AC is in great shape as its one of the “staple” formats. Like many format's, its being challenged. The future of AC is going to be strong for AC as long as it stays relevant with the audience. The real answer here is every format has to evolve. You need to be aware of your audience, like a restaurant needs to be aware of the always changing food choices of its customers. If you look at many of the big markets, the number one station is the AC station. In most markets, it’s the number one listened to at-work station. As long as AC stays relevant, it’s going to have a good future.
Some programmers have a hard time adapting to what’s going on today, which is very different from what was going on a year, five years or even ten years ago. I always say to be open to change. As programmers get older, they forget a lot of their audience is younger. Their audience hasn’t changed, but they have. It’s really important to be open minded to today. I’ve been in situations where I hear, “Imagine Dragons on an AC station?” And I say if you believe your music test, then yes. It’s that simple. What’s changed the most is change. Some ways for the better and some maybe not, that’s debatable. Today’s programmer has to be agile, they have to be quick and willing to adapt and they really have to listen to their audience.
Yes, AC has felt pressure from Hot AC and CHR. That’s nothing new. CHR is always the format that leads the way musically. When CHR is healthy and vibrant, and it continues to put out hit after hit, it always possesses somewhat of a challenge to the AC world because in reality, we are going for the same listenership. Find me one CHR programmer who won’t tell you he/she is under pressure from his/her boss to perform 25-54 and I’ll tell you he/she is not telling the truth. They may say their target is 18-34, but everyone’s under pressure 25-54. 25-54 women love this new music. In most markets there’s a CHR, Hot AC and an AC, and in many cases the music is very compatible.
Music is the number one reason that people listen to music radio, regardless of the format. I believe the ratio these days is probably 70% gold-based and 30% current/recurrent, but that number changes in every market. Every station is a little bit different. It could be 60/40 in some places. I know in my group of stations, they are probably all a little bit different depending upon the specific market conditions. If you’re in a market where there’s just an AC and CHR, it may be a little more gold-based on one side. If you’re in a situation where there are three stations, you may be a little more contemporary.
Most research, if it’s good research, works. In a perfect world I’d be doing a big strategic study at every radio station at least once a year and I would be doing a minimum of two big music tests each year. That has become a challenging thing to get done because it can be an expensive process. One of my “Gary quotes” is “I’d much rather argue the facts then the opinions.” That’s why I love research. You can ask the question, they’ll give you the answer and you may not like the answer, but there’s the answer. If I had it my way, I’d be doing ongoing research at all the stations, all the time. But that unfortunately doesn’t always happen.
I’ve always loved live radio. Radio is all about being local. From every commercial you run to every traffic report that talks about the local streets is important. People still like to hear things about where they live. As opposed to live versus voice tracking, the advice I give is voice tracking is here to stay and is only going to get bigger. If you are an on-air talent, my advice is to work to become the best voice tracker you can be. I’ve heard some stations that are voice tracked and you could have fooled me. I prefer live because there’s still something about a jock doing a live break over the intro to record. It just connects. But the reality is voice tracking is only going to get bigger down the road. The best voice tracker is always going to have a job.
It’s been huge. Good in some markets and challenging in others. Probably half the stations I work with thought when PPM came in they were going soar to new heights and they discovered lots of new challenges when they didn’t get huge ratings. PPM has changed the programming world. I love the idea of ratings that reflect actual listening. In my younger programming days I always envied television, because if you had a (ratings) box on your TV, it showed what they were watching. I love the fact that PPM is measuring what people are actually listening to or at least hearing. I love the fact I get ratings every week. If I could get them every day I’d be happy. I always need to know how a station is doing. There were some AC stations that were number one in their market under the diary system and when PPM came in they found themselves not even top 10. It’s given us more data to deal with.
I’m very, very focused on where the big numbers and the big revenues are and that’s on the terrestrial side. I know that may go against the grain of a lot things you hear and read about, but radio revenues are still primarily based on the terrestrial signal. Now, with that being said, the social network side is important for all these radio stations. I’m not sure we’ve gotten better at how to take advantage of it properly yet, or how to figure out how to use Facebook. For instance, I look at a lot posts on radio stations’ Facebook pages and I see a lot of them never get reactions at all. That says to me that nobody is interested in what’s being posted. That’s an area we have to figure out as to how we can better use Facebook and Twitter to our advantage. The same goes for streaming on-line. Making sure they sound good, making sure they don’t run the same PSA’s to fill spot breaks over and over again. For me, the big pot of gold, is still the terrestrial signal. I don’t think you will find a radio manager or owner who won’t tell you that 95% or higher of their revenue is based on their ratings from the terrestrial signal.