[JPL] Special Programming

Bob Rogers rwsfin at hotmail.com
Sat Sep 2 22:53:10 EDT 2006

Special Programming

Programming platforms come and go; there’s nothing immutable about records, 
radio, tape, satellites or the Internet itself.  To me all platforms are 
just venues from which to disseminate music.  As a provider of music in an 
era when access to music is increasingly ubiquitous, shouldn’t you think 
about how to provide programming that’s not easily replicated by a 
competitor?  It appears to me that providing programming that is easily 
copied is a strategy with a diminishing future, even when it is, as is 
sometimes the case, successful.  Providing original, one-off programming 
that is not easily duplicated is a strategy that is an option for those who 
are up to the task.  Why continue getting creamed by talk radio plus having 
your remaining audience for music steadily bled by iPods, broadband, etc.?

In an era in which unlimited access to music is increasingly commonplace, 
people who wish to do so can and do easily construct their own music 
streams.  To survive as a music content provider, it will become 
increasingly necessary to provide presentations that are unique and valued 
by enough people to allow you to compete with the streams they are building 
for themselves.  In any music genre, is there still a role for stations just 
programming current releases and a mix of older material?  Of course, but 
perhaps it is an increasingly limited one.

In order to most effectively provide original, not easily duplicable 
programming, it will be necessary to radically rethink the role of program 
management, which will become more akin to talent management, because it 
will be necessary to hire air talent capable of operating much more 
autonomously than is now the case, people making relentlessly idiosyncratic 
presentations based on their personal encounter with improvised and/or 
vernacular music.  The prime directives of each program would be that the 
program host’s curiosities and interests determine the content of the 
program and that it be a damn good show.

The primary directive of program management would be to hire and nurture the 
air talent and expect each program host to consistently deliver great, 
original programming that contributes a compelling and unique element to the 
station’s programming mosaic.  It would be understandable, but simplistic 
and misleading, if you think of that as “personality radio” except in the 
sense that the program host controls the programming.  It would be more 
useful to think of it as a process of raising the bar for air talent.

To be sure, operating a music-based radio station built upon a more 
expansive programming philosophy is considerably more complex than is 
managing a staff built upon the top-down, centralized control mechanisms 
that stations commonly employ.  More difficult, but absolutely inevitable as 
a viable option for those organizations capable of executing it well.

Ed Trefzger, in referring to Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, recently 
asserted that, for all of the wonders of niche marketing that are now 
possible, radio remains a platform best suited to broadcasting rather than 
niche marketing.  I don’t disagree with that but neither do I think it an 
either/or proposition.  When you devise a music format strategy aren’t you 
seeking to carve out a niche within the listening audience?  When all jazz 
stations sound alike, the musicians, the audience and the stations are very 
poorly served.  And that’s a shame because it doesn’t have to be that way.  
I don’t want WBGO to sound like WWOZ or vice-versa, nor do I want my station 
to sound like either of them or like any other station in existence.

For a variety of reason, I do not believe that most music programming 
organizations, particularly radio stations, are capable of successfully 
executing a radically more expansive approach to music programming.  But it 
doesn’t bother me that so many music stations are struggling to attract and 
retain an audience.  Music is abundant and there is less and less reason to 
spend time with content providers on any platform unless they are doing 
something that you find very compelling.  It’s the “get hot or go home” 
principle in action.  What’s so bad about that?

Certainly there are plenty of music stations that are happy with what 
they’re doing and how it’s working for them.  But for the rest, it is 
reasonable to expect that some organizations will decide that failing to 
take a chance when you really need one is the biggest risk of all.

This is a great time to be around.  Finally, there’s no credible body of 
music programming “truths” to disprove, no tired mantras to ridicule, no 
music programming establishment to overthrow.  I find that very liberating.

Bob Rogers
2816 Barmettler Street
Raleigh, NC 27607
WSHA - www.wshafm.org
Bouille & Rogers Consultants
email: rwsfin at hotmail.com
phone: (919) 413-4126

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