What Goes Up, Must Come Down

“Emotional roller coasters tend to emphasize the lows, tend to be more affected by the low, by the dip in an emotional roller coaster than when you are at the peak.” – Rush Limbaugh

Roller Coaster

Roller coasters always clank and make a lot of noise as they haul you, and everyone else in the cars, up to the top for the first dip.  Funny how, with a roller coaster, it’s the dip everyone looks forward to, and they relax as they build for a drop again.  Unfortunately, we don’t see that happen with ratings with the same delight.

All it takes is for a little drop to cause gray panic, and I don’t mean screaming in delight either.

Which is too bad, because those ups and downs that come with a roller coaster are are part of life too.  Up is never straight up, it’s always up and down over time, but up overall.  When you look at your ratings over a longer period of time, like Nielsen suggests, you can tell if it’s a trend or fluctuation.  Reacting in the short term produces the reality of self-fulfilling prophecy – that most radio stations die from the inside, not the outside.

I guess the moral of the story is this: If you want to crash your station in the quickest, most efficient way, focus on the fluctuations, especially the down ones like Rush says.  Rattle your troops, shake the unshakable, confuse the future, and paint yourself into a “reactionary” corner.  If you want to continue to grow, have a little maturity and understand the ups and downs of Nielsen and life, and be the one that stays on focus.

Frost Advisory #222 – What We Know To Be True

Ratings are up! What have we done right?

Ratings are down! What do we change?

Evaluating your programming based upon the tiny sample size in the PPM ratings is a slippery slope. I’ve seen a station lose 100,000 cume in a week and go up in share. I’ve seen four meters from a family away for a long weekend cut a station’s share in half.

So, how do we know what to do when the ratings come in?

The Truth

I suggest that we can learn something about programming our radio stations by looking at our faith journey.

As Christians we search for guidance through the truth of the Word and wise counsel.

“Thy word is truth” (John 17:17b)

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

I realize its a bit wacky to put the Bible and market research in the same sentence, but I think its fair to say that research is the most objective reference point in evaluating whether your station’s programming is on track.

It can show you the strengths and weaknesses of your station, the overall appeal of your format, and what messaging will be meaningful to your fans and conducive to attracting new listeners. This valuable resource can also uncover the strength of personalities, the relative importance of features or service elements, and whether the staff should get free coffee.

While we all love to tinker it is important not to overreact to changes in the behavior of a few panelists in the weekly or monthly ratings. If there’s a sudden burp on the PPM radar go back to What We Know to Be True. Objectivity is found only in market or music research, not the comments of the sales manager’s cousin or the latest complaint from a listener.

As an example:

Every year I’m involved in discussions about the validity of all-Christmas music programming, an often polarizing programming tactic where smart people can disagree. While I’ve made recommendations on both sides of the argument depending upon the station’s goals and competitive dynamics, in a recent discussion I went back to What We Know to Be True. That station’s market research revealed that 80% of their listeners said they would listen all or most of the time to a station that played all Christmas music. In other words, if they didn’t do it their own listeners would likely tune somewhere else for it.

That one piece of research made their decision obvious. Without it we might still be talking about how Aunt Minnie doesn’t like Burl Ives.

Tommy Kramer Tip #67 – Bumpers: Why?

In the continuing battle to get more “right brain” elements into radio stations, I recently had a client station that was still playing “bumpers” – those things that would end a break by the morning team with a bumper (what some people call a “punctuator”) like “Shaker and Blotto…on 102.5 The Rock” into the commercial stopsets.

Bumpers were a bad idea when they first came on the scene a couple of decades ago, and one of the main uses for them was in syndicated shows. The thinking was that you had to remind the listener (who apparently must be an idiot to most programmers) what the name of the show was, and/or what the name of the station was. But in the real world – the listener’s world – he hears the show’s name or the station’s name, then a commercial. So guess what image is carried forward? You = commercials.

Plus, the bumper destroys the First Exit, the most powerful radio technique I’ve ever come up with, by literally stopping the momentum instead of moving forward seamlessly and having the spotbreak on you almost before you’re even aware of it. (If you’re unfamiliar with The First Exit, please see Tip #3 on my blog site.)

It’s easier to see how nonsensical this is if you visualize a real-life conversation. If we’re sitting over lunch talking and I make a good point, I don’t have an announcer come over to the table and say “Tommy Kramer!” after it. That would be very weird.

This is just another one of those old radio things that sounds Strategic in the planning stage, but is actually an incomplete thought. If you’re good, identify yourself regularly when it’s appropriate to do so, and have true Momentum, people will learn and remember who you are and where they heard it. Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory don’t use bumpers into commercials, so why should we?

Momentum trumps everything else. Period. Bumpers are an impediment to momentum. No amount of so-called “branding” can overcome that. While radio people see promos, bumpers, and commercials as different things, in the listener’s world, there are just two elements – Music, and things that aren’t music. To the listener, the bumper is just a commercial for you.

Oh, and let’s do away with the little movie and TV “drops”, too. They were great 20 years ago, but they’re not new anymore. I say just get into the spotbreak, and make everyone else sound like they have to quack their names out before they can move forward.

Frost Advisory #221- Up is good and down is bad


Broad generalizations regarding ratings are not very helpful in evaluating the appeal of your station’s programming. Some are tinkerers, constant REACTORS insisting that three songs should be dropped from the playlist because the latest PPM numbers were cut in half in Women 45-54. On Saturday. Others are passive observers where a drop of 100,000 weekly cume results in not even a glance up from their navel gazing.

In my travels I’m fortunate to rub elbows with some very bright and talented people at radio stations you’ve probably heard of. Their station’s ratings performance is a result of their understanding the best business practices of success, focusing their efforts on the things that really matter, and bringing in resources that extend beyond the talents inside the building.

Ratings research is one of those resources. After many years of studying electronic measurement via the Purple People Meter (PPM) methodology we have learned some characteristics of successful stations.

50% of your weekly cume are your P1s (first preference or fans). They can contribute over 80% of your average quarter hours.
Your station’s PPM ratings will rise and fall based on the behavior of your P1s (fans).

Getting your P1s to give your station one more day of listening will mean a great deal to improve your PPM performance. Just one more listening occasion on an extra day will increase your cume and average quarter horses.

PPM performance is ALL ABOUT who gets the meters. That is something for which we have no control. For Christian music stations, please note that Nielsen doesn’t ask, doesn’t tabulate, doesn’t care which meter holders are Christians. God cares, but Nielsen doesn’t.

Rather than shrugging our shoulders and blaming the Nielsen gods for the erratic nature of ratings performance (particularly in Weeklies), we should focus on the things we can control. It’s deeper than up is good and down is bad.

We will have fans (P1s – first preference listeners) only if we create a radio experience that is worthy of having fans in the first place.

In my other life I do some announcing for a baseball team called the St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Despite being in only the 22nd largest metro area, the St. Louis Cardinals ranked 2nd in attendance last year averaging over 41,602 fans per game. That’s more than the San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, or Detroit Tigers, teams from much larger cities. The Cardinals don’t create fans by focusing on 40,000 as a number, but by creating a baseball experience that is worthy of having 40,000 fans. Their are 18 sections under the heading “Fans” on the Cardinals’ website, including:

Fans First is an initiative to thank fans for their on-going support and unwavering loyalty for over a century of Cardinals baseball. We are putting our Fans First because YOU have helped make the Cardinals the most storied franchise in the National League, as well as making Busch Stadium truly “Baseball Heaven.”

For us in radio that means choosing only the most popular music, enhancing that music environment with meaningful content, and creating a brand that resonates with the listeners’ values and perspectives on life. And executing it with precision.

Here’s the deal: We achieve ratings only if we have enough measured cume (Nielsen world). We have enough cume only if we have enough listeners (real world). We have enough listeners in the real world only if we create a radio station that real people really listen to in their cars, in their homes, and where they work.

We don’t get the numbers by focusing on the numbers. We get the numbers by creating a radio station that people love!

Create Your Own Fate

“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” – John F. Kennedy

Edward John Smith was born in Great Britain, went to school, fought in war, and became a Captain. He married, had a daughter. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house, named “Woodhead”, on Winn Road, Highfield, Southampton. He was doing well.

You may have never heard of Smith, but some of you, especially those of you who are in leadership roles, are heading toward his fate. You’re letting life happen around you with an unclear future that you think you’re protected from. As Kennedy said, “To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.”

It’s not the future you’re expecting, but you may be in the same boat, with the same result, as Edward John Smith, Captain of RMS Titanic.

Tommy Kramer Tip #66 – Work from the Listener BACK

Here’s something that should be obvious, but apparently isn’t. Work from the Listener back, not from the Control Room forward.

Example: Once, a morning team that I work with in Houston wanted to talk about American Idol auditions being held there the next day. Although they did a pretty good job of delivering the information, using the music from the show as staging, they missed the opportunity to get inside the Listener’s life and make it more visual by describing the scene in her house. (That station’s target Listener is a 28-year old female named “Jennifer,” with a husband, “Mike,” and a baby girl – two years old.)

Here’s the real deal:

It’s just before 6:00 in “Jennifer’s” house on the night before the auditions, and she’s telling her little girl and her husband that if they want dinner, they can either cook something themselves, or go get some takeout food. But they can FORGET seeing her there, because she’s going to the auditions, and if it means standing under a bridge in the rain for 12 hours, that was just tough…because that’s exactly what she’s going to do!

Describing that scene on the air, with its animation and sense of urgency, would be much more compelling than just giving the information.

Most Air Talents make the mistake of deciding what they want to do, and then projecting it toward the Listener. But it’s easy to just sound clinical or informational, and lose the opportunity to convey the visual “flavor” of that “scene” in the Listener’s life. In reality, what ALWAYS works is starting from the Listener’s perspective and working back to the Control Room, then putting that on the air.

You can never go wrong by reflecting your Listener’s life back to her (or him). It gives you a much better chance of ‘linking up’ in a right-brain way.

There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff.


Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an advance copy of the future? It would come out early for those that registered. Or, how about an App or something that could show what’s a trend, and what’s a fad.

Too bad, but oh well. Guess we’ll have to do it on our own, learning, watching, growing and acting. It’s difficult but there are optics that can give you a better idea, not of the future, but where we’re going.

What seems clear to me is that the most popular option is to do nothing. We’re too busy working on today, or don’t have perfect clarity, or are confused by the future, or maybe you just don’t care. These people are the born followers, the people who just can’t go to the head of the line and say, “Let’s go!”

So fear and eventual irrelevance are in their future. When when you don’t spend any time thinking about or planning for the future you’ve given up.

If you’re one of those people pardon my directness, but get out of the way. Make room for those of us who want to lead, or even follow.  Stand aside, and let those who can craft the future.

Frost Advisory #220 – What Have I Learned Today?

Momentum is a waste of time!   

Momentum is the greatest opportunity for me to learn all year.

Those are polar opposite statements.   Both are true.   It’s your choice.

“Intelligent people are always eager and ready to learn.” Proverbs 18:15

We all know Fred.  He comes to Momentum every year to hang around with his friends, eat donuts with the new band Hercules and the Chicken Fat People, and brag about all the nifty things he’s doing at his 2.0 share radio station.

After Momentum Fred returns to his station and implements nothing he’s heard.   Sadly, Fred has decided that he already knows everything.

“When do you think most people stop learning?

Is it when we already know how to do something? Is it when we have some success under our belts? Is it when we imagine there’s nothing left to learn, no one knows something we don’t, or when we come to believe we know it all? Whenever it is, it’s too soon, and it’s too bad, because we’ve always got a lot to learn… no matter how much we already know.”  Mark Beeson

Learning Is Fun

Here’s a suggestion:

This year at Momentum write down the 3 most important things you hear from each speaker or seminar. Prioritize these items into an action plan with specific dates when they will be integrated into your day to day activities.

That one suggestion could make the difference on whether you say Momentum was a waste of time or the greatest opportunity to learn all year.

“Do yourself a favor and learn all you can; then remember what you learn and you will prosper.” Proverbs 19:8

Tommy Kramer Tip #65 – Prep The Ending FIRST

This is the simplest way to guarantee success with any Content you do: Prep the ending first.

Here’s why:

Suppose you have several errands to run. You need to drop some clothes off at the dry cleaners, you’ve got to mail something, and you need to go to the grocery store. So to save gas and go in more of a straight line, you plan everything so you go to the grocery store last. If you don’t, you’re going to end up with a lot of refrigerated items melting in the back seat while you’re doing the other errands.

It’s the same way with everything on the air – know where you’re GOING. Where the “destination” is. THEN, plan the beginning – how you’ll get into whatever the subject is. You’ll find that the middle pretty much takes care of itself.

Saturday Night Live is a good example. Through the years, they’ve always had talented people in the cast, but when the show was strongest, every ‘bit’ had a sense of purpose – an ending or conclusion that was solid and provided some sort of resolution at the end. When the show was at its weakest, there were still some good ideas, but they just kind of fizzled out at the end.

Frost Advisory #219 – Why No Celebration?

I have a new friend. His name is also John.

He’s like a baby chick sticking his head out of the egg when it comes to Christian music radio. After decades in mainstream radio he knows he doesn’t know the format, but he asks REALLY good questions.

Because he is so charged up about his own faith he asks me, “Why isn’t there more celebration?”. Gulp. Out of the mouth of babes.

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