Radio stations, record companies and artists all have similar customer relationships. Many marketers think that if a customer likes something, that equals usage and purchase. This is not always the case, so moving the consumer from like to action is a challenge we deal with everyday.
I remember a story told by Dick Purtan, one of my all time favorite radio personalities from Detroit. WXYZ radio was doing a call out contest. He got a listener on the air and asked her if she knew the cash call number. She commented that she and her husband had met Dick at a party recently and she remarked about how funny and engaging he was at the event. How much she and her husband enjoyed his company that night.
Again, he asked if she knew the cash call amount and her comment was, “Oh no. We listen to JP McCarthy.” JP was the long time Purtan competitor on cross-town WJR Radio.
Engagement. Positive impression. Great memory. No sale.
How often do we do that? Most of us live within our unique business world and think that everyone else understands the importance of that world.
In radio we often refer to the station as a utility. It is there whenever you flip the switch and consumers begin to take the ability to control the switch for granted. We tell radio stations to do something special that helps you stand out and creates a bond with the audience.
We refer to some artists as radio hit makers who have not yet been able to translate into record sales. Getting out on tours and performing live in front of fans and appearing on TV as often as possible help artists gain that all-important “face time” with fans.
Obviously building a long term trusting relationship takes more than just exposure and time. Researchers will tell you that consumers are looking for someone that shares their values. How can artists do this? How important is the individual song in connecting with the fans values?
Some artists can get past one song that raises eyebrows. I caught more crap from listeners in LA when “Toes” was on the radio every four hours. Zac Brown Band was still relatively new in its career and this was a huge hit for the band. Apparently it caused no lasting problems with enough listeners to do any damage to the group.
Sugarland pushed the boundaries with “Shhh it happens.” They have a strong fan base and if this lyric tested listeners’ values they just turned their heads the other way.
“Last Name” by Carrie Underwood continues to test below play levels and I think that this is because it is out of character for Carrie and doesn’t meet the values that listeners have for her in their minds.
“Fancy” by Reba was recently the lowest rated song on a test that I saw. Is this what people think about when Reba comes to mind? (Maybe we have just heard the song for 43 years. Not just from Reba, the Bobbie Gentry version is from 1969.)
The most recent song that might test Country Radio’s family friendly image is “Truck Yeah” by Tim McGraw. Tim has more radio airplay than anyone in the last 10-15 years. He has a long list of huge hits and a great following. This song is perfect for live performances and his tour with Kenny Chesney is a MUST SEE event. The jury is still out with the radio listener, who makes up a very small percentage of concert goers.
Country programmers, including this one, were all quick to add this song. It is a great summer song and quite frankly, the way it is sung does not lead you to insert the obvious double entendre that seeing the title would lead you to believe. Still there will be some parents, with 4-11 years olds sitting in the back seat, holding their breath.
This is not going to do any damage to Tim. He has as solid a reputation with fans as any act. They love him and they should for his enormous body of work.
I am waiting to hear from my radio stations.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MusicRow.)
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About the AuthorCook is currently on the board of both the ACM and the CMA and serves as Director of Programming and Brand Management for West Virginia Radio Corp, based in Morgantown, WV. He is also President of McVay/Cook and Associates, a Cleveland-based media consulting company. He has served on the CRB Board for over 20 years.
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