Friday, 4 January 2008

New Year Checklist

Happy New Year! Have you managed to break any of your New Year’s resolutions yet? Well to take your mind of having to drink less and exercise more, I’ve drawn up ‘The Programmers New Year Checklist – Top 10’. Here are some practical tips to help you with the things that are often the most basic, but often the most over-looked items in music radio. New Year is a great time to make sure your ‘programming’ house is in order and refresh that list you’ve been meaning to get round to all year!

1. Music Categories
Unless you’re totally disciplined with the size of your music categories, over time there occurs some natural growth within the categories or “category creep” as I call it. This is especially true with ‘recurrents’ where there’s a tendency to take something that’s been a great testing song, and stick it into recurrents, without removing something else in turn. Before you know it, the recurrent category has grown by 50% and the turnaround of these big, ‘bread and butter’ songs has slowed right down. Carry out a mini audit on all of your categories. Are they still the desired size to maximise your rotations? Make sure that category creep hasn’t got the better of you.

2. Clock Refresh
New Year is a great time to refresh all of your clocks. If you have a good clock structure in place, the temptation is to leave it be. That’s not bad practise, but it’s always nice to refresh the order of things. For example, if you run ‘flip clocks’ and the 7am sequence is starts with a Classic, then a Recurrent, then an A list record… and 8am sequence goes Recurrent, Classic, A List – swap things around so that you break the pattern of predictability. It’s amazing how fresh you can make things sound just by changing the order of your flip clocks around. Does every 20 minute sweep really represent the sound of your station? Now’s a great time to check!

3. Production Audit
Production can get quite stale over time. It’s a little bit like wallpaper. You don’t really notice it because you see it every day, but under closer inspection, you may see it’s a bit worn out and needs replacing! I recently listened again to a station that I had worked at over 5 years ago. They’re still running the same sweepers that I’d put on the air way back then… and it’s 2008 now! It’s an extreme example, but it shows it can happen. What are the cuts that have served you well, but probably need to be rested now? How can you refresh the sound, but stay true to your key messages and positioning? Spend some time with your production and listen again to every cut, and make some bold decisions.

4. Aircheck Schedule

One of the most effective ways of improving you product is to spend time with your presenters in one-to-one aircheck sessions. Programme Directors are of course very busy people (!) and one of the casualties is often ‘meetings with presenters’ and airchecks. I’ve seen PD’s strike out a whole week of sessions from their diaries and not give it a second thought. Make 2008 the year you devote to your talent. They are the single biggest category investment your station makes, and leaving ratings success down to between 5 and 10 people who don’t have regular feedback is a gamble I wouldn’t be prepared to take. Put together a realistic Aircheck Schedule allowing more time for morning shows and key daytime presenters, and try and stick to it!

5. On-Air Activity Calendar
The arrival of 2008 is a great time to look ahead throughout the year and start to put together an on-air activity calendar. It’s a really useful tool for programmers and will guide you through the year ensuring there’s always something on the table for listeners. Not only can you plot all your station led activity and major promotions on it, but you can plot all sorts of things that might appeal to your listeners and have an on air angle to it. Madonna’s birthday… do a Madonna day; the release of the new Harry Potter film… stage a “Harry Potter-thon” event at a local multiplex. Use it as an excuse to stay connected and topical as well as control over your content.

6. Station Cross Promotional Schedule
Morning Shows always get good cross promotional airtime with some stations running promos every hour across the day. But how often do the other great shows in your schedule get some well needed cross promotion? Use the New Year as an opportunity to develop a Station Cross Promotional Schedule where you start to plot in some airtime to promote other shows. For example, in January you may decide to run a burst of 4 weeks promoting Drivetime, while in February, that great Late Show that you know your core audience would love if they just got to sample it, might really benefit from a run of cross promos and live reads. You can’t always promote everything all the time… but you can put a great plan together to make sure you’re recycling listeners back into the station.

7. Online Integration
Take a look at your station’s website today. How much does it reflect what you’re doing on air? Are there “morning show extras”… the bits behind the scenes or the bits you couldn’t broadcast”! Are your DJ’s blogging? Is there a great photo gallery your loyal fans can visit to see all the good guests that have stopped by? And can visitors to the site find out how to ‘listen live’ really easily? Make sure that 2008 is a great year for your online offering and that you approach this year understanding the importance of converging technologies.

8. News
I once met a Programme Director who said “The news guys can do what they want with their 3 minutes at the top of each hour!” Wrong. Journalists, with the best will in the world, can sometimes allow a little bit of ‘news drift’, where the style and content can steadily move away from what you decided in that ‘news strategy’ meeting 6 months ago. Spend a day this month auditing the news output and ensure your news is in sync with the rest of your programming and the news team understand what you need them to do and how important their role is in 2008.

9. Target
Use the New Year as an opportunity to gather your programming team together and remind them of the focus of the station. (It’s actually something worth doing several times a year). Ensuring everyone understands exactly who you’re talking to, what kind of things they’re in to and the lives they lead will really help your on air team to focus on your audience.

10. Sponsorships & Promotions
Schedule a meeting as soon as you can outside your normal ‘promotions’ meeting to talk about your expectations and ambitions for your on-air sponsorships & promotions in 2008. Was the prize level last year a little on the low side? Did you carry some promotions with no brand-fit whatsoever? And did the sales guys agree to a really long tag line without getting programming approval first? New Year is a great moment to wipe the slate clean and lay out your vision for how S&P will integrate into the product in 2008. Getting Sponsorship and Promotions right is a crucial part of any radio station. Start the year off on the right foot!

Actually any of this ‘Top 10 Checklist’ is applicable at any time of the year, but the New Year is a great moment to stop, re-set and move the bar a little higher in 2008. Have a great year!

This article was written for the latest edition of the Blue Revolution ‘e-Zine’. You can subscribe to it at

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