Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Massive tech change in media means...classic rock still top radio format?

by Don Keith

Counter-intuitive, ain't it?  Despite all the rapid technological change in society and its effect on all media...and especially broadcast radio...a format that plays music forty years old is still among tops with listeners.  At least, that is true if you believe Nielsen ratings and this article from our friends at INSIDE RADIO:

Why Classic Rock Refuses to Die.
Despite classics by Led Zeppelin remaining in rotation for decades, a new online survey from researcher Mark Kassoff shows their extraordinary resiliency. Two-thirds of classic rock radio listeners say the music sounds every bit as good now as it did decades ago.

OK, first let me punch a hole in Mr. Kassof's survey.  According to the article:

Asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Classic rock sounds every bit as good now as it did decades ago,” two-thirds of the 320 survey respondents who listen to classic rock radio strongly agreed.

Well, if you ask 320 people who eat chocolate cake if chocolate cake tastes good to them, I'd expect even more than two-thirds to say it did!

Then why does Nielsen (formerly Arbitron) surveys show classic rock stations to still be among the most popular in most radio markets?  Because of a strange--but purely self-serving--quirk in how radio ratings are gathered and presented.  And because of the nature of today's over-the-air listener.

If I sit at a desk all day and my only choice for background atmosphere is local radio, I probably prefer something familiar, unobtrusive, and non-distracting.  I probably also need something that will not drive fellow cubicle-mates bonkers.  Country gets on the nerves of some people.  Rap certainly does.  Adult contemporary is often a choice.  But almost everyone can tolerate classic rock, and especially if they are over 40 (as the article admits) and grew up listening to this music when it was new.  So, if I happen to be keeping a diary or toting a personal people meter (PPM) for the Nielsen folks, I can tally a whole bunch of listening to Classic Rock 105.5 or whoever.

Secondly, as mentioned in previous rants. radio is careful to yell and scream about its SHARE, not its RATING.  SHARE is the percentage of people listening at any given time to broadcast radio.  RATING is the percentage of every person in the survey area, including those who listen to no radio at all.

SHARE is how big a slice of the radio listening pie your station gets.  RATING is how big a slice you get of the "everybody" pie.  The from a pie whose size is shrinking rapidly.  Fewer and fewer people are listening to over-the-air radio because there are so many other audio sources for them to choose.  Me, sitting at my desk, might listen to Pandora instead of Classic Rock 105.5 if my company's IT department doesn't mind my use of the bandwidth.  But as long as we are talking about a PERCENTAGE of the pie...the will continue to look impressive.

But when figuring SHARE, all that other listening is ignored.  Only over-the-air stations count.  (Yes, new efforts are being made to measure things like radio station streaming and other sources, but we ain't there yet, and share still does not reflect it.)  Even if a station has a big SHARE, it could still be far fewer actual sets of ears than it used to be.  Today's (let's say) 12 SHARE is a lot less human beings than it was a decade ago but SHARES...percentages...are still the same.

Oh, and I can think of one other reason classic rock might still remain a "strong" choice for radio listeners.  Note this sentence in the article:

Nearly 30 years after it emerged as a rock splinter format, classic rock shattered its PPM ratings record in February, underlining the timeless nature of the music.

 Could it be that people who still listen to broadcast radio...and who are willing to keep a listening diary or carry a meter for Nielsen...are not very active listeners in the first place?  That they are not seeking new music or more active formats?  That just want something familiar, safe, and non-threatening?  Something not perceived to be noise?  Could that also be why the most successful classic rock stations have practically no personalities (live deejays) on the air?

Could it be that today's over-the-air radio listeners--far fewer of them, remember...actually only want non-distracting background noise?  Is that where you want your commercials, Mr. Advertiser?  

In the background?


Larry Lokey said...

I've got to agree with the aspect of not taking my attention. When grading tests, I play classic rock in the background. It blocks out everything else that might distract me, and I've heard the music so many times that I don't even notice it. At my age that isn't much classic rock that I haven't heard over and over. Also to go in the face of the advertiser, I listen to SiriusXM so there are no commercials.

Don Keith N4KC said...

Larry, I'd say you are typical. And there is nothing wrong with a radio station being "background." That is one of the purposes the medium can serve.

However, that is a hard sale for advertisers who prefer that their messages be heard. Nobody has ever really proved that the subliminal thing works.

I think a better radio station is one that makes the listener reach over and turn up the knob every so often. One that the listener is afraid to tune away for fear he'll miss something interesting...either in the form of music, something the personality says, or a commercial announcement that is actually helpful or informative.