Sunday, 17 June 2007

"Hold Your Plums"

Climbing inside a hire car in any foreign country is a entertaining experience for many reasons. Having just been away on holiday, the memories are fresh.

Where's the gearstick again?
How do I move the seat? (Oh - it doesn't move...)
What's that horrible smell coming from the glovebox?
I'm sure I was promised air conditioning....
How does that radio work?

And once you've got the radio up and running, hitting that scan button is a little bit like playing a 'fruit' machine (or slot machine for our US readers!). You may come up lucky with "3 cherries" and score a virtual audio jackpot... or get a few lemons and plums along the way.

I played the radio slot machine game quite a few times last week and every time I did, I gave a selection of stations a listen. I was in Spain and I don't speak Spanish very well, but an interesting thing happened. You can tell a lot by a radio station just by having it on in the background for a few minutes, and make a pretty good judgement to stick with it... or hit the scan button... even if you don't really know what they're saying!

The stations I stayed with longer all had the same things in common and for me, these are some of the key drivers that define success:

Music Flow - All the stations I stayed with longer had solid music programming theory running through their output. It felt like someone had taken the time to look at the flow, tempo, era spread, genre mix and the overall feel that the music gave the listener.

Branding and Positioning - Having a competent branding strategy with strong production values and a easily communicated positioning statement were all common to the better Spanish stations that cut through. It was really obvious which ones had invested in decent production and knew what they were communicating to their audience about their music position... and which ones didn't really have a position. Knowing what you're listening to and what it's going to bring you is so important, particularly for new listeners.

Interruptions - Keep them to a minimum!! One of the most infuriating things during my "Spanish Hire Car Radio Listening Experience" was hearing the station stop down all the time. The DJ's went on too much and popped up left right and centre. It just made me reach for the button. If you have a music intensive radio station that needs to play the songs across the day, make sure you keep the interruptions down!

Commercial Load - Again, the stations that got it right were the ones that found the right balance between content and commercials. Fewer breaks seem to work, and if you can get away with two 4 minute breaks an hour, then that might not be a bad place to be. Certainly some of the stations got it right... where others were playing commercials about 6 times an hour. It just didn't work.

There seems to be some universal truths about music driven commercial radio, wherever you go in the world and Spain was no exception. 'Maximum Payout' to the 2 or 3 stations that got it right. 'No Credit' to the stations that didn't.

So next time you're in foreign country and climb into your hire car, have a go on the 'radio station fruit machine'. It may just take your mind off the fact you're driving a Mitsubishi Colt!

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