Expect the Unexpected

Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

I suppose if you’re in this business long enough, you don’t normally get surprised by people’s radio choices. That said, I was both taken aback and fascinated when I went for a recent haircut.

No disrespect to the time-honoured profession of the barber and to those that frequent such establishments, but I prefer a stylist. Hey, I gotta be me!

I’m sitting in a chair in a room of twenty-something women while “Milen” proceeds to beautify me. We’re having a nice chat when Pink Floyd comes on the radio. She leans down and says “I absolutely love Pink Floyd.” Huh?

I admit that I hadn’t really been paying that much attention to the music before she said that. Normally, they have one of a few different CHR stations playing, which I always enjoy. I asked her what station they had on and she said “107” (i.e. Q-107, Toronto). Roger Waters brought The Wall Tour to the city that night and to mark the occasion, Q played the whole first side of the first album from The Wall. For those that may be unfamiliar with the terms “side” and “album” when used in such context, please allow me to explain. You see, once upon a time music came on large, flat, black plastic discs called “albums” and there was music on both “sides”. The Wall was what we called a “double-album”, so there were, in fact, four sides in total… I digress. Anyway, hats off to Q for running the entire side without interruption and for the next 20-odd minutes I was treated to “In the Flesh?”, “The Thin Ice”, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 1”, “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”, and “Mother”.

Okay, I’ll date myself by saying that I bought the album the day it was released in late 1979. As such, I know every lyric, every air-guitar solo and every drum beat on it. What surprised me was that Milen also knew all the words for all the songs and happily hummed and sang while she worked.

I asked her why they didn’t have one of the CHR stations on and she said the owner and his wife made them listen to those stations, but they were away on business, so she and the other stylists voted for Q, since “they liked the music better.” Again… huh? By the way, the owner and his wife are in their mid-forties, so the whole ‘who-likes-what’ scenario is against the grain of ‘conventional’ wisdom.

It’s certainly not uncommon for younger people to enjoy classic rock. As the respected researcher Jeff Vidler puts it, “they’re the ‘rite of passage’ songs” whose sheer quality keeps them as valid and indispensible today as when they were released.

What struck me, though, was Milen’s comment that ALL the young ladies in the salon agreed on Q. It was mid-morning and I was the only customer, so I asked if Milen could gather some of the others for a chat. Before long I’m in the midst of 8 women having an impromptu focus group session… while getting a haircut… life is good.

The first question I asked was “Why Q?” The responses varied from “the stuff the owners make us listen to is fine at the clubs, but gets boring at work”, to “my dad always played older music at home and so it’s what I grew up with”, to “it’s an okay change and everyone else wanted it, so I don’t mind going along”, to “I just hate new music!”

I threw out the names of some core classic rock artists like Zeppelin, the Stones, the Who, etc. Besides Milen and the girl who grew up with the format, none of the others were overly familiar with them, nor did they particularly care. At the end of the day, it’s the song dummy!

The whole point here is that we often fall victim to our preconceptions. While it’s still fair to say that CHR stations are generally the first choice for the majority of younger females, we still need to remain mindful that not everyone will fit into our nicely constructed formatic ‘boxes’.

One of the hardest things to do is keep an open mind when conducting and evaluating research. No matter how objective we might think we are, it’s human nature to view results through the lens of our personal bias. That’s why it’s so important that such things are dissected with the assistance of a less invested third party, like a consultant or the researcher himself.

I just ran into this myself the other day while going over auditorium music scores from a test conducted for an AC station in Russia. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that their tastes will differ from mine or yours, but when I saw that the highest score went to Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting”, I was surprised – plain and simple. And, truth be told, a little bemused at the quaintness of it all.

As Programmers, the biggest mistake you can make is assuming you know what your audience wants. Your experience and expertise has put you in the chair, so you should be comfortable in the knowledge that you know more than others in this regard, but don’t think you know it all. That’s an eventual road to ruin.

Budgets aren’t getting any looser, but the smart operators know the value in both research and having a more objective outsider offer council. These tools, when used properly, will ensure your station remains viable to your listeners and thus effective for your advertisers.

If you’d like to chat about what ByrnesMedia can do to maximize your station’s potential, feel free to give me a call toll-free at 1-866-332-1331 or send me an email to greg@byrnesmedia.com.

In the meantime, keep an open mind and expect the unexpected.