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  • Matt Cundill

Five Reasons Why Programming Rock is more Challenging

Updated: Dec 11, 2019


Here are five reasons (in no particular order) why it is harder to program than other radio formats:


Talent: If you don't have a morning show that stands out in your market – it's going to be tough sledding. Rock music alone does not drive numbers after 9am. You also need an up and coming or established afternoon drive personality. It's not enough to provide music, traffic and commercials on the drive home. Listeners can get those first two things on their own and they don't want the third. You can count the number of successful stations that do not have engaging personalities on no hands. The schools that used to churn out future talent desperately need upgrades to the digital world. One solution that needs some serious consideration was tabled by Marty Forbes of Radio Wise.

The format's gold library skipped a generation: (Does not pertain to Classic Rock) Around 2005, listeners began connecting with the songs through other means. (Think TV Commercials, TV Shows and other product placement) Even if they did hear it first on your station, they can have it on demand once they buy it or they can stream it for free. Rock radio never provided an adequate home for heavier sounding rock and now Spotify is sending out press releases bragging about it. The rules are not the same for Top 40 stations because their music is shuffled along after a year. When Rock listeners love a song, it's for life. Inevitably listeners will hear it more on another device than on a traditional radio - so the media device gets the emotional credit. If you think it's no big deal, there's a reason the smallest era on radio's gold playlist is from 2005-2013. It also does not help that big acts like Metallica, and Tool go on a decade long hiatus.

Marketing issues: Face it: You do not know who this person is. Just so you know - he makes wine. He also does not want his band associated with your station.


Ever tried to get Foo Fighters, Zeppelin, the Stones, Tool, Metallica, or AC/DC onto your radio station's TV ad or bus board campaign? It's like pulling teeth. (Rockford, Illinois's WXRX managed to get Metallica on)


Meanwhile Country radio's outdoor campaigns feature Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton. Top 40 stations have no problem decorating the skyline with Rhianna, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry. It would appear that country and CHR artists understand that being visible is in their best interests. Score one for the beautiful people. One Buffalo station let their listener's do their TV ad. (Probably because the 30 seconds could not be populated with its core artists.


Perhaps the tide is turning with U2's recent takeover of Rock 101, who realized they need to be out there. As much as rock artists do not think they need radio, the medium still carries huge legitimacy. Program directors tell their air talent to make as many appearances as possible and show up to the swearing in of the local dog catcher. Inversely, radio needs to find better ways than a 90 second interview and sending listeners to the website for the rest of the conversation when they do interviews. (See the part above creating compelling content) If radio does not make it worth the artist's time, they won't bother to come.

Rock's Failure to promote the format from within: Ever watch the Country Music Awards? There are appearances from country acts who promote and thank radio for their contributions over the course of the year. The artists have remained loyal to the radio medium and radio has reciprocated accordingly. Most of rock radio's listener defections have come at the expense of country. By the way, Steven Tyler and Don Henley are recording country records. Country has essentially raided rock's talent and sound.

The industry has a history of this: At rock radio's peak in 1989 when Metallica were releasing their best material, they managed to lose the Grammy's Best hard rock award to Jethro Tull. Yes that happened. Metallica still wasn't over it in 1992 when they did win a Grammy.


That moment told rock fans the industry was out of touch with the their product and busy counting George Michael's money.

The Rock station is way too cool for the listener: This happens more often than you think. On air personalities pick on country and pop stars on a regular basis. People under 35 do not give a crap about formats or what your station plays or doesn't play. The songs co-exist on people's iPods. It's paramount to me scrolling through your iPod playlist and telling you all the songs that suck. Stop it.

If you would like to talk more about rock radio and making it better, I can be reached at 204-414-5541.

There's lots more great reading available if you are interested in this subject:

* Greg Diamond of Byrnes Media wrote in-depth on the "State of Rock Radio" just over a year ago.

* Fred Jacobs of Jacob's media had a wonderful 4 part series printed in 2012. Most of which is still relevant today.


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