First Impressions & Lasting Effects

Lance's Line RadioInsight Blog

Jammin 101.5 Next Generation KJHM DenverEvery September the broadcast television networks begin rolling out their new shows to massive hype. Every year without fail most shows see steep drop-offs in viewership from week to week while the “successful” ones are those which see their ratings hold steady. Every now and then there is a show like Empire that somehow increases its viewership numbers from week to week during its inaugural run.

The same is true for radio stations. Yet you wouldn’t know it based on how a few launches this past week have been handled. As we live in an era that seems to think the only way to launch a new format is weeks and weeks of automated music it should not surprise to see operators not care about how they handle the possible first impressions a listener will have.

Cumulus launched two new Classic Hip-Hop stations this week utilizing their network programming distributed by Westwood One. On Monday, 98.3 KWQW in Des Moines debuted by joining said network in the middle of a song and not having the local imaging in place. Wednesday’s move of 95.5 KNEV Reno into the network brought a retriggering of the launch package followed by a few seconds of dead-air and then also joining a song in progress. The purpose of any launch is to create a good first impression for as many people as possible. As Cumulus is relying on word of mouth to build buzz for their new even having one potential listener get turned off by a bad launch is bad for business.

Sure there are less possible listeners at the moment of launch as there will be as word of mouth trickles out. None of those people are going to know or care that the first song started in the middle, that the imaging didn’t trigger for a bit, or that the station’s website still showed the former Conservative Talk lineup and promotions for a few hours. So why does it matter?

If you don’t care about having everything in place at launch why should the listener care? If you’re going to half-ass the debut of your station why should anyone expect anything different two weeks, two months, or two years later?

Then there is “Jammin 101.5” KJHM Denver. Last Friday KJHM relaunched at 5:00pm as it shifted its music from a 1970s/80s based playlist to Rhythmic Hot AC featuring the 1990’s through now. Branded as “The Next Generation of Jammin 101.5”, owner Max Media forgot to do one thing. There has been no marketing of the station. Nowhere has the station promoted the new format. Not even a post on any social media platform or the station’s website explaining what the “Next Generation” is or why listeners should care about the change that took place. All they’ve done is change the music without explaining why. If the station doesn’t think its worth promoting how is that fair to their employees and listeners? Max Media is basically saying their station is just filler until they come up with something better.

Not every format change or new show launch will be like Empire or the worst to first run of WKTU New York in 1996. But if the new format debuts half-assed, with no marketing in place, or even just without a basic website and social media campaign to give listeners information about the station all it does is cripple the chances for success.

  1. nvradiouser says

    Hi Lance, great article. I too am amazed by the laziness of some programmers. I have been listening to KNEV to just check out it. As a current or even a former radio person, it’s sloppy programming when you have many seconds of dead air between the end of stopsets and the music and sometimes even between the songs themselves. Today, as you mention these people need to have everything in place BEFORE launch. Facebook, website, etc etc not to mention the programming itself.

  2. johndavis says

    Launching a satellite station brings me back to one of my first radio jobs. I was a college student working overnights and the GM stopped me in the hallway, asked me if I knew anything about computers, said “good” and then walked away. Two weeks later, I was in a dubbing room in the back helping the engineer unbox a Systemation automation system. It was 3 in the afternoon and we went on the air at midnight. This was around 1991 or 1992; the computer was a 286 with two 20 meg hard drives and an Antex card that played audio back at a really cheesy bitrate by today’s standards but for the day it was magic.

    In those brief hours that we had to play with it before the format flipped, we learned several things about making the format sound tight: namely run the network audio a little low into the PC so when the liners played on top they didn’t get buried and that times were absolute. Spots had to be exactly :30 or :60 and if a liner is supposed to be :03, it can’t be :02 or :04.

    What I’m hearing in these launches is affiliates not hooking up all of their liner relays and not always putting the correct length liner in the right position. I know from talking to people at the networks over the years that they assume that a certain number of affiliates don’t set these things up right and that’s why they produce things so that if you don’t plug in the right liner at worst it sounds like a loose board. But back in 1991 the SMN people sent you a launch package. As long as you followed the instructions in the 3 ring binder and dubbed the production they sent as part of the package into your system, you could go on air sounding fairly good.

    Plus with today’s technology, you could totally avoid having to lay your local IDs over a sat feed. The STORQ system that has passed down to Westwood means there’s no backtiming to hit the top of the hour or covering sunfade because the music and IDs play out of the receiver and you just insert the commercial breaks. Even if the affiliate never needed the extra localized breaks that system allows for, it’s such a better, more modern system that all satellite music formats really should be done that way.

    But I will admit that we joined the network back in the early 90’s with an abrupt click mid-song, too. We were told that the last moment that we had to clear one final Mutual newscast, so after the news at midnight we flipped the switch and since the two network clocks didn’t break at the same time we came in two minutes into the second song of the hour. Considering we put it on less than 12 hours after we got the box from UPS, we did all right.

  3. WeNeverKnew says

    I’ve done production, imaging and voice over for 30 years. So much of what we hear today from the sat-casters and even the Premium Choice type radio stations is just plain wrong.

    Worst ever situation: I briefly worked for a top 50 market station where the small market experience GM thought that the sweeps, lasers and drones from the station’s Firstcom imaging production library were to be used as sound to fill the gaps between the :60 that was actually :56 and the network return. Sometimes you’d hear a :30 in a :60 optional break followed by a full 30 seconds of zaps, lasers and drones. It sounded like the Star Wars soundtrack. I could never convince him to do otherwise. No wonder I didn’t last long there.

    With that said, as for the concern about firing up a new Sat format mid song. I have to admit, it’s really not much of an issue for me in these situations. Both flips were to classic hip-hop. One was from talk. The other AC. There was no possibility that the already minuscule former audience would be staying for the new format. And there was no possibility that the new audience target would have already been listening. In those cases, it was a wash. Not what I’d do every time. A pre flip stunt has its place. And yes, the imaging and the social media should have been in place. But with the two mid song flips cited here? Sorry, Lance. I just don’t see the issue.

    1. johndavis says

      The sin isn’t so much that the first song got clipped and the imaging played at launch is sloppy, it’s that the whole execution of the station is sloppy. 4 hours in, your website shouldn’t be showing that Michael Savage is on air now.

      At minimum you should have A liners firing when A liners are called for and B liners firing when B liners are called for. But this also goes for talk formatted stations. How many Limbaugh affiliates play the Firstcom synth stinger going into spots without a local liner on top? And the fact that both talk and music networks feel the need to play effects and beds where liners should go to prevent hundreds of affiliates from having :10 of dead air where a liner belongs had it been hooked up just underscores how few stations bother to take the branding opportunities given to them.

      1. WeNeverKnew says

        100% agreement, John.

  4. JeremyAndrews says

    Well said Lance. I remember when launching was an art form. Sometimes it still is.

    As for the websites and social media, a splash page and a new Facebook page would be better than nothing.

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