Great Radio – Art or Science?

Co-Founder and Insights Director

The eternal debate!

Should it be 'gut feel" or "you can't manage it if you don't measure it"?

How can you possibly be wonderfully creative with people constantly waving stats at you, vs. don't make a move unless you've researched it first?

My last article on using QuickStats to identify your market DNA (read it here) sparked a discussion on why not use your "eyes, ears and gut" instead, to find out about your audience.

Greg Smith's recent anecdote about the Content Director's secret playlist with non-testing songs (read it here) is a fine example (by no means the only one) of passion for music over-ruling career survival.

The long-term picture of commercial radio, has at times, been a roller-coaster of extremes from long, self-indulgent talk-breaks and large music libraries to safe, over-researched jukeboxes with no personality.

And as is true of any art or craft, one extreme causes a backlash and wild lurch to the other. Whether driven by listeners, the loudest voice in the building, the Content Director back from a conference, consultant, sales, corporate suits, "golf-club research" or owners.

So where are we now in this brave new multi-platformised, digitised, social-mediaised, whatever-ised entertainment&information world, that has over-turned media business models globally?

If "content is king", does this mean creativity can now cut loose, unrestrained by the shackles of stats and strategy? That talk-breaks in music radio can go on forever, because no way can you be entertaining over an intro, and that the secret playlists can now come out of hiding? That listeners are sick of tight, boring formats and will follow you up to the sunny uplands of gut-feel "anti-radio"?

Maybe the strong triple j performance in Survey 1 finally heralds a new dawn. Maybe??? triple j listeners may not be happy being more "popular" though. Judging by the entertaining Hottest 100 chat threads, it's more like the dark clouds of commercialism (and even totalitarianism – see below) are gathering, as tracks like Thrift Shop grab the votes!


"Disappointing finish to an awesome countdown"

"Once again the majority has voted for something shit, this is nazi Germany all over again"

"Was hoping this was the joke song they play before the real number one. Left disappointed"

"This is what happens when mainstream music listeners invade music polls. Just vote for the 3 songs on the list that they know"

Take that (so to speak) "mainstream music listeners", you and your kind ain't welcome round these parts …

Back to the point: realistically you still need both art and science to survive, if your radio station is a commercial business. And the more media digitises and fragments, the more focussed strategically and disciplined in execution you need to be, as choices expand and attention-spans grow ever shorter.

All while your resources from content to marketing to research are reduced during the ad-revenue downturn. Thrift Shop is the CFO's theme song in these times!

I suggest you do need to understand whatever you can about your listeners' needs, using whatever tools you can lay your hands on, while at the same time building engaging content on a shoestring. That's the real creativity!

A dilemma quiz: if you had to choose to keep either your promotions or research budget (but not both) in a cost-cutting round, which would it be, and why?


Eriks Celmins is Managing Director of Third Wave Media, Adelaide-based consultant for media research, strategy and content.


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