R&R ‘The Industry’s Newspaper’
Urban Contemporary: Learning To Add: Making New Music Work for You
By Walt Love
In these days of increased product flow, smaller shares, and tougher competition, formulating a policy on adding new music is more challenging than ever.
Two PDs talked about how they choose the music. OM/PD Sam Weaver has been at WQMG/Greensboro for two years. He began, “You add music you think is going to help your station not only sound good, but win. I add music that I think listeners will perceive as hit music. It’s real easy to research records after they’ve been on the radio for four or five weeks, but with new music, you’re relying on intelligent instincts. There are a lot of nice songs, but I try to go for what might make it onto an artist’s greatest hits album. “The more hits you play in a row, the better you’re your chances of increased TSL (Time Spent Listening). And that’s what you need in Urban radio. CHRs that play black hits and the Acs with very large cumes can take chances with music if they want to, but we don’t have that luxury. It’s dog eat dog out here, so I’ve got to play the most hits in a row possible. That’s why we’re hearing about tighter playlists. I’ve never heard a listener call and say, ‘Play something new.’ They ask for what they like.
Crescent City Crunch
Brian Wallace has been PD at year and a half of his seven years in radio. His station is in a hard fought battle for first place with rival UC WQUE-AM & FM, which is currently on top. “Lately,” said Wallace, “I’ve been cutting back on the amount of new music I add each week. Because of the battle I’m in, I try to add no more than four or five songs a week. This approach is going to benefit not only me, but also record sales. “For this part, Weaver maintained, “I’ve always kept my playlist tight. Total number of records isn’t always the answer. It’s really about the amount of hits you’re playing. What you don’t take off your weekly playlist is what’s most important – not what you add. It’s important to hold onto a hit piece of product. I believe in giving records some type of good rotation so people get to hear them. That’s the only way you’re going to find out if they like something or not.”
Wallace bases his add decisions on a number of factors. “My criteria start with the sound of the station. I listen to hear if a record sounds like it belongs on our station – if it fits. I talk to other PDs and get their opinions about different records, and I try some records in rotation after 6 pm to see if they catch on with the public. “Of course, my decisions about new music are based on quality: If it’s seriously strong cut or it’s from a major artist, I’m going with it right out of the box.” Weaver explained his add criteria: “I consider the sound first, the history of the artist – if there is any – second, and third, what kind of support the record company is giving the project. Finally, I look at the support from the artist management.” He explained what support means to a record and its chances. “Say you have two records to choose from. Record A sounds good, and the artist has a good presence, but it has nothing else behind it to help it succeed. Now, record B also sounds good, and the artist has a good presence. But in addition, a live TV performance is scheduled and the act is visible through interviews in national magazines and a promotional tour around the country. “I’ll go on record B, because with all the other things behind it, it has the better chance of making an immediate impact with my audience. That doesn’t mean I forget about record A. I follow its progress, because it may reach a point where it’s ready to happen.”
One of the hottest current topics is the huge amount of available new product. Yet WYLD-FM’s Wallace doesn’t necessarily see a vast selection. “In terms of quality music there isn’t a glut, but there is a lot of music available. There’s a lot of OK music – but music that’s going to be around for a while with the public? There’s not a lot of it.” Weaver doesn’t let the increased product flow influence him either. “You should never add music just because you think you have to. As I said, listeners never call and say, ‘Play something new.’ They will, however, walk into a record store and say , ‘What’s the latest?’ You have to play what you think is best, but don’t add records just to add them. “You don’t take off records that are working for you and add new ones just because you think that makes the station sound fresh.”
Your Ears Are Not Normal
Both programmers spoke of how a radio pro differs from listener in approaching new music. Wallace pointed up the difference between a green PD and a seasoned one, saying, “When I first took this job I was like a number of other young PDs in their first programming opportunity, thinking I had to keep the station sounding fresh to my own ears. Now I’m not jumping on new stuff as quickly as I used to; I need to keep the station sounding more familiar. “I’ve learned here that what I get into quickly as a PD is not the same as what the average listener gets into. Radio is entertainment for the average person, and it takes him (or her) longer to get into the music. So I’ve slowed down to adding about half the amount of music I used to add weekly.”
Weaver admonished, “Think about this: I’m a jock and a PD. When I’ve heard a record for five to six week, I’m tired of it and ready to take it off my list. But any record company sales department will tell you that it takes six to eight weeks to begin to show sales. Now think about the average consumer. Too many programmers get off hit music too soon.”