In conversation with the legendary Todd Wallace
There’s always something new to learn in radio, and sometimes it takes a chat to an industry legend to bring those lessons to light.
Former director of Radio Today Greg Smith sat down with 40-year programming veteran Todd Wallace, in a conversation that covers not only Wallace’s extensive career as a #1 jock, PD, GM, and station owner, but also the key questions radio stations should be asking themselves.
Describe your childhood. What were the family dynamics like in your case?
Very typical middle class Midwest upbringing in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Nuclear family, basic happy childhood. Every couple of weekends we would take the train down to see my grandparents in Enid, Oklahoma. That extended family had a major influence on who I became and my natural interest in continuing education – my grandfather used to run a business college and my mum and her four sisters were all teachers and professors. If I wasn’t in radio I probably would have gone on to become an educator, like many of my cousins, nieces, and nephews have. One of my nephews is the Professor of Rhetoric at a big university in California. Isn’t that a great title? Sounds like every class he teaches would be fun and unpredictable.
When did you realise that radio was going to be a major part of your life?
In the first grade, actually. That would be, what? 6-years-old, I guess. I got interested in sports very early in my childhood and was fascinated by sportscasters so I wanted to be one. I can clearly remember an assignment by the teacher that we needed to do a two-person skit in front of the entire class. So I posed as a radio sportscaster interviewing a chubby mate posing as Babe Ruth where I proceeded to ask him sophomoric questions like, “So Babe, how did you feel when you hit home run #60?” The class loved it and applauded, I got an A+ and never looked back. I was totally addicted to the radio stage from then on.
You got your first radio job aged 15. How did that come about?
Well, I had been trying to get hired ever since I was about 13. While I originally thought I’d want to be a play-by-play sportscaster, I noticed over the years that most of those jobs were going to ex-sports stars, something I knew I was never going to be. So I figured maybe being a teenage DJ would be just as cool. I started practicing and taping intros and outros in my little upstairs closet radio studio and sending out audition tapes on 3-inch reel-to-reels. I bugged all the Wichita GM’s and PD’s every month until most of them would no longer take my calls, and I regularly called all the DJ’s on the request-lines, wanting to be their friend and talk about radio. The night DJ on the #1 station, KWBB, was working six nights a week and figured if they hired me he wouldn’t have to work Saturday nights so he lobbied for me to get the gig. And it worked – I got my first job six weeks before my 16th birthday in 1963 – which by the way, was a really great time to be in Top 40 Radio. I got to live through Beatle Mania, the Motown era, and the psychedelic 60’s, and Woodstock.
Let’s step through your radio career. In the early 60s you were a Top 40 DJ in various small markets. What was it like living & working in places like Wichita, Salina & Monroe?
Well, Wichita was easy. It was a great city and since I was living at home I didn’t have any financial responsibilities other than to pay for my ’59 Chevy (a classic car I still wish I had – it’d be worth about $100,000 now). I worked weekends and fill-ins for $1.25 an hour and got to hang out with the #1 staff of professionals and with the radio pigs on all the other stations in the market. But I really craved getting a full-time shift. So I eventually decided to “See the USA in My Chevrolet” and went to work for stations in Salina, Kansas, Monroe, Louisiana, Fort Smith, Arkansas, Santa Maria, California, and Tyler, Texas. Each market was a little bit larger than the one before, and each had a strategic purpose in how I would advance my craft and career.
What important lessons did you learn in those early days?
It’s funny, I was always clamouring to learn something new or something unique or different to add to my overall experience. In Salina, the pay was lousy but the GM would load up his big car with all the technical gear on weekends and he and his wife would personally drive all the DJ’s to appear at record hops in the surrounding smaller towns. That was my first time performing in front of a live audience and to actually get paid for it (all the jocks split the take at the gate). One of my early hallmarks at those hops was that the cutest girl dancer would “win” the right to throw a pie (made of shaving cream) in my face. I learnt early on that the audience always loves schticke. I took the job in Santa Maria because it was within earshot of hearing “Boss Radio” which Bill Drake had just launched on KHJ in LA. That was my first exposure to fast-paced efficient formatics in a mega market, which really caught my ear and imagination. Once again I was pumped, inspired, and hooked.
In the mid 60’s you managed to score your first major market role as an announcer on KLIF in Dallas Texas. What did you take from that experience?
As the saying goes, it’s not so much what you know, it’s who you know. One of the DJ’s who befriended me when I was in Wichita was the late, great Jim O’Brien who had moved on to do Noon-3 at KLIF, one of the stations I absolutely idolised. Jim was not only a great jock, but a brilliant programming mind, too. He went on to be PD at Drake-consulted stations like KHJ/LA, CKLW/Detroit, and WXLO 99X in New York City. Anyway, Jim would patiently let me ask him curly questions about how the cow ate the corn and how to be a better DJ. That’s where I really learned the art of one-on-one human communication, and how to conversationally sound the same on-air as you do off-air in a good mood. Long story short, Jim greased the chutes for me to get the weekend all-night gig at Big Kliff while I was also working weeknights at a station in Tyler 90 miles away.
For the next 9 years you were a key on-air talent at 9 different major market radio stations working for programming legends such as Bill Drake, Gordon McLendon, Paul Drew, Bill Young, Ted Atkins, and Ken Dowe. This must have been an incredible learning experience for you. What are the key lessons they taught you?
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And I was lucky enough to have some of the absolute best teachers in the business. I learned something from every one of them, almost every single day, usually several times a day. It was the equivalent of earning a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate in how to do great radio and how to market media in distinctive, cut-through ways.
And radio in those days was really FUN ! We were all rockin’ and reelin’ and hangin’ from the ceiling’. I once heard those days described that it was like being in the coolest frat house in town – and you didn’t even have to go to class! That was radio in the 60’s.
I first really developed my deep love for the mechanics and the science and the artistry of programming when working for the late Ted Atkins at KIMN, starting in 1966. Ted’s concept at Kim was so logical and seamless, yet he left room for personal expression by all the jocks. He also had a gentle, positive touch for how to constructively critique a jock and he coached us to respect the mantra KHJ PD Ron Jacobs was preaching, of “preparation, concentration, and moderation”.
From then on, all of my career moves had to do with how I could learn more about all aspects of programming, hoping that someday soon I’d become a PD myself. So my next move was to KILT in Houston in late ‘68. Dickie Rosenfeld was the GM everyone wanted to work for. He established the greatest station morale I’ve ever experienced with his regular “Sock It to ‘Em” parties where everybody on the staff, not just the jocks, got a raise, almost monthly. And Bill Young was the PD everyone wanted to work for, an absolute promotional genius who was the most well-balanced PD I’ve ever known (he really knew how to take literally everything in perfect stride). He’s the one who had the idea to sit me on top of the Astrodome for 17 days to commemorate Man’s First Walk on the Moon. (Remember, Houston used to be “Space City”, so the astronaut’s kids all used to listen to me and call me on the request-lines). We gave away “a mile of money, $5,280 cash” to the listener who could guess how long I could last up there on the Dome (I vowed to stay there until it hatched). That got me lots of national attention.
And then, thanks to my friends Jim O’Brien, Michael Spears, and Steve Hunter all vouching for me, I joined them at CKLW/Detroit so I could experience first-hand the actual disciplines of being on a Drake-consulted station. The PD was Paul Drew, who was famous for being a real disciplinarian.
In the early 70’s you also became a major market PD. Take us through the challenges you faced & the solutions you came up with?
In 1970, KRUX in Phoenix was looking for a combination PD and Morning Man (the breakfast shift). The fact that I was already working at an actual Drake-consulted station was the main reason I got hired (God knows it wasn’t because I was a good jock! I wasn’t). We proceeded to implement all the finer points and the crystalised philosophies of the Drake format to a tee (right down to having actual Johnny Mann Singers jingles). And the audience share quickly shot up from 5% to as high as 11.9% a year later. I was later told by many PD’s at actual Drake stations that they considered KRUX to be the best “fake Drake” station in the nation. I fell in love with The Valley of the Sun but the pay-levels really sucked. So you had to parlay your way to a better paying job. Gary Stevens was then the GM of cross-town competitor KRIZ, and he got me hired for a big league salary at KTSA in San Antonio. KTSA was having rating problems, which we quickly fixed. Then Gary brought me back to Phoenix the very day my Phoenix non-compete contract expired.
In the mid 70’s you invented callout music research & embraced research with a passion. How did you achieve this?
The idea first came to me in 1969 when working at CKLW. I thought stations should go way beyond just surveying 45 rpm singles sales, request-line tallies, and juke-box metrics. I thought listeners liked lots more songs than they could afford to buy or would take the time to request, and at that time there was no accurate measure of what songs listeners didn’t like or were tired of. I even wrote a detailed White Paper report about it for PD Paul Drew, who thanked me for showing initiative but said it was an idea too far ahead of its time and, besides, he didn’t have any kind of budget for it.
But I kept the idea alive and continued to develop it on the side. At KRUX/Phoenix, we had a DJ who was like Chicken Little, convinced that if he drove up next to a car listening to another station that the sky was falling and we were going to hell in a hand-basket. I figured the best way to combat him trying to spread such negative karma or organise little mutinies was to do our own in-house research just like we were a ratings service. And thus, “Radio Index” was born, doing weekly ratings (in-house tracking) so we knew exactly where we stood all the time. We also pioneered a large teenage focus group at KRUX, the Krux-LAB (Listener Advisory Board) which met monthly for lunch — we designated a representative from each of the local high schools to join us and talk about our programming. Then we commissioned a local community college to conduct an in-depth landmark perceptual research project which enabled us to better understand what listeners liked or disliked about our programming. In those days, radio stations just weren’t doing that kind of thing. I thought it was just a very logical progression – if you want to know how listeners feel about what you’re doing, just ask them, and then quantify the answers.
Two years later at KRIZ in Phoenix, Gary Stevens was promoted to President of Doubleday Broadcasting and he okayed an R&D budget so we could finally formalise the callout music research process. We sent out what we called “music diaries” and then, rather than wait for respondents to get around to sending back their diary, we used our telephone callouts to retrieve the answers, speeding up the process. By cloning the diary-keeper mentality to literally “rate” every song we were playing or considering for airplay we could be very, very precise about playlist decisions, which was important especially since we were thunder-blasting hots every 90-minutes. In short, in the diary-measured world of Arbitron, we knew exactly what made diary-keepers tick and our direct competitors didn’t have a clue.
At the same time you became a programming consultant with many successful station makeovers. Take us through some of the exciting wins you achieved.
After Gordon McLendon sold KLIF, the station had slipped to just a 5.6% share and was headed even lower. A head-hunter had me in his radar because of my earlier turnaround successes so I was hired to be PD of the station I was doing weekends for just nine years earlier. The assignment was to turn things around and get the ratings trajectory going back upward – which we did rather quickly – up to 8.8% within 9 months. We did it by trimming the playlist from 60 songs down to just 15 or 16, which, of course, infuriated the local record promotion community. In those days, record companies used to buy ads on local stations in big markets to promote their albums. Well, the major record promoters all banded together with KLIF’s new mentally-arthritic GM and threatened to pull their collective $25,000 a month ad budgets unless I was fired immediately. Which I was. The next night, all the record companies in Dallas held a big “Todd Wallace Going Away Party” – and I wasn’t invited! I did, however, get the last laugh – the new KLIF regime undid everything we had done. They stopped our callout research process (saying it was unnecessary because it prevented “gut feel” adds to the playlist) and then proceeded to fatten the playlist to 75 or 80 mostly stiffs. And they loosened all the format presentation disciplines to levels that were boring as bat-shit. Predictably, within 9 months their share of audience dropped from “first to worst” down to 3.6%.
That immediately led to my first consulting client offer – which came from KUPD, a station that had been languishing for years as the #20 ranked station in Phoenix. That meant I would be going up against PD Jay Stone at KRIZ who had been my Assistant PD for four years at three different stations, setting up a really great chess-match. He really thought he had me all figured out and could predict exactly what I was going to do next.
I had a general practice of “dragging” my playlist about a week or two behind my main competitors to insure that the station I was in charge of was always playing a more positively familiar song in key hot-clock slots. So Stone tried doing that to me. And I returned the chess-move, freezing the KUPD playlist — thus luring him into a “dragging war”. Both of us didn’t add a single song for 10 straight weeks (again, driving the record promotion community crazy). What Stone overlooked was that this would hurt KRIZ, the established #1 station, much more than it would ever hurt a #20 ranked station which no listener expected anything from anyway. At one point, neither KRIZ or KUPD were playing any nationally-ranked Top 10 songs, so Top 40 listeners in Phoenix were really getting hit-starved (remember there was no MTV or YouTube or Internet streaming in those days).
I deliberately waited until I knew from my moles and spies at Kriz that Stone was going on vacation driving up to Yellowstone National Park with his family. The very minute he left, “Stereo Kupid FM/AM” launched in its full glory. We immediately added all of the proven top 10 national hits that had been getting no airplay, a move that instantly excited the disenfranchised Phoenix listeners in search of music discovery.
Alongside our tight playlist, we also had a category of “teen excitement records”, basically novelty songs no other station was playing, which managed to further titillate the jaded senses of most young Baby Boomer listeners who were always looking for something new and different they could tell their friends about.
Our 21-point impact plan went beyond just the music. We had new “different sounding” short-short jingles and liners and sweepers and other slick formatics to add “snap” to our presentation along with Charlie Van Dyke voice-imaging and a No-Commercial Monday.
Promotionally, we hit the town like a ton of bricks. Earlier at KRUX, I had started a simple but effective contest called The World’s Easiest Contest (“just remember you listen and you win”), which Stone thought was the perfect contest because it targeted the broadest possible group of all listeners instead of just appealing to the 1 or 2% who called-in to win a contest on a daily basis. So KRIZ had gone a year without any call-in to win contests. I, on the other hand, believed that the higher principle was to offer promotional variety, various styles of contesting, so a station didn’t become too obviously predictable or stale. So part of our plan at KUPD included big money forced-listen call-in contests. This, too, was an excitement factor Phoenix listeners hadn’t heard on the air for awhile, giving away $100 bills every 20 minutes. We also one-upped the KRIZ outcall contest with our cheeky Kupid Call Girl, out and about catching listeners “in the act” (of listening).
The funny thing was that KUPD’s directional antenna pattern was North/South so I knew Stone would be hearing KUPD all the way on his 1,000 mile trip up to Wyoming. And, of course, 1975 was before cell-phones, so he’d have to stop at payphones every couple of hundred miles to get in touch with his staff and try to figure out what to do about everything we were unleashing. Totally ruined his vacation! (I just called it good clean fun around the Radio Ranch!)
The payoff came very quickly. In those days, Hooper Ratings were the only monthly ratings available, using a simple telephone coincidental methodology, which tended to induce a skew in their sample that inflated shares for Top 40 stations. KUPD managed to set the all-time Hooper month-to-month turnaround record. KRIZ dropped from a 29% share in July to a 13 in August, KUPD shot up from 5% in July to 29% in August, a 40-point turnaround. I think I enjoyed that consulting assignment more than just about any other in my career.
That was followed by similar worst-to-firsts. KRQ/Tucson, KQEO/Albuquerque, WABB/Mobile, Y95/Tampa-St. Pete, KMJJ “Magic 11”/Las Vegas, KFJZ-FM in Dallas/Fort Worth, WKYS/Washington, as well as several stations that were already #1 which also became clients, like Kiss 108/Boston, KIIS-FM in LA, KLUC/Vegas, WPXY/Rochester, etc.
By that time, my most important and influential mentor and good friend, renowned Sales Consultant Ken Greenwood, became an investor in my research company, Radio Index, and we began offering our programming and research packages internationally.
Your success as consultant in the U.S. meant that radio stations from other countries started calling for your services including Australia & New Zealand. What were some of the most memorable times you had Down Under?
The first international client was Radio New Zealand in 1979. RNZ’s Assistant National PD Bill Clemens had been sent to attend the NAB Convention in Dallas. While in Big D, he got the obligatory station tour of one of my client stations. Z98 was using my MARS system of music research, the acronym for Mass Acceptance Response Study as the backbone of their music selection policy. Bill was impressed, re-routed his trip home to include a stopover in Phoenix, where we immediately clicked philosophically, and he then recommended that RNZ purchase and apply my systems.
Flash forward a few months and I was invited to keynote an RNZ Programming Conference for their 50 Program Directors. And in the natural course of all the collective camaraderie I made the bold statement that the ZM network Top 40 stations might be able to quickly double their ratings, which at the time were like 10-share levels, if they’d think about trimming their playlists and implementing very tight, well-researched frequency-controlled rotations, and go the extra mile with a hot-hot rotation of 90 minute harmonics. “That won’t work here” was, of course, the unanimous response by some of the more vociferous PD’s. But the RNZ Controller of Programmes Beverley Wakem and National PD Johnny Douglas thought 1ZM in Auckland could use such an injection. So we applied “The Big Switch” marketing concept I had been using successfully in the US and sure enough two months later shares shot up from 10 to 20%. Quickly our client-list grew to include 2ZM/Wellington and 3ZM/Christchurch where similar respectable though less spectacular increases also followed. Soon after that, we expanded our consulting arrangement to include all the dozens of stations in the state-owned RNZ Commercial Network – all the ZM’s, all the ZB’s, even the solus market stations. I literally visited every single town in New Zealand with greater than a 10,000 population base. And I absolutely loved it, I might add. To this day my all-time favourite wine of choice is still Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough District!
This all managed to catch the attention of Mike Wass, who was the switched-on PD at 5KA/Adelaide, who quickly signed us up so we could spread the same kind of magic and fairy dust over Adelaide. After KA’s ratings surged, KA Sales Manager Ian Lane parlayed that success into becoming the General Manager of 2UW/Sydney, where we posted my all-time favourite Australian worst-to-first turnaround success.
Last year Ron E Sparks from WS.FM had this to say about you.
“Well, first of all Todd taught me that you CAN get away with 90 minute song rotations on your hots. But only if the conditions in your market are right. Firstly, you wanna be sure that your hots are REAL HOT. The other thing is our competition had been seduced into the trend of playing “selected album tracks” as part of their daily rotations. We soon crashed that party.
Once we’d announced our arrival, we settled down to 2 hours on the hottest rotations.
He IS a terrific teacher. He gets you into some great ways of thinking about radio that stay with you forever. It’s not just the music that he likes to research. An example? Well, we’ve all been in those meetings where somebody says “hey we gotta get onto the pogo stick trend, EVERYBODY is into pogo sticks!” That person MAY be right, but you owe it to yourself & the team to use every resource available to confirm it before you commit. You can’t be spending research dollars on EVERY decision, but you can call ad agencies, sports stores, school associations or whatever is appropriate to underpin your decision. And once you know your decision is solid it also gives you a corporate confidence that will be reflected in your strategies.
Todd’s also great with the basics, sometimes stripping away great chunks of your station, and then rebuilding with new flair and purpose. I can name a few stations that could do with a dose of that right now.
As a PD, I loved the way he’d come to town, listen for a day or so, and then ask us why we were doing the things he heard. Most of the time our reasoning would stack up, but if you found yourself saying “because we’ve always done it that way” you knew it was time to re-evaluate.
Most of all, I liked the way he would never criticise anything unless he had at least a couple of alternate ideas to offer in its place. There are a few consultants who could take a tip from that.
Being first to use the Wallace audience research, we were able to catch the market napping in 1981, and we took 2UW from “worst to first” (yes, that’s a Todd Wallace promo line) in a very exciting ride to the top”.
Well, of course, our buddy Ron E Sparks himself was one of the main reasons 2UW was so successful. I have always thought, and still do today, that Ron is one of the top two or three very best programmers in the world. And mind you, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with major league winners like Steve Rivers, John Sebastian, Sunny Joe White, Ken Dowe, Jeff Pollack, Randy Lane, Jaye Albright, and Gerry DeFrancesco. That’s the league Ron E. is in. One of the most logical and incisive thinkers I’ve ever known. And he’s one of the “good guys”, too. We are still good friends, 35 years later. I thoroughly enjoy every conversation I have with him. And I always come away learning something new or thinking “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that or had said it that way”.
Working with PDs like Ron E, what did you learn from Australia & New Zealand that you added to your consulting skills?
Without getting too simplistic about it, you learn that all of your advice has to be totally revised to fit each individual situation. You do different things to achieve a 6.5% share to be #1 in New York City than you do to pull a 35 share in Hamilton, New Zealand. So what works in the Big Apple is not likely to appeal to as large a percentage of listeners in a town of 100,000 with fewer stations chopping up the listening pie. And vice versa. Moral of the story: there’s always more than just one way to skin a cat. That’s something some programmers and consultants still don’t fully take on board. Some of them are just one-trick ponies.
One of the things I’m proudest of is that I always encouraged all of my clients to not become “consultation dependant”, but rather to also bring their own ideas, angle of attack, and critical thinking to literally every consulting session. It reinforced the feeling that we were all on the same team, pulling our own weight, and letting the best idea filter to the top, to advance the team. That’s how you keep raising the bar.
I was also very fortunate to have worked with some of the very finest Australian upper management leaders like Les Heil, Nigel Milan, Ian Lane, Ian Grace, Ian Renton, Johnny Williams, Peter Benson, Ken Gannaway and Paul Shirley, among many others. As a general statement, I would say that Australian Radio Managers have tended to be much more precise in their style of management than their American counterparts, which covered all kinds of station supervision. Hell, I still remember the days when most Aussie stations had a full-time tea lady on staff! Les Heil, in particular, had the best management style I’ve ever observed.
One of my favourite stories to tell is about the high level of competition. I remember being very impressed the way you guys at Austereo used to “borrow” my promo-writing skills. I’d start off a consulting visitation trip in Sydney and by the time I got to Melbourne or Adelaide I’d hear one of my new promos, word-for-word, on the competition. All I could do is laugh about it — and scold myself for leaving myself so exposed to such poaching. Oh, and I learned to make sure that on future trips we coordinated all the promos and contests with simultaneous launch dates and times across all markets so when it launched in Sydney at 9:07am, it started in Adelaide at 8:37am and at 6:07am in Perth. Full marks to you guys, I love tit for tat in radio battles. (Imagine me talking about tats).
One of the things I most enjoyed about having a full plate of clients is that I got to visit Oz and Kiwi Country 3 or 4 times every year (stopping off in Honolulu each way to decompress and ease my way into the next time zone). One of the more surprising benefits from doing that is that I discovered being 7,000 miles away made me a lot more objective when viewing both sides of the world. When I was in Australia, watching One Day Cricket and Hey Hey It’s Saturday, and listening to Whisperin’ Jack, I could see any issues my Stateside clients were facing with amazing clarity. Then when I’d get back to Phoenix, I could better comprehend any programming issues I saw Down Under and how to deal with them.
When you take on a new radio station client, what are the key questions you ask?
As a programming doctor, I think you first start by asking, “Where does it hurt?” and then look at every single programming and marketing component, one by one. It’s amazing how just talking about things in the open helps a good programming team figure out the most logical ways to deal with the burning issues as well as the great opportunities in the battle at hand. Like I said, I believe in everyone leaving their egos at the door, and letting the very best idea or best solution win. And, of course, when there are lots of ideas and solutions floating around a meeting, you’ll end up with a hierarchy of really great principles to apply to a situation, which makes the problem-solving and search for excellence even more interesting and exciting. Often exhilarating.
Could you share with us your best CHR Clock?
One basic truth that I believe still holds true in Top 40 CHR Radio is to insure that every song you play is, was, or will be a bona-fide proven hit.
A corollary to that is: the larger your playlist, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to always be playing a real hit of true mass acceptance.
Some programmers may think that would logically result in a simple music policy of only having a squeaky-tight playlist.
But that ignores another important premise – while it’s generally true in CHR that you don’t get hurt by what you don’t play, you also don’t get helped by what you don’t play”. So I maintain that it’s always a delicate balance.
With that in mind, when you look at a music research study in just about any market in the world, you usually see a pattern where seven real hits tend to emerge every week, three or four of which are absolute winners (I call those A1’s or A2’s, some call them Hots.). These can rotate every 90 to 120 minutes, depending on the competitive market matrix and, of course, the relative strength of the individual songs. This is where it’s crucial to have state-of-the-art music research to help you identify the real hits. And, equally important, to help you ascertain appropriate local timing. Continuing to play a song that has already done its dash and already spent its remaining hit potential two or three weeks ago could give your competitor an advantage over you. Similarly, put the wrong song in an ultra-hot 90-minute rotation and your TSL will be done like a dinner. This top 3, next four deployment also makes it easy to relax the rotations to 3-hour or 4-hour spans by just planning one of each A1 or A2 category in an hour.
Then 8 or 9 songs of strong mass appeal that have already been exposed in your market and are upwardly mobile, either inching their way up or bounding their way up, heading toward mass acceptance (the top 7). We might call these B’s or UpMo’s. Two of these hourly will result in a comfortable 4 to 4½ hour rotation. This avoids the dreaded five-hour harmonic which can often increase repetition-perception as a song gets repeated in the 7am, Noon, and 5pm the same day, hours in a typical listener’s day when they are most likely to be listening and thus might notice such repetition.
Then there are usually 8 to 10 songs that are former established hits that have peaked in audience acceptance but are still strong enough not to be put out to Recurrent Pasture where they’d only get limited exposure. These might be called C’s or DownMo’s or Super-Recurrents. Buzz Bennett used to call this category “Toast”. Any song in this category must have been a former A, as must any song in your regular Recurrent categories. When you hear a song of questionable value on a CHR station, it’s often a second-tier Recurrent that was never an A. I like to ask PD’s, “How many of those mercy bookings exist in your lower-tier Recurrent or lower-echelon Gold categories?” The TW rule of thumb: If it wasn’t a Top 5 hit (in other words, a solid A) it really wasn’t a true “hit” in CHR terms.
Finally, there are generally 4 to 6 new songs with enough hit potential that enable your station to get credit for music discovery in the minds of active music-driven listeners. These might be called “X” or New or Exposures. Playing one such new song an hour is usually sufficient, but you always want to keep an eye peeled for the occasional breakout hit that you can move up the food-chain quickly on a moment’s notice.
I’ve always espoused programming to the audience through the methodology you’re being measured by. So where in the programming hour you slot your categories should be influenced by where your competition is slotting theirs and whether you’re in a diary-survey or a PPM market. Metered-technology has recently proven that some of the old wives tales we used to assume were gospel need to be overruled and replaced with “new rules” and more enlightened thinking and concepts. Nowadays it’s important to make sure your playlist philosophies are up to date, logical, and still valid. But you should always be looking for ways to unpredictably zig when you’re expected to zag – after all, there’s no rule to what’s right. And that applies to music, as much as it does to presentation, and everything else you do.
In October last year you were inducted into the Arizona Broadcasters Association Hall Of Fame. That must have been a terrific reward for your outstanding work as a programmer & researcher.
Oh yeah, being part of “The ABA Class Of 2014” is a great way to cap-off 51 years in radio, which I never considered “work”.
What’s little known about me Down Under is that over the past 45 years here in Phoenix I was the hands-on PD of six different #1 rated stations (Top 40 KRIZ, Top 40 KRUX, Top 40 KUPD, NewsTalk KTAR, NewsTalk KFYI, and Classic Hits KOOL-FM), something no one else has accomplished. And I was the consultant of record when Top 40 KRQ launched in Tucson in 1977 and became #1 in one book. (It’s still #1 today). And I even owned a small market station (KZ7) up in Flagstaff back in the day.
So now that I’m semi-retired (more “retired” than “semi”, as I like to say), this honour is a great way for me to efficiently summarise what my career has all been about. It’s great to be one of only 50 such radio inductees in Arizona.
You can read more of Todd’s advice on How To Win the Breakfast Ratings here.