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Radio Isn't Dead
It is generally true that the station with the best research wins. But it’s also true that auditorium music tests, focus groups and perceptual research ain’t cheap. So if you are a small station or a big fish in a little pond…what do you do?
First of all, if you’re a commercial radio station, an investment in a subscription to a service such as Mediabase is essential. From it, you can glean important research that can help you even if you have no budget for music research at all.
You simply find stations in your format in your region owned by companies that you know do some level of music research. Do a 4 station or more panel, get a 7 day run of the music on those stations and chances are you have about 90 percent or better of the station’s playlist. All for running some barter ads on your station.
If you play current music, you can easily figure out songs which are on the rise, and which are stiffing this way. If you’re a gold based station, you can at the very least come up with a playable list a couple times a year this way.
Internet music research is cheaper than a $25,000 auditorium test. If you have some budget, you could create a “Listener Advisory Board” thru your website and test music from it. Get a sample of 100-200 listeners sampling song hooks you provide a link to and have them score each song 1-7, with seven meaning “Love It”, six meaning “Like It” and 1 meaning “Unfamiliar”, 2 meaning “Hate It” and so forth. I straightened out the playlist of the first all 80’s station in America (WXST-FM/Delaware-Columbus, Ohio) just this way. In 90 days, we raised the ratings on that station by over a share point and a half and increase cume and time spent listening as well.
What do people THINK about your station? Ever think of having your street team hand out surveys about your station at community events and festivals? A one page survey takes just minutes to fill out.
But wait, you say…that’s not a blind survey. They know it’s you and your results could be skewed. True.
Just take it one step forward after that. Get some interns to ask “blind” questions to potential listeners in your target demographic in about 100-150 households in your area. If you know your “hot zips”, concentrate the calls in those areas.
Not in a rated market, or is your market too small? Go thru those written surveys again. Got a large number of surveys from one community or one zip code? It just might be an area where listening to your station is concentrated.
Now, compare the two results (calls to households vs. your written surveys). If the results are fairly close, chances are you may just have a valid survey.
You can always pick one listener at random from your written surveys, and one household from your phone surveys after the fact and send them $100 bucks as a thank you gift.
I know some LPFM’s that did this as a format finder. They’re paying their bills because they found out what people in their area wanted to hear. And a small town station can do that, too.
Can’t afford to pay interns? You could get volunteers from a local church or civic organization to help.
OK, it may not be quite as accurate or quite as effective as some of the more expensive ways big markets do their research. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And it just may help your small station out of a jam someday.

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