Film, Radio and TV - 22b
Approaches to Radio Formats
Although appealing to audience segments by programming specific formats may have worked in midsize markets, in the larger cities there were more radio stations than music formats. The question then became how to make your station — regardless of its format — stand out from the rest.
First, station program managers looked for ways of developing unique music and personality mixes. (Their jobs, like those of football coaches, depend on a winning season. In radio this means high station ratings.)
To further specialize, the major formats were subdivided; "rock" became "soft rock," "hard rock," "contemporary hits," etc.
Tapping into the power of nostalgia and associations with past memories, some stations specialized in hits of the 50s, or hits from the 70s, or the 80s. Some stations boasted of having a "perfect mix" of various kinds of music.
The chart below lists the most popular formats that have developed in large markets. The larger the slice of the "pie," the more listeners.
The popularity of formats is related to age and is quite different in the urban rural parts of the country. In the latter case Country Music is ranked #4 in popularity in the 12 to 17 age group (and "pop contemporary hits" is #1), but in the 18 to 34 age group Country Music is #1 in popularity.
"Talk-personality" radio is #22 in the 12 to 17 age group, but it quickly moves up with age until it's #2 in in popularity in the 45-54 age group.
In rural areas, "Contemporary Christian" is 8th in popularity in the 12 to 17 age group, but thereafter drops in popularity until about age 40 (where it's #14). At that point it starts to climb again until it reaches #11 in the 45-54 age group..
There are some big differences the number of stations in the United States that specialize in the various formats. This is particularly evident when it comes to country music.
There are more radio stations in the United States specializing in country music than any other format. Most are in rural areas. On the other hand, there are a limited number of news/talk stations; but, since they are in urban areas, they have many more listeners.
The overwhelming majority are considered conservative in their perspective and they have gained popularity primarily by attacking political parties and politicians they deem as "liberal."
Leading the list is Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh came from a conservative Republican family, started as a radio announcer at an early age and eventually worked his way to New York City. His efforts at TV didn't last and he eventually moved his radio studio to Palm Beach, Florida where he now does his daily broadcast.
In 2003, Limbaugh's show was being heard on almost 600 radio stations and is credited with reviving AM radio in the United States.
Limbaugh often uses humor to charm audiences and get his points across. By making fun of or mocking women's liberation, gays, environmentalists, former President Clinton and his family, and more recently President Barack Obama, he has won millions of followers.
Limbaugh, who does not use a script, but speaks "off the cuff," has said things that were later proven to be untrue. He is still considered the most influential radio voice for the conservative cause.
It was reported in July, 2008 that Limbaugh signed a contract for his show that goes through 2016 that is worth over $400 million. If so, this breaks records for any broadcast personality.
Even though most talk radio personalities are considered conservative, there are two well-known radio personalities that might be considered (somewhere) on the other side of the ledger: Don Imus, and Howard Stern.
"Shock jock" Howard Stern is the more impertinent of the two. His irreverent abandon during his syndicated morning talk show managed to fascinate and stir listeners — as well as stir the retribution of the FCC, which has fined him (or, more specifically, the stations that carry his programs) more than $1-million.
However, since the revenue his show generated far exceeded the fines levied against him, there seemed to be little motivation to tone down his approach.
In 2006, Stern moved his show to satellite radio, where he doesn't have to deal with FCC
Pushing the Envelope to the Max
We've noted that film, radio and TV attract audiences by constantly pushing the envelope of what society sees as acceptable.
The questions is where do we draw the line -- or should we even draw a line? To
what extent we can deride segments of our population -- even spawn hatred --
without it undermining our social order?
In the last few years we've seen the emergence of a new radio medium: the Internet. Today, more than 5,000 traditional (terrestrial) radio stations also broadcast their signals over the Internet. The graph below shows the rapid growth of "net radio."
Many listeners are people displaced from their hometowns who listen to net radio to keep up with events "back home." (Most on-air radio stations can only reliably broadcast over a 50 to 100 mile area, and net radio is worldwide.)
Since there are no laws governing Internet radio, anyone with a computer, the right hardware, software, and know-how can start an Internet radio station.
In November 2001, a satellite digital service was launched in the United States that offers more than 100 programming choices and doesn't suffer from some of the reception problems of terrestrial AM and FM radio stations. At the same time, heavy rain, thick trees with high moisture content, tunnels, etc., can momentarily block the satellite signal.
The first fee-based service to transmit digital signals from a satellite was called XM Radio. In the first two months of operation XM Radio signed up more than 25,000 subscribers. A similar service from Sirius Satellite Radio began in 2002. In 2007, efforts started to merge these two satellite services.
In addition to far fewer (or no) commercials (depending on the service), the new services offer a much wider choice of digital-quality programming.
The iPod Era
When iPod-type devices and computers that can "rip" (copy) musical selections from CDs and Internet sources arrived, the popularity of radio took another hit.
Users can assemble hours of their favorite music on a computer (up to 2,000 songs in some cases) and transfer them to a pocket-sized, solid-state listening device such as an iPod (on the left) or to one of the new generation cell phones.
"Podcasts" of broadcasts from radio and TV programming (photo on
the right) can also be
downloaded and listened to or viewed at the user's convenience.
Radio and Media Conglomerates
Like most of the mass media, a large percentage of U.S. radio stations are owned by media conglomerates.
With 900 stations, Clear Channel Communications (CCC) is the largest radio station group owner in the United States, both in number of stations and in revenue. Many of its stations are News/Talk and almost all of these are considered conservative in their focus.
The group was in the television business until it sold all of its TV stations to Newport Television in 2008.
When a few media companies get too much power, allegations of unfair or biased content control often emerge. For example, according to The Los Angeles Times, (Feb. 25, 2002) singer Britney Spears alleged that Clear Channel Communications (CCC) stations refused to play her records because her company didn't hire CCC as their tour promoter. When close to 900 stations refuse to play an artist's records it represents a major blow to their success.
We'll detail some of the major disadvantages of conglomerate control of the media in an upcoming module.
In the next module we'll introduce the medium that caused so many problems for film and radio: television. Before we get to that, as a person who did years of on-air work in both radio and TV, I often get asked the question, which medium I prefer. I've tried to answer this question in "Radio vs. TV Announcing."
The next Matching Quiz will be after Module 23.