Thursday 29 Sep 2016

John L'Heuri
dr george pollard

A good, entertaining jock will always make a difference in a tightly competitive market where two or more stations are into the same music genre. Jackson Armstrong’s phenomenal success just about everywhere he goes best evinces this.

Such jocks, however, are often temperamental, unable to follow station policy and generally independent. The legendary Joey Reynolds was a prime example of this type of superjock, while Jackson Armstrong’s a good example of the compatible superjock. As profitable as the form type may be, he’s not always worth the mental anguish and many PDs prefer to go with easier to handle jocks.

“When you take the latter path,” says Jon L’Heuri, “your music policy is what makes the difference … therefore, it has to be particularly well thought out, designed and executed.”

L’Heuri, who is currently general manager of Treble Clef Entertainment (Ottawa), has an illustrious 12-year radio career. At 15, he was carting phone requests at WYSL (Buffalo). Within a year, he was doing evenings at WPHD (Buffalo). From there, he moved to WEIM (Fitchburg, MA), as “The Frogman,” then to WMEX (Boston) where he produced Steve Fredericks’s very successful talk show. After four years at WMEX, it was back to WYSL to work with Michael Spears (now PD of KHJ, Los Angeles) and finally, in mid-1972, to CFGO (Ottawa) where he was jock, music director, promotion direction and assistant PD. Along the way, L’Heuri earned a degree in Communications from Emmerson College (Boston), alma mater of The Fonz, Norman Lear, Jay Leno, Bud Yorkin, Larry Glick, Bill Dana and Dave Maynard, just to name a few.

“Setting up a music policy, executing it and then maintaining it is a nebulous effort,” he says. “A lot of so-called rules have developed over the last twenty-two odd years; some good, some bad. Still, regardless of rules and procedures, setting up a music policy remains a set-of-the-pants exercise for many PDs and MDs.”

One of the main reasons for this is poor intra-industry communication. There’s a general unwillingness for many programmers to discuss candidly music policy, among other things. A general paranoia pervades the industry. Many fear a strategic leak, which will produce a dramatic turnabout in ratings – a highly unlikely occurrence but nonetheless feared. Another reasons is that many stations, despite proclamations of how successful their music policy is, don’t really have a routinized or consistent music programming policy.

What follows is a brief discussion of L’Heuri’s thoughts on “how to develop a music policy.” The interview was done while he was at CFGO (Ottawa). The tone is uniquely prescriptive and introspective rather than merely descriptive. It deals more with development (planning, organization) than with implementation, which is heavily dependent upon the decisions you make in the development stage.

“The first step in designing a music policy,” says L’Heuri, “is deciding who you’re after … what demographic segement(s) isn’t currently being served or isn’t being fully served, etc., etc. Unless you’re the only station in town you can’t hope to service everyone … you have to be selective in a competitive situation. As basic and simple as this step is, you’d be surprised how many programmers fail to do it.

“All that’s really required is a 50 cent census tract for your market and the last two or three BBMs. After you’ve spent some time looking over these documents, tracking listening patterns for various demographic groups and so on, you will have a fairly good idea of the audience you should be after … which segment’s ripe for the profitable picking ….”

The next step is research, research, research. “No matter what it costs, research is worth it. You have to talk to your listeners … directly and in person. Sure you can experiment with your sound … but that takes time and you’re never really certain you’ve got it right. In-depth research, on the other hand, is substantive, complete and it generates confidence. The more specific and detailed the research is the better. Psychographic grid analyses as developed by Lee Abrams and Kent Burkhart … are extremely revealing. And research shouldn’t stop here … it should be on going.

What will this research tell you? “That really depends on your particular situation. Generally, however, it should first, profile your target audience in terms of demographics, income, residency, family size, media usage and other demographic-cohort variables. Second, it should provide a media usage profile … when do they use radio, television, magazines, newspapers, etc., etc. Third, it should provide some data on what this segments expects from radio … how much news, when do they want news, how much gold, how many hits per hour, etc., etc. And finally, such research must find out what artists and records this group prefers and, if possible, it should break such information down by time period, weekday-weekend, in-car, at-home, etc., etc.

“Let me say one more thing on research by way of citing a couple of interesting findings. Many stations are currently getting into something called Beauty Rock. It’s the traditional beauty format using rock gold … this has been stimulated by two research findings. First, that the 25-34 age group, the ones who’ve grown up on rock, has sort of lost contact with it … they aren’t as aware of rock as they once were … can’t relate to it is another way of putting it, I guess. For the most part, they’re just not listening to radio. Beauty Rock turns out to be the best way to get them back to radio.

“Second, researchers have found that you can relate high intensity rock and roll to social tensions like war, campus movements, etc. For instances, 1968 to 1970 represents the most recent period of high intensity rock. It’s also when the Vietnam

War peaked as a social-economic-political issue. And just look at the earliest days of rock … Joe McCarthy … the Cold War, etc. The whole process seems traceable. … Anyway … right now things are relatively placid and hard … high intensity rock tends to irate … it’s a tune out factor, especially for the 25 to 39 age group. Of course, Beauty Rock fills the bill here very nicely.”

Now that you have all this primary data what will you do with it? “Basically, you determine, from the research, what your target audience likes … this gives you a good idea of their motives, goals and general direction vis- -vis radio usage. Listeners, regardless of demographic-cohort variable profile, always relate to some music fad, era or genre … like Stevie Wonder says, “music is part of life we just can’t forget ….” Music’s always part of everybody’s consciousness whether they realize it or not … it’s there …it’s a stimulus, in most cases, to happier times. Therefore, you have to be playing the ‘right’ stuff in order to generate a good feeling … satisfying feeling in the listeners … that’s what the ‘right’ stuff is.”

Now that you’ve decided on the type of music best suited to attracting and holding the desired audience, what’s next? “… you start building a catalogue of music. At first glance that may seem an impossible task. Over the last twenty-two years, since rock appeared, thousands and thousands of records have been released. But if you look at it more seriously there are really only 200 or 300 tunes of any real significance since 1955. You have to find those tunes.”

And how do you go about finding these significant tunes? “Here’s where your research comes in again. Different areas of the country had different hits … sure there were lots of national hits, tunes that most everyone enjoyed … but there were more regional ones and these are the ones people probably related to most: they held a special meaning for a small slice of society … a result of some regional idiosyncrasy. Maybe it was a local group … or the group toured only one region … there are plenty of reasons for regional hits. So, what you do is ask people where they came from … was it the Maritimes, B. C.? Then check back for regional hits … if you can. And exploit them!

“If you can adequately tap this source, and inviting listeners to write or call in their opinions of the station may help here, you’ve a potential gold mine. You can manipulate cumes by featuring certain regional hits or whatever at certain times of the day … recycling you’d call it, I guess. The uses are infinite.

“The next phase in musical policy development!”, says L’Heuri, “is to determine record strength. All too often music policies are based on record tempo: up tempo, down tempo, medium tempo, etc., etc. But this at least as far as I’m concerned, begs the issue of audience appeal … or strength. And, since you’re trying to attract and hold audiences, appeal seems far more important than tempo ….”

How’s strength determined? “Several factors come into play here. If you’re compiling a hit chart for publication, and doing it right, then you’re probably working many of the components of record strength. Basically, you’re looking for the extent of demographic appeal … which can be determined by retail sales figures, wholesaler’s reports … talking to jukebox operators, especially for gold selections, tradepapers, tip sheets, record promotion people, your industry contacts, audience turnout and reaction at concerts and, of course, hit line or request action. In addition to these you might have an on going promotion asking listeners to write or call in their impressions … likes and dislikes of the station, etc. Anyhow … once you’ve accumulated these data, and it should be done on a weekly basis… once every two weeks is the minimum for a successful music policy … experience will tell you how to weigh each factor in the final mix. To this, add your intuition and whatever market sensitivity you’ve developed. When you develop a hit chart or whatever from these data, you’ve a pretty good idea of what current and gold material your audience wants to hear. Couple this with your basic market research and your music policy should be right on.”

Hit lines have had a lot of bad press lately, how does that affect their role in determining record strength? “… a lot of people are, I think, fallaciously down playing their importance as a data source. The basic problem appears to be a misunderstanding of how hit lines fit into the overall picture. For one thing, they’re just one of many inputs … you don’t rely upon them completely. Hit line reaction should be evaluated in relation to other inputs. More importantly, hit line callers comprise … maybe a maximum of 5% of your total audience. But this 5% is primarily your active listeners … not only do they call your hit line but they participate in your contests, attend station events, talk up the station to their friends, patronize your advertisers and they tend to be heavy consumers of records, a lot go to concerts, etc. This makes them generally aware of what’s happening … this is especially so among the under-24s. Often they’re way ahead of the typical listener …. For instance, there was a lot of request action on Sir Duke right after the Songs in the Key of Life came out … the active audience was way ahead. So, what’s this all mean? Simply this, treated carefully, hit line callers can help you keep on top of, if not ahead of, developing trends in your market … and the information’s free and on going.”

Are there various levels or intensities of strength? “Definitely! Primary strength records, for instance, have the widest demographic appeal; they’re selling well, they’re getting good hit line action, maybe the act is coming to town and this is generating action, etc., etc. In short, for one reason or another, listeners want to hear this tune.

“Hit bounds, additions or whatever you care to call them are the records your research says have the best chance of having primary strength.

“Secondary strength records generally have a narrower demographic appeal, are selling fairly well, are getting moderate hit line action and so on. A lot of these tunes may be in mid-life, so-to-speak.

“Tertiary strength records are those you’re easing off the playlist into dormant storage and eventually back into your gold catalogue.

“Finally, there are balance records. You’re not as concerned with strength here as with tunes which will even out your sound, balance it; help make tr5ansitions and so on … In a lot of cases there won’t be much action on balance records and as long as they’re judiciously selected and aren’t irritating, they’ll provide a refreshing change for the listener in addition to the structural problems they may solve.

“Subcategorization in gold is similar to this. "Super Gold" may be one time primary strength records, including the regional hits you think will appeal to your target audience as well as general gold, usually with strong adult appeal. "Kickers" are similar to balance records as well as being happy, enthusiastic records. "Image Gold" would include a lot of one time secondary strength records. "Bopper God", the title says it all!

“Normally, gold will be divided chronologically. X might be 1977 back to 1974; Y, 1973 to 1970; Z 1969 to 1965; W, pre-1965 usually back to 1955 or 1954 … as well you might want to reserve a special gold symbol for the trendsetting hits of the fifties. Any such group would, of course, be very limited and used only when they could be properly featured for maximum impact.

“Precisely how these chronological divisions should be used can be determined from your basic market research. Ideally, they should be dayparted. Although how you do this depends upon what your research revealed, as do all these categorizations – you might have found, for example, that you need gold only back to 1974 – you could do it this way: AM Drive, X and Y; midday, X, Y, Z; evenings: X and Y; etc., etc.”

The final step in developing a music policy is systemizing your rotation pattern. There are lots of methods for doing this, but colour-coding is the most popular and the simplest.

 

“It’s all based on record strength,” says L’Heuri. “Primary strength records, the ones you’ll want to feature – probably with frequent airplay – you might call REDS. The more REDS on your play list, the slower your turnover … the lower your repeat factor.

“You might call hit bounds, "Yellows." This grouping should be limited … maybe 5 … and if you’re playing one an hour, it’ll take five hours to turn the "Yellows" over.

"'Purposes' might be records of secondary strength. "Blues" could be tertiary strength records and your balance records might be "Pinks."

“Each gold category should be broken down in a similar fashion.”

There you have it, a very bare bones primer on music policy development. But it doesn’t end here you’ve only just begun! There are thousands of unanswered questions here and a thousand more unthought-of. Ostensibly, this primer has dealt with music policy development in genres which are continually generating hits: Top 40, Contemporary MOR, Country, etc., etc. Some modifications are necessary for an Easy Listening MOR, Traditional MOR or Classical format.

Click here for a list of all Grub Street Interviews

Interview edited and condensed for publication.

dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.

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