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The Net as Variety

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 8/23/02 issue of R&R A poster on the Broadcast mailing list on Broadcast.net threw down a comment that applies to online stations these days as well as traditional broadcast outlets: > it seems that a lot of stations are programmed > to impress other program directors rather than > to please audiences. Has anybody done a focus > group study to see if listeners REALLY want a > lot of production gimmicks, etc.?

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It reminded me that whether you're an on-air jock, or programming for a station on the net, you shouldn't entertain based on what the audience claims they want. One should entertain based on what the entertainer thinks would sound/look/laugh best, sometimes in concert with an editor of some sort (engineer, producer, program director) either in a superior or subordinate position to the artist (DJ, singer, filmmaker).

Aside from the constant yammerings and bluster of the Net being the last great place one can find any diversity, there's a huge gap between what an audience truly hungers for and what they are willing to claim they like. For all the lip service given to boring rotations and bland programming, it works and works well for the way people use their radios and the Net - in chunks at a time. But you won't catch a listener saying out loud that more eclectic radio would be a bad thing - because even though they'd miss much of the "eclecticness" of the station, it's the popular thing to promote, all while trashing tightly formatted radio. As long as advertisers only pay attention to Arbitron and Measurecast, and as long as radio and Internet stations stay in business because of advertisers, these are the rules of the game, and you either play to win or you don't - building AQH and TTSL is nothing to feel guilty about or to try to change.

Once you slide down the slippery slope of giving any more than cursory countenance to what the audience says they want, you become a slave to that ethic. You can choose to go down that path, but the best do not. Having said that, there is no doubt that many program directors in smaller radio markets are either unwilling (playing it safe) or unable (corporate direction) to be anything but sheep. Wave after wave of production techniques, programming approaches, positioning statements and formats have swept through the industry, some with great success, some with spectacular flame-outs, and some finding their way online.

Every so often, though, someone pushes hard enough to do something quietly attractive and different that the audience laps up - and *starts* the sweeping wave all over again.

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