Archives for category: Country Listener Research

• Every U.S. radio station is a complimentary CMA member through March 1, so this is a reminder to grab your share of free research with CMA Insiders, a proprietary Country Music Consumer panel.
• This research was conducted via online survey during November 2012 and resulted in a total sample base of 485 respondents.

You’ll want to budget for a CMA membership in 2013 so you can continue to access this great resource in the coming year!

• This holiday season, the percentage of Country Music Consumers shopping at online retailers, 83%, was nearly equivalent to the 93% who indicated they would be shopping at brick and mortar retailers.

• Country Music Consumers are more likely to buy and give, rather than receive, the gift of Country Music this holiday season.   Overall, males between the age of 18 to 49 are more likely to expect to give, and receive, Country Music gifts.

• Toys, clothing/shoes and CDs/DVDs are top gift-spending categories among Country Music Consumers this season.


As part of its ongoing research and membership services initiatives, the Country Music Association just announced results from its recent Music Listening Study (click to read the complete press release).

Country Music fans are avid radio listeners and doing as much radio listening as ever.  Compared to a year ago, 87 percent of respondents are listening to local Country Radio stations as much or more, with 18-24 year olds being twice as likely to listen to more Country Music than the prior year, driven largely by the appeal of new music genres.

Loyalty is a top influencer for choosing Country Radio as evidenced by 75 percent of listeners reporting they have been listening to the same station for years. 

While AM/FM car radio is the top source Country Music fans tap for music listening, fans are also fueling their passion for music online as well.

Every country radio station has a complimentary membership for 2012, thanks to CMA, so be sure to go online and grab this free information and if it raises any questions, any of the A&O team would love to talk with you about it.

A&O’s annual “Roadmap” online perceptual has tracked the key question brands have been asking their users for many years – how satisfied are you? – for years and country fans normally rate their favorite station extremely high in “very” satisfied. 

Now, perhaps there’s an even more relevant benchmark to track in this social media age.

This year, Jacobs Media in their annual Tech Survey took a chapter from Owen and Brooks’ book, “how likely are you to recommend the station to a colleague or a friend?”

Fortunately, the news is quite good.  Country format listeners rank #2 (55% said yes) behind contemporary Christian (71%!) to do so nationally.

Now the question remains – will your audience recommend you to their friends?

Will you be above or below average?

Edison Research’s Larry Rosin does it again. It seems like roughly every few years he has a way of visiting the Country Radio Seminar with data which changes everything. Will today’s revelations do it again?

Beyond Country’s P1s – Edison Research Presentation for CRS 2012

Only yesterday, A&O’s Country Roadmap 2012 – a survey of country radio station social network and email database members reported on the other side of the coin, folks who on average listen to country radio two hours a day and are extremely satisfied with their favorite country station, though also complain about too much repetition and commercials in very high numbers.

Which study is correct?


No one said your job was going to be easy when you got into country music radio.

Which is more productive for you?

Focusing on the core? Leaning toward the interested, but unengaged outsiders?

Getting that balance right is what will separate winners from losers in 2012.

With programmers looking for benchmarks or norms to compare their station to, Arbitron, Media Monitors and Inside Radio are working on a study that looks at the musical characteristics of top performing stations under PPM measurement which will be revealed next week at Arbitron’s annual Fly-In in a presentation by Arbitron’s Jenny Tsao and Heine.

It examines key music metrics, like library size, current playlist and turnover rate, at top performing stations and compares them to the average in that format.

Since one of the formats they’re looking at is country, Inside Radio’s Paul Heine conferenced with Mike O’Malley and me the other day and then printed a few bullet points from that lengthy conversation.

In reading it, I felt a bit like Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich, wishing one of us had done a better job explaining what I meant to communicate in a clearer, more quickly-quotable manner.

The data shows top performers share remarkably similar musical characteristics with average stations in the same format. The study both reinforces the importance of playing the hits to build a ratings foundation while demonstrating how non-music programming components separate ratings winners from also-rans.

As Heine previewed yesterday in Inside Radio, the percentage of airplay devoted to the most played songs in individual formats is largely the same – whether a station is ranked first in its target demo or not. For example, nearly one in three spins (30%) on CHR stations are from the format’s ten most played songs and nearly seven in ten are from songs in the top 50 — regardless of the station’s 18-34 rank.

While slower current music rotations mean country devotes a lower percentage of spins to songs in the top 10, the percentages hardly vary whether the station is No. 1 in 25-54 (18% of spins) ranked No. 2 – No. 5 (17%) or ranked No. 6 – No. 10 (16%).

The findings of the study were largely consistent across six major contemporary music formats.

Arbitron and Mediabase — in conjunction with Inside Radio — tracked stations in PPM markets from April-June for the study: “Country — radio’s most programmed format — exhibits few variances in selecting top songs. No matter whether ranked first or tenth in 25-54, country stations appear to be spinning and rotating the same current songs at the same levels across PPM markets.”

In viewing the stats, Mike O’Malley told Heine there are only minor differences in the way number one stations spin the top 20 (or even the top 50) vs. #6-10. What is outside the Top 50 creates the majority of what country plays regardless of rank. 6-10 play slightly more songs outside the top 50 than #1s (2%) or #2-5 (1%), but really that difference is insignificant. Because there’s little different in the way ‘currents’ are spun, ranks are a function of something else.

My perspective on what that might be: no matter whether a specific market is highly Hispanic, black or primarily non-ethnic, the leading country stations still do best when they overachieve among non-ethnic listeners with an almost even balance of 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54 listeners. Thus, “common thread/low polarity” songs which work to help hit that goal tend to be the same ones regardless of whether the city is Miami, San Diego, Philadelphia, Houston or Boston.

Secondly, music promotion to country is driven by the reality that many country music fans continue to purchase music on physical CDs as opposed to digital downloads and so record labels strive to keep stations in synch on the number of consensus current hit songs that retailers like Wal-Mart and Target have on their shelves at any given time, which keeps the number of currents we’re all exposing to fewer than 20-25.

O’Malley made the point that, given that, smart country stations tend to differentiate themselves musically by the gold library material a station either plays or doesn’t, rather than currents or recurrents.

Heine’s report included the factoid that top-ranked 25-54 country stations are playing, on average, 200 more titles than lower ranked country stations: 681 active titles for top-ranked stations, 484 for stations ranked No. 2 – No. 5 and 480 for stations ranked No.6 – No.10.

Then, he added his own observation that bigger libraries and slower current rotations are one of the hallmarks of a format long on Time Spent Exposed and light on cume followed by a quote from me, “If a country station increases its rotations too high, TSE generally declines. That’s the steel sword country has: a very loyal, passionate core that listens for a long time…” which had me seeming to say that big libraries are what makes winning stations in ARB PPM when, actually, just the opposite is true.

The repetition I was talking about was spinning currents too often which can harm heavy user time spent listening, based on audience turnover that is about half for country what the contemporary hit formats have.

They need to play currents twice as fast as country radio does to be sure that their average listener hears them about the same amount.

Country has a weapon in its arsenal that CHR generally doesn’t have access to, given our wider target age: high appeal gold songs as well as currents and recurrents.

However, I sure don’t want anyone to get the impression that when it comes to country bigger gold categories beat tighter ones in PPM. They do not.

The main reason a country station ranks higher in a Minneapolis or Cincinnati than in a Miami or Los Angeles has everything to do with the size of the non-ethnic 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54 population in those places and how accurately the PPM panel reflects those demographics in the correct male/female balance, NOT the number of songs in their library.

The major group radio owners with 20% of their holdings in the country format will be most profitable five years from now.


Three reasons: 1) I think regional market dominance and format diversity, primarily focused 18-49 and 25-54, wins; 2) I’m bullish on country over both the medium and long-term. The music right now is simply terrific; and 3) you can’t look at a top five ranker 25-54 in most markets and not see at least one country station. And, that’s how it will be for at least the next decade, I’d bet.

18 to 54 dominance will be radio’s key to growing our share of media revenue in the immediate future. Newspapers have a weak readership story under age 40. We must got to stop selling against each other and focus on the huge piece of pie that print media hold. 2011’s round of consolidation will hasten this development if we’re smart. Our results outstrip print every time. Ad revenues will still be an 18-49 and 25-54 ball game for the foreseeable future. And, since 55-64 is such a large chunk of population, it also must be included and country is even stronger in those upper demos.

Radio groups with single digit country holdings outside of the top five, highly ethnic, metro markets had better know how to tell the 18-34 story!

Only reason I can think of NOT to invest in the growth of, buy and hold, country stations: it’s definitely NOT a quick-turnaround format. But, it is loyalty, which continues very strong — which most other formats lack and media buyers are looking for. That makes country a wonderful long-term investment well into the 21st century!

The demos that make that reality – 25-44 – are already heavily listening to country today in all but the most ethnically-diverse metro markets.

The best time of year to field perceptual studies, callout, focus groups, music tests? In the constant change that is today’s radio universe, the answer is usually “yesterday.”

And, as a result, most research companies are working non-stop, year round where once upon a time they centered their activities in the first and third quarters – when many stations get set for fall and spring surveys.

Consolidation cut back on the amount of marketing research done by radio at first back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but now thanks to internet survey and social networking tools there’s no reason why any radio manager can’t do as much, or even more, listener research and data crunching as was done forty years ago — when only a few very innovative companies began to recognize that it was possible to learn more about a competitor than even they knew about themselves.

Ultimately, perceptual studies, focus groups and music testing became ubiquitous, until it became obvious that if three stations in the same format all targeted the same demographic, they’d all end up positioning themselves as “less talk, more music” and playing the same 250-300 songs.

Today, it takes a much more sophisticated approach to digging deeper into tastes and lifestyles to fully understand what coalitions drive loyalty and usage, understanding when you can “do-it-yourself” and when the findings you get from online tactics require greater expertise from one of the excellent radio research companies, who – given the complexity of our multi-platform world – are busier than ever.

Stay in close touch with your consultant as you execute research strategies.

We work with all of the vendors and can help you decide what to trend and track in-house and when it’s more cost and time-efficient (today’s margin for error is smaller than ever and the price of errors is larger than ever!!) to bring in a pro.

To start with, if you have the choice and your market is stable enough to permit you the luxury of not having to panic-schedule research in reaction to competitive surprises, A&O likes:

1. Full market strategic or (if you only own one station and do not plan a format switch under ANY circumstances) competitive face off perceptual study. Field this when the weather is as its worst and respondents will be home – January or February are NOT the months to do focus groups or an auditorium music test unless you live in Florida, Hawaii or a place with residents are so hardy (can you spell Alaska? Wisconsin? Minnesota?) that bad weather won’t stop them from going out. Insist on having the responses to this 15-20 minute questionnaire six to eight weeks prior to the start of the spring book. Get all major decision-makers together, including your consultant, for a day away from the station to create an immediate action plan based upon it. A&O does an annual “Roadmap” online study for all of our clients, so that we can track key metrics nationally and benchmark locally. For many of our clients, this is enough to stay competitive as judged by your core, but when you see something you don’t understand or know what to do about, that’s a great time to talk to a researcher you trust to target a random sample, replicating the ratings methodology. It’s not cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than taking action on bad data.

2. Music testing. Ideal: four 400-700 song tests annually, in the month prior to the start of each survey so that you freshen your entire library each book. And, if that is what your competition does, you better as well. Many stations do one annually and, in that case, I’d schedule it exactly six months away from the perceptual study (July-August), include written mini-perceptual questions during the breaks and invite participants to stay after for an informal focus group discussion on promotion and programming issues. A&O tracks a total of almost a thousand gold and recurrent titles annually in four quarterly online music tests which clients are encouraged to participate in. However, as helpful as this info is to trend evolving tastes of core listeners, there’s only one way to find out about the music preferences of non-core listeners and that involves more than just using your loyal listener database to test music.

3. Focus groups/listener advisory panels can be used to probe issues that you may want to test more formally in the perceptual study. Or, as a qualitative followup when the data tells you that listeners are behaving in a way you do not fully understand. The key point with focus groups: know three to five action-based questions that you want answered. I would plan them in October-November and/or April-May to learn if listeners are aware of your marketing efforts and how your product is being perceived. Best: Tue-Wed-Thu (be done by 10 pm). Or, Saturday midday. Again, with today’s online tools, there’s no excuse for not doing this modern day equivalent of hanging out in a bar where your listeners go and asking questions, listening critically. However, again, it’s crucial to understand the limitations of this and to know when to ask for a second opinion from someone who does this for a living and can take a more objective view on your behalf.

4. Weekly/biweekly online/callout/listener advisory panels. I also like a monthly 400 person in-house ‘mini-rating’ that trends station preference and cume, as well as tracking key strategic issues defined in the perceptual study and testing current/recurrent music two to four times per month. Don’t waste your time doing it, however, if you are going to ignore the results or call for help when your results don’t track with ratings. Draw your music test sample from a mix of core and cumers to your station, balanced based on the needs of your strategy.

5. Marketing/management by wandering around. Monthly or at least quarterly, invite two groups of 15 people chosen at random from the callout/online testing panel to meet at 6 and 8 pm with a member of station management who isn’t known publicly – or your consultant – to discuss what they’re hearing and reacting to. Mail out/email/place on your website weekly current music rating sheets that encourages at least 100 request line callers/contest players/at work database members to ‘listen and rate the music.” The larger this sample, the better. Balance it to be sure that males and younger demos are represented proportionally. It’s not statistically valid, of course, and there’s always a response bias to groups like this to beware of. However, it’s amazing how candid even the folks who love your station the most can be.

6. Diary reviews/mechanical diary analysis. Every radio station should have a postal code map in the promotions office with: color-coded ARB/BBM returns by zip plus four and when available even QR code for both your station and meaningful competition. Collect zip code data in callout and database marketing as well. Correlate your loyalty marketing efforts on the geographical areas where you gain the highest AQH contributions and your conversion tactics in your competition’s strongest locales.

Note: ARB mailed the 2011 Spring Diary Review brochures to all subscribers in early June and the first choices dates were allocated on June 23. A&O advises you to return the form, requesting a diary review EACH book. You can always cancel the request if you decide when the results come out that you won’t need to do a diary review. BBM returns ballots to their regional offices a few weeks after each diary survey is published and now both ARB and BBM have terrific online and desktop software tools that enable you to see much of what you once could only get from a diary review from your own office.

As with everything else mentioned above, A&O will be happy to share our perspective as the next book comes out, show you how much you can still learn from a diary review you can’t get anywhere else and can refer you to reasonably-priced experts who tab the data and create strategies from it every day.

There are too many low-cost/no-cost ways to stay in touch with your listeners today, there’s simply no excuse for not knowing what your heaviest users think about your programming efforts and also your competition’s as well.