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Mar 04, 2005 | Articles

National Charts Or The Twilight Zone
by Steve Rivers

This week I heard something disturbing and I wanted to share my thoughts with you. Here's the deal.... In a major radio group programmers are using MediaBase and BDS to construct their rotations without using any local callout. This is due to budget cuts I'm sure, but it's frightening. Imagine how many other program directors across the country are using national spins to put together their power rotations without local information. If everyone thinks the national charts are safe enough to do this, I ask you to give thought to the following: If more than just a few PDs are doing this and adjusting their rotations based upon the premise that the songs with the most spins are the actual hits, then how safe is the chart? It seems to open the possibility that we have created a system feeding back on itself creating dimensioning returns and misleading information.

I think since BDS uses actual "song finger-prints" it's safer, but still, think about it.... If you're looking at a national chart, how do you know where a song is in its' lifecycle in your market, if I don't have in-market callout? Even using Internet callout, which is less expensive and caters only to the most active of your listeners, is safer than not having any local information at all. Hell, so are requests, if you have a decent tabulation system and responsible interns.

When I was a PD, I looked at BDS scores and compared them with the local callout results, request tabulations and store information. I also looked at the playlists of people I respected as programmers who ran a clean list and those who were good at reading callout research. This way I could tell just how much momentum a song had. If it scored high across the board, the song went into power rotation.

When you are putting together your rotations, you want to be sure the song is scoring high with your target audience and has a high degree of passion if it's to go into power rotation. To build higher TSL you will need to make sure that any song that is young in its lifecycle is buffered on either side with a stone cold hit. This lessens the chance of tune-out or being tagged in a research project as the station that "plays a lot of bad songs". Also, for what it's worth, my opinion is that no song should go into recurrent or stash rotation unless it has been in power rotation for weeks or months on your station.

I feel the more different "camera angles" you can see gives you comfort that you truly are playing the hits. We may be creating a false sense of security doing it any other way and putting mid-charters into a higher rotation.

You're probably saying to yourself, all right Mr. Smart-Ass how would you do it if your budget was cut for callout?

I would use a combination of things. First, explore the Internet music research idea. There are several good ones out there, but keep in mind that you will only be looking at the hyper P1s, or the "sneezers." This is fine if you don't get too hip for the room.

Secondly, I would start your own in-house callout system using interns to pluck people from your winners' database, request line callers, etc. You can buy software from Todd Wallace and Associates to do this and he can actually help you set up a two person in-house system. This will require your finding dependable people to do the calls and the tabulations. It's not pretty, but it works.

I would also be looking at Callout America and HitPredictor.com weekly in addition to looking at BDS and MediaBase. Remember, the more commonality you find with a song looking at all the source information you can grab, the better. Just make sure you understand how the research you consider was constructed.

If you go the in house and Internet research idea route...treat the Interneters as your P1s and all other song information as your P2s. To win the ratings battle it's critical you find the compatibility of P1 and P2 listeners. You'll end up doing a lot of cutting and pasting into Excel each week, but it is worth it.

You keep in mind that while national spins have greatly reduced "paper adds," it is still possible to have record labels hype a song by encouraging PDs to give them a few more spins. No matter what method the industry uses you'll have to wade through the hype to get at the hits.

I firmly believe that you must have accurate, local song research if you are expected to win the ratings. Print this column and leave it on your GM's desk. The term "playing the hits" may be tired or old school, but there's no other way to get ratings with a music station that doing just that.

Burt Baumgartner once gave me a baseball cap that had the motto, "Number 11, 6 And 2 Don't Count." He was so right; you've got to win the ratings no matter what.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. E-mail me at steve@musicbiz.com.

Until next time, keep playing the hits.