Will Playing Edited Songs Work?

newcaplogo120pixCalgary radio station CKMP better known as AMP Radio made some changes to their music going into August.  AMP Radio ranks 11th out of the 17 stations, and are the lowest rated of the 3 Top 40 stations in the Calgary market based on the June PPM ratings, so something had to be done.

However, they did not change format, as you might expect. What they did was move to playing edited versions of Top 40 songs. The average song on AMP now runs somewhere from 1:45 to 2:30. The new format, which was unveiled Friday (1 August), is called QuickHitz and allows the station to broadcast professionally edited down versions of songs that have been provided by Vancouver-based SparkNet Communications.

The one thing Newcap does well, thanks to the brilliant marketing mind of  their VP of Programming, Steve Jones, is to find ways to generate lots of publicity about a change like this. This story was covered by all the mainstream media including CBC, Global and CTV news. The story was also covered by many newspapers across Canada and in online publications and blogs. Not all of it was positive, and artists like Calgary’s Jann Arden have  been very vocal about her disapproval.

I asked Steve Jones why they made the move to shorter songs and he told me “When you think about why songs are the length they are it goes back to the ’50s and ’60s when radio stations demanded three-minute songs and artists provided them. In order to be on a 45 RPM record with any sound quality your song had to be around three, three-and-a-half minutes. If you wanted to be on the radio or you wanted to be in a jukebox, which is how people heard their music back then, you had to be on a 45 RPM record. So that was the way it was done.” He goes on to say “Radio is using archaic logic to decide its programming.”

While this is a way to create a point of difference between one Top 40 station and the others in the market, I wondered if this was a clever publicity stunt, designed to get a station that is lagging in the ratings some much needed attention. Jones says it’s not and tells me that Newcap is eager to explore new ways to grow ratings. Here are some of the other things we discussed:

  1. If there are already two other radio stations in the market that own the Top 40 position and they are playing the longer versions why would anyone want to tune in. Jones says that AMP makes other stations sound old and boring. He told me that at AMP they have also cut the commercial inventory to 2 minutes per break with no more than 4 breaks per hour.
  2. He agreed that some musicians were upset by the shorter songs but he also told me that many like the idea because the station can now play twice as many songs each day and therefore expose more artists to more listeners.
  3. We chatted about the editing process and Steve told me that they used professional sound engineers who took great care with the editing of each song. Jones feels in some cases it could be argued that the edited version has made the song better because there is less repetition of choruses.
  4. In the past the CRTC, has  not taken kindly to radio stations who mess around with Canadian Music.  You may recall, a number of years ago, one radio group jammed all the Cancon into early mornings on the weekends and used specially edited versions that allowed them to squeeze even more songs into these hours so they could play less Cancon during the higher listening hours. This eventually led to the CRTC mandating that for a song to count as Cancon, it needed to be played in its entirety and they also revamped the rules disallowing loading it into certain hours. AMP is required to play 40% Canadian music as a condition of license and they appear to be honoring those commitments, because both the International Songs and the Canadian songs are edited. Steve says that Newcap is in communication with the CRTC to make sure they are in compliance. 
  5. Steve says “we believe this strategy will be particularly successful with listeners 18-44 who grew up with the internet and social media, and have adapted to digesting media in shorter chunks.” 
  6. The format, according to research conducted by Newcap, should also be popular with people who have short attention spans. But if the station builds an audience from these constituents, will AMP get the credit for this listening in the ratings? This will require that the subset of those listeners who have a short attention spans and who have been selected to carry a PPM measurement “pager” actually remember to do that!

amp radio logoFull marks to a station and company that managed to generate some national publicity, and bring some attention to a station that was not doing well in the ratings. Only time will tell if this is a short term tactic or a successful idea that grows and audience and then could be expanded to other stations.