When people first start out on the air in radio, one of the most difficult things to master in the early years is audience visualization. Most on-air people are alone in a room, often staring at a hunk of glass.
Problem is, they often come off mechanical and forced, trying too hard to sound funny, happy, clever, or cute. Meantime, their inability to imagine what it's like to be on the other end of the speaker forced them into modeling their style after others, rather than carving out their own characteristic sound.
When you're on the radio, you're stuck in a “one to many” mindset. That is, you're talking to the masses, often by yourself. I've heard many hosts ask “Who's our typical listener?”
And while the answer is usually more complicated than the question, many a PD has consulted a source like Scarborough or Simmons to add depth and flavor to the descriptor – is he or she employed, do they have kids, are they into sports or playing card games, live in Dallas or Tarrant County, into shopping or hunting, favoring the Cubs or White Sox, or coffee or tea?
Of course, there's some guesswork and even liberal interpretation, but the end result is a more colorized picture of that average fan of the station. Back in the day, some programmers even brought in a life-size cutout of that typical station cumer into the studio, even encouraging talent to talk to “it.”
(You can create your own do-it-yourself cardboard cutout for not a lot of money from companies like Build-A-Head whose life-sized people are shown here. By the way, they make great giveaway items for bigger-than-life personalities, but that's another topic for another day.)
These processes were all attempts – albeit crude ones – to bring a sense of richness and depth to the so-called target audience, well above and beyond Arbitron and Nielsen's limitations of gender, age, and zip code.
On the face of it, this is a healthy process. For too long, programmers have limited their perspectives to the music – she's a Country fan, he's into Rock, or he goes back and forth between Alternative and Triple A. It's similar on the Talk side of the spectrum in radio, where fans are often cubby-holed by their political ideologies and religious beliefs, rather than a richer look at who they are and what they do.
There was a time in radio when we referred to these more detailed audience segments as “psychographics.” And many predicted they would become the dominant metrics for programming and audience analysis.
That was back in the 80's. Suffice it to say, most PDs are stuck with the same crude analytics with which to study their competitive environments, like using an abacus when a computer is available.
Listeners are not formats, fitting neatly into a series of 3-artist music descriptors like so much perceptual research still relies on. And when PDs don't pull back to get a wider view of their audience, they miss the opportunity to better connect with them. Similarly, the sales department struggles to line up retailers and events that have a strong chance of working by matching audience and client interests.
Looking at the “Wheel of Radio Formats,” the one that leans most into lifestyle is Sports Radio, largely because of the influence of the late Tom Bigby (pictured).
Tom's philosophy was that sports was more than scores and analysis – it was entertainment. A eulogy written by programmer Spike Eskin – now VP Programming of WFAN – shortly after Bigby's passing referred to the need to do “guy talk radio” or “Oprah for men.” And in essence, it was his contribution to the format that has allowed it to transcend scores, trades, highlights, and draft picks to become a richer reflection of the audience.
Bigby understood that radio programming was a more 3-dimensional game that spread its influence into the audience's lifestyles, passions, and even anger – none of which happened on the diamond, gridiron, or court.
I communicated with Tom a number of times after he pulled back on his radio activities, chatting about how Classic Rock fans were similarly multi-dimensional if programmers (and consultants!) were wise enough to think beyond Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, and concerts.
I've written about social media groups during the past year or so, a golden opportunity for programmers to align their activities and even promotions with like-minded members of the audience.
These affinity gatherings are tailor-made for radio, if PDs have an understanding of what their fans are doing when they're not listening to the radio. There are scores of groups of virtually every type of pastime, interest, hobby, or avocation, often right in your city or town.
When we asked about social media groups in last year's Techsurvey 2022, we learned the vast majority of core radio listeners are members of groups in good standing, often to several of these fan aggregators at the same time:
Yet, most radio research leaves radio's programming teams high and dry when it comes to identifying the “‘types” of people who listen or are available to listen. The standard research reveals our loyalty is best among 35-44 men, whites, and residents of Nassau County. It also tells us that the same people who like Mötely Crüe also correlate well with Ozzy partisans. But rarely does it take a deeper dive into personas.
That's why I was fascinated to see Luminate, essentially a music data company, develop more robust profiles that expand on the usual demographic themes of music listeners and fans.
Their personas – cleverly called “Music Fanalytics” break down the music consuming populace into five groups:
These personas help producers, performers, and music executives better identify key audience groups, motivation for engaging with music and other preferences, as well as what might contribute to creating a better music listening experience.
In other words, audience growth.
They just might help radio programmers, too. Although this adventuresome endeavor by Luminate begs the question why radio isn't developing similar “fanalytics” for its pools of followers and fans. More on that in a moment.
To engage us with their personas, Luminate has developed a quiz so you can learn where you fall among these five archetypes. (And of course, we cannot resist. BTW I'm an “Enthusiast,” but you couldn't have told me that.) Take it here.
At the same link, Luminate gives us more detailed descriptions of each persona – who they are, the music they like, how they consume it, and some attitudinal background. There's also more detail on how they gather their research and synthesize their responses.
Why personas? Luminate's head of research, Matt Yazge, explained they help the company's clients “fundamentally understand and better activate their audiences by looking beyond demographics and into all the factors that really drive consumer behavior.”
But are they relevant to those of us programming radio stations and building personality brands?
Matt told me the concepts beyond Luminate's “Music Fanalytics” “Apply to radio like any other entity trying to reach music listeners. In fact, you'll notice there is one segment, in particular, that depends on radio more heavily than the others.”
Of course, he's referring to “Radio Rockers.” Wouldn't you know it, they love Classic Rock (but other music genres, too), and listening in their cars. They're older, likely to be white, and residents of the Midwest.
The other personas are equally rich in flavor, helpful in going beyond age and sex, the data most radio programmers have been stuck with for decades. This is a smart strategy by Luminate, engaging all of us in their analytics journey.
But what about radio?
Glad you asked. Jacobs Media has been working on persona development for the better part of a year now, and we'll have something to show you soon. It is initially being designed for public radio (they asked) but a companion product can be created for any radio platform, including commercial or Christian.
Us programmers and strategists need to go beyond two dimensions in our increasingly complex – and crowded – audio ecosphere. Personas are a great tool for engaging the most analytical programmers, as well as sales people and board members, all of whom need to see the puzzle in the same way.
Personas are a great tool for getting more personal with audiences.
Thanks to Jimmy Harney and Haley Jones for their help in putting together today's post.