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I Only Hear You On One Occasion: Make It Right posted on May 7th, 2015

For the last five years of the PPM measurement era, increasing TSL has been believed to be a measure of increasing listening occasions. With an average listening span of 10 minutes, broadcasters became existential about longer individual stretches, and began teasing like crazy, in hopes of making their TSL up in smaller chunks.

While I have larger issues with that type of programming, it raises a more immediate question. What would your listeners hear if they did give you that extra occasion? So I decided to listen to a market for 10 minutes at a time (or thereabouts), specifically market No. 37: Columbus, Ohio. In doing so, I was adding an extra dimension, not just the broadcast radio itself, but the streaming experience.

I started at 10 a.m., listened to 11 different stations, and went roughly until noon with a couple of do-overs (more about that later). My listening was timed to avoid morning shows and lunchtime specials.

Unlike a local listener, my listening required three different streaming platforms. Once I was able to listen, however, it was a largely positive experience. I did encounter some of the typical pitfalls of streaming and “today’s radio,” but overall I was favorably impressed with my “time in the market” as every station and its advertisers geared up for Mother’s Day.

Here’s my listening log:

9:58 – WLVQ (QFM96) – The classic rock outlet was running a “00 ID for its jockless “shut up and rock block,” then stagers for the listener-driven “Q on Demand” (one of which instructs the audience to “pick some good [bleeped].” The 12 minutes I heard were all hits: “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Killer Queen” and “Legs.”

10:10 – WNCI – The top 40 went into spots at :15, but before it did, I heard “Can’t Hold Us” and Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” set up with the “No. 1 for New Music” stager, followed by a Ryan Seacrest bit about curing a Cinco de Mayo hangover. When the spot break came, I heard a jock endorsement spot, then several mostly local spots, an ad for the iHeart Radio Summer Pool Party and then (apparently as a fill song) “Grenade.” This took me up until 10:21, overlapping slightly with the next station.

10:18 – WSNY (Sunny 95) – When I tuned in, the heritage AC’s middayer Trisha Moore was reading the weather; she’d come back before I left at 10:30 to tease an upcoming remote at a local supermarket and the giveaway that went with it. I also heard two stagers: one usage (“pick you up”) and one attitude (“just like free cookies in the breakroom”) in between “As I Lay Me Down,” Maroon 5’s “Sugar,” Scandal’s “The Warrior” and “Safe and Sound.”

10:30 – WCOLThe country powerhouse went from David Nail’s “Let It Rain” to Brett Eldridge’s new “Lose My Mind,” then went into spots at :36. But the station’s Andy Clark both front- and back-sold the Brett Eldridge enthusiastically, before teasing a chance to go on-tour with Kenny Chesney and win $1,000. When the spots did come, there were at least four different jock testimonials, followed by an iHeart Country Fest promo.

10:38 – WCKX (Power 107.5) – The big story here was the station’s upcoming Stone Soul Picnic, but DJ Dimepiece also took a minute for the “Celebrity News Buzz” (Chris Brown, celebrating his birthday, falls off stage; Jamie Foxx explains why his version of the National Anthem sounded off). I heard Kanye West’s “All Day” and Jidina’s “Classic Man” before the station went into spots. So far, by the way, I hadn’t come across any typical spot filler — bad PSAs, the same GEICO spot three times — and that continued here. Some of my Power 107.5 listening overlapped with my next station.

10:40 – WCVO (The River) The longtime Christian AC had various stagers commiserating with listeners who experienced stress at work and on the drive home, and promising “songs and stories” that would be “uplifting and encouraging.” Middayer Mary O’Brien punctuated the Newsboys’ “We Believe,” Phillips, Craig & Dean’s “Revelation Song,” and David Crowder’s “Come as You Are” with a relatable about Tom’s Shoes’ upcoming “One Day Without Shoes” campaign.

11:00 – WVMX (Mix 107.9) I hit AC WSNY at the exact right time. I tuned into hot AC sister Mix in one of those unusual hours in which it staggered its ad breaks–stopping at :03 (after Magic!’s “No Way No”) and came back to music at :10 with the legal ID and “Love Me Like You Do.” I came back a few hours later and heard music from 2:50 to 2:58, then a five-minute break. (I also heard “Thinking Out Loud,” “Shut Up And Dance” and “Fight Song” again.) Mix did have a good Mother’s Day promotion – the “Mommy & Me” photo contest. I also heard a number of good quality spots on behalf of local advertisers.

11:11 – WODC – I also tuned in to this successful Classic Hits outlet in time to hear just one song (“Dancing With Myself”) before it went into a local break, which also had spots for local sponsors, before going into two fill songs (“Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and “The Rubberband Man”), then coming back with “Superstition.” There was a good relatable about the temperature at which the most crimes are committed (64 degrees, when the greatest number of people are out and about).

I also came back and gave WODC a second listen at the end of the hour. Between 11:58 and 12:10 was a different story. The former “Oldies 93.3” has evolved into more of a Classic Hits/Adult Hits hybrid, so I heard “The Joker,” Night Ranger’s “When You Close Your Eyes,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Lights” by Journey, and “Cuts Like a Knife.” There was also a “From Columbus Zoo to Nationwide Arena” stager that opened with a trumpeting elephant sounder.

11:21 – WCLT (T100) – “T100 HD” and “100.3 HD,” as the station called itself, is an anomaly: locally owned and focused on a nearby county, but still a part of the larger market. It was cold-segueing from Jo Dee Messina’s “A Lesson in Leaving” to Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster,” the end of a “no talk triple-play” before a promo for an upcoming NASCAR event. T100 stopped from :26 to :31, the last ad of which was a promo for Sprint and NextRadio, before returning with Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon.” T100 was the first station where I heard any traditional spotset fodder — a PSA and two ads — not unlistenable (largely because they were spots), just notable.

11:32 – WXMG (Magic 106.3) The longtime Urban AC was also promoting Radio One’s “Stone Soul Picnic” (a mix of current R&B acts and old-school hip-hop artists). The station’s Nia Noelle came out of Anita Baker’s “Same Ole Love (365 Days A Year)” to take a caller for its Mother’s Day promotion, played Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison,” then “Uptown Funk,” and then played the winner. In between, there were teasers (tied to “Uptown Funk,” among others) for the upcoming ’90s at Noon request hour.

I had started listening just before 10 a.m. We now know that isn’t the real start of the workday, but it’s still best-foot-forward time for many stations, as I heard here. It was at 11:43, when I was done with Magic 106.3, that it was suddenly hard to find anybody left who wasn’t in spots. In fact, three stations that I tried to listen to were stopped around 11:45 and most of them were running more typical spotset filler. Finally, after punching around in a way that a typical listener might not, I tried the first station again.

11:47 – WRKZ (The Blitz) – I came back just in time to hear the active rock station’s Nuber play the top song of its “Top 10 All-Out Blitz” countdown: Slipknot’s “The Devil in I,” followed by Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rocket” and P.O.D.’s “Youth of the Nation.”

I ended my stretch of listening favorably impressed. On only one station, deliberately jockless, had I not come across an announcer. I heard mostly hits. I heard enough new music to stay interested (that this was a medium and not a major market guarantees nothing on that score these days). Mother’s Day gave both jocks and advertisers some extra topicality and kept things from sounding generic.

It’s worth noting that almost every station I heard was doing some teasing, recycling or cross-plugging of some sort — although none to the point of self-parody reached early in the PPM era. If the recent controversy about Voltair has made any broadcasters feel their success is driven by processing, not programming, nobody has thrown out the PPM-era’s perceived best-programming practices just yet.

I’m also happy to report that there was no time when the streaming experience became unbearable. That was a blessing, given the number of painful GEICO-related romantic breakups that I’ve been through in my other online listening recently. In one way, the experience showed me that no matter how stations place and stagger their stopsets, it’s still hard for even a five-minute break to not consume half of a station’s allotted time with a listener. Then again, by ratings law, if I had tuned out of every station at its first break, all but two would have earned the quarter-hour listening credit. My tuning around was unusually peripatetic, but it was also more generous than that of the average listener.

The two hours of listening were not without their frustrations, especially near the end. In large, though, it was a happy and energizing two hours. That’s not an experience I take for granted these days.