study.  This is a common practice in science to eliminate relying on assumptions or “It seems like.”  It’s better to know than guess.

  2. A radio station’s listeners change from one year to the next.  For example, an Oldies radio station may target 35-54.  In 2002, there are new people who enter the target as 35 year-olds who weren’t involved in the music test last year.  In addition, a radio station will have new listeners consisting of, for example, people who just find the radio station, people who move into the market, and people who used to listen to the station before and come back.  A radio station’s audience in 2002 is NOT the same audience it was in 2001 and last year’s music scores (and everything else about the radio station) may not be relevant to this year.

  3. Related to point #2 is that a radio station’s playlist, including the playlist for an Oldies radio station, changes from year to year.  An Oldies playlist of today includes songs that weren’t “Oldies” last year.  While some songs like “Satisfaction” may be a core Oldies song today, it is important to find out when, and if, the song drops out of the core group of songs (it will because the audience that grew up with “Satisfaction” is dying off).  Anyone who understands radio, research, and listeners will always test core songs to find out how listeners’ perceptions are changing.  If “Satisfaction” tests poorly at some point, the PDs, consultants, and researchers have a very strong indication that something is happening.

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