Urban Network Magazine
From the Editor’s Desk: Sam Weaver’s Programming Tips
By Sam Weaver, Guest Editor
Do you want the good news or bad news first? Okay, the good news is that programming is fun. Now the bad news: The job is not all glitz and glamour. And if that wasn’t enough, there are not many programming positions available. Rumor has it that the job requires one to possess the combined skills of a salesman, music lover, and animal trainer. Programming is an inexact science based on acquired opinion and repetition of successful theories. There are many obstacles along the way, including: Rating Service Methodology, marketing, budgets, promotions, community service, music, vacations, human error, record companies, sick leave, and the listener.
There are three types of listeners: active, inactive, and concerned. The active listener is one who simultaneously listens to four stations a day. The inactive listener listens to and from work only. The concerned listener belongs to both aforementioned groups – with one exception. These listeners take part in Birch surveys and Arbitron diaries. Unfortunately, a programmer’s destiny belongs to the same irresponsible people that don’t vote and thought census forms were junk mail.
So why should anyone want to program? According to a concensus of my colleagues, the attraction is competition, strategy and free T-shirts. Programming is an acquired skill. Fine statement, but how do we get a chance to run a station? I’m glad you asked. Since there are no degrees given in programming, here are some situations that could lead to the throne of power: the next Barry Mayo might be an all-night jock who gets off at 6 am and still attends the 8 am program meetings. Then again, an upcoming James Alexander might be top-notch announcer with excellent production skills and a flair for PR.
Meanwhile, I sense another Tony Gray is a weekender with lots of questions and an aircheck collection. To make a long story short, tomorrow’s Urban programmers will be the ones with the determination and drive to go the extra mile. According to a concensus of my colleagues, aspiring PDs should equip themselves with knowledge other than music. I’m talking about American History, Black History, computers, Statistics, research, Sociology, Consumer Marketing, sports, Public Relations, Public speaking, Politics – the list is endless. But the point is, versatility is the key to program management.
Future programmers need to absorb life experience and combine it with common sense to deal with the complexities of radio. There is employment and unemployment along the radio road. During the un days, become a professional announcer and look for a radio job, not a format. Don’t limit your opportunities for employment by only looking at Urban stations. Also, get a regular job while looking for a radio gig. It will give you self-worth and keep you in touch with the real world.
Black programmers and their counterparts are going to face increased radio fragmentation: Black AC’s, Black Oldies, CHR’s with Black AC slants, AC’s with Black Oldies slants, CHR’s with Black Heavy Metal, new evolving formats, video and technical advancements, etc. Plus, with the current wave of American conservatism, don’t expect rating service to increase sample sizes for the sole purpose of potentially giving Urban radio a larger piece of the pie at the expense of non-ethnic facilities. Getting to the PD chair is a hard road, but you can do it. Here is a road map for the “Next Urban Generation.”
The Coach: Motivation – Game Plan: This person has to put together the right chemistry and flow for a station. He or she should have a high level of experienced radio awareness.
Research: Key factors to programming are knowing the audience’s lifestyles and musical tastes. A good coach can never have enough information. Ongoing perceptual and musical research are necessities. For in-house researchers, one should exploit the various departments at local colleges. If there is a budget, pay researchers. If not, implement an intern program for college credit. If in-house research is not possible, hopefully your budget will allow for an outside firm. Two major keys to research are knowing what to look for – and generating enough numbers for a proper sample base.
Music: Good business means knowing the product. For a contemporary music station, MUSIC IS THE PRODUCT! A good music director is essential since the coach has to oversee various aspects other than just music. This person should be well versed in a variety of music, be open-minded, and act as a liason for the coach in numerous musical selection areas. A station MUST play the hits! In the process of musical selection, the coach or his liason should use research, record sales, TV video shows, market support and feel for the market.
Staff: The essential part of running a radio station is having capable people whom you can trust and give the opportunities and incentives to succeed. Winning is a team effort.
Promotions: One should always keep in mind that most listeners do not care about contests or promotions. However, whether it is an audience or sales related promotion, a good coach should always have a purpose in mind. A promotion into the right zip code areas never hurts! Strategically placed recorded promos and live liners are also part of your propaganda artillery. Large or small, local or national, audience or sales related, promotions can help achieve success.
Sales: Programming and sales are one unit. These two departments should go hand in glove. It should be understood on both parts that what may be good in the short term may hurt the product as a whole in the long run.
Radio is an opinion. However, opinion should be based on fact and reality, not on prejudice or presumption. Some programming keys include:
A. The ability to adjust strategies;
B. Good feel for the average listener;
C. Teaching and being open to new theories;
D. Community image positioning;
E. Utilizing research information;
F. Understanding that people do make mistakes;
G. Analyzing all angles before making a decision;
H. Knowing when to compromise;
I. Recognizing that programming and sales are a unit;
J. Maximizing and utilizing talent;
L. Varied musical background;
N. Understanding Arbitron and Birch methodology;
O. Being accountable.
Formatics: Good formatics are not unique to a particular marketplace or format. Call letters, name, time, one precise thought per talkset, being prepared before the mike is on, show prep, being positive, and taking direction. Since programming is a total package, a programmer should oversee everything that relates to the air. They include: a jock’s presentation and personal appearance; Traffic; Continuity; Sales and audience promotions; Creative production and everyday production; and Music.
If a station can capture the listener’s heart, ears and eyes, the sum total will be profit. One should always keep in mind the station’s targetted demographics. A programmer has to consider: The active listener; Arbotron; Birch. Program toward the inactive of average listener because he or she is usually responsible for the fate of a radio market. The inactive or average listener wants to hear: that they perceive to be hit music; Likes music information; Enjoys being entertained in a concise manner.
At every opportunity, maximize intense propagandizing to raise the awareness level of your cume and the community. Audience partisanship will help you win the battle.