Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

What I mean by that “choppy” observation is that radio has lost its flow. Today’s radio for the most part is herky-jerky. On-air production is constantly starting and stopping with every programming element and to a life-long radio guy, poor on-air production grates on my ears. It’s like a train wreck.

Where’s the Flow?

What I loved about listening to radio growing up was each station’s on-air production. The flow of programming elements was exciting. A radio station’s jingles flowing into the next record with the air personality working their magic in the mix.

But today, we hear a commercial end – a jingle plays and ends – a record begins – and then maybe an announcer (I dare not call them a “personality”) read a liner card. It’s all so disjointed and it’s anything but smooth.

Moreover, every programming element is generic. The station has no local feel about it.

Great On-Air Radio Production is Hard to Find

One of the stations I enjoy listening to for great on-air production is WETA-FM out of Washington, DC. WETA-FM is a classical music station, but its flow is seamless. Its personalities are personable and, for me, they are the #1 reason I so enjoy the station, along with the fact that WETA-FM brings this same detailed attention to every programming element.

Another Washington, DC radio station that delivers flow, personality and is a pleasure to listening to is News Radio WTOP. This radio station is usually the nation’s top billing radio station and has won every radio award; more than once.

You can’t transplant either of the stations, as they are fully programmed to serve their marketplace and no place else.

Syndication & Voice Tracking

The reason most radio stations don’t have great on-air production and flow can be attributed primarily to syndication and voice tracking.

With syndication, stations on the network need to all wait for network cue tones to fire their programming elements. Also, if their local production isn’t perfectly timed out, there will be gaps between the programming elements or a programming element will be cut-off.

The other problem with syndication is that it’s not unusual to hear a radio commercial repeated more than once in the same break. I’ve heard the same commercial play three times in a single break, sometimes this occurs with the same spot playing back-to-back.

With voice tracking, an announcer is tracking for multiple stations and never is really able to focus on a single station or radio market. It sounds like they’re talking at me and not to me. Often, they seek out generic content that can be tracked in multiple markets. I don’t need Facebook content read to me, I’m on Facebook.

The Listener Experience

Great radio is all about creating a fabulous listener experience, unfortunately that is rare on today’s radio dial.

Sadly, I understand how under-staffing means that today’s radio talent is wearing multiple hats (often more than four, according to the latest research from Fred Jacobs) and has little opportunity to give any one of their responsibilities more than a moment’s focus.

I often think what your favorite NFL team would look like if the quarterback also was the team’s coach, punter and played defense.

Or how would football fans feels if their team was under the same ownership as three other NFL teams and their quarterback also played for one or more of those other teams.? My thinking is that this would spell the beginning of the end of raving football fans.

Well, as I travel around America, I hear the same announcers on multiple radio stations.

How can any radio station expect to have listener loyalty when their on-air announcers don’t even have station loyalty? Listeners know great radio when they hear it. They will continue to listen to your station only until something better comes along, and we all know it’s easier to retain a listener than to acquire a new one.

Until the listener experience is Job One, today’s radio will be contributing to its own undoing.

29 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

29 responses to “Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

  1. Maynard Meyer

    I am the coach, punter and I play defense here…among several
    other positions on the field! Good piece, Dick, lots of great observations.

    Like

  2. gowithfrank

    “How can any radio station expect to have listener loyalty when their on-air announcers don’t even have station loyalty?”

    Right? Most of these syndicated announcers haven’t even stepped foot into the markets that hear them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. According to a recent story in Radio World, there is no future generation of radio listeners beyond us baby boomers. Wall Street raiders have pillaged and squeezed all the capital they could get. After syndication came cutting the cost cutting of talent. The local gentry class have better ROI on other businesses than radio. My prediction is still spot on. Small radio operators will still exist in some form but the glory days of radio are long gone. Rush Limbaugh is dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Dardis

      Victor, with respect, the Glory Days of radio were the mid-1970s through mid-1990s. Rush was just finding his groove then, and was really good until he took his extreme Right turn.

      As part of management for the nation’s 4th sports talk station I would bring a metronome into meetings with board ops to establish the station tempo Dick speaks of in “flow.” It was much like the flow in songs, uninterrupted, with a rhythm. Commercials were not “a break” but part of the program.

      That flow was akin to what folks like Ron Jacobs – and like-minded programmers used. It was dismantled by Lowry Mays, and his like-minded cost cutting owners after 1996.

      Radio is in a “Music of Your Life” downward spiral.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Victor, I don’t see a new generation of radio listeners being cultivated by today’s radio operators. I think Radio World got it right.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Andy Curran

    Sirius/XM is a major culprit. Their DJs are mostly canned. They don’t even acknowledge an lot of songs they play, and they ramble on about random things that most of the audience doesn’t care about. A typical break goes like this: 1. Song ends 2. DJ just starts talking about random topic without acknowledging previous song. 3. After rambling a bit, they try to get into the next song after talking their way into dead-end,

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I’m hearing on AM/FM radio these days Andy. Thanks for sharing what you’re hearing coming out of your radio speaker.
      -DT

      Like

    • Marty Glenn

      Even when terrestrial Top 40/CHR was live and sounded good, most jocks didn’t mention the previous song unless they were going into a stop set. Otherwise, when the next song started, they would just talk it up fresh. Except for maybe Q-102 in Cincinnati back in the 80’s. They were the only station I ever heard where the jocks would talk down every song before going into the next one. Also, I would think that most people listening to Sirius/XM have the readout showing the title and artists of each song. So to me, that’s not an issue. But I agree that the voice tracked rambling on Sirius/XM sounds pre-recorded and annoying…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jim Carson

    The debt service spot load makes it unlistenable. Sirius/XM is in my cars.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marty Glenn

    Sean that’s why it amazes me that you have the patience to listen to terrestrial CHR stations long enough to analyze the music and the format!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Steve Allan

    The comments on XM are on point…to a point. I direct you to their Outlaw Country channel. They are anything BUT ordinary. Especially Elizabeth Cook. Also Little Steven’s Underground Garage. They may not be your style but these people are personalities. As for terrestrial radio? As a recovering PD I have some issues with what goes out over the air…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dale Parsons

    The great radio stations always had an identifiable sound.

    Often, it was built around the “sound” in the program director’s head. Everything had to flow according to that sound. If a song didn’t fit, it never got on. If it wasn’t a big hit, but matched the “sound”, it was played. From the jingles, to the promos, to the performers, to the processing, there was that audio signature telling you where you were on the dial without looking. Commercials were aired in a specific way to ensure the desired sound. If two back-to-back items (spots or records) looked as if they might clash, they were adjusted (spots moved, or transition jingle played, or live transition by performer) before the listener heard it. And sometimes, commercials were rejected because the production didn’t fit.

    Sadly, much of this isn’t realistically possible because of the way many stations and groups are operated in today’s radio environment.

    There was a time when that special spark of a great station jumped through your speakers. The sound was everything….which is they way it should be because it’s all we have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dale, you and I are on the same page. Thank You for sharing your perspective.
      -DT

      Like

    • Bill Cain

      Oh, how ‘spot on’ you are. As a kid in the Delaware Valley & the Jersey Shore, I didn’t need a dial to know what station I had tuned in. WABC, WIBG, WFIL, WIP, WSBA, CKLW, WLS, WCFL, WKBW, WARM, WMID, WOND, WBT, WOWO et al EACH had their own ‘flow’, own compression, mod level, reverb and such. Some were playing tunes pitched in speed (WMID), Some were absolutely Non-Stop (CKLW, WFIL) with no dry reads for live copy, always with music underneath. It was rapid-fire “Hey, pay attention! DON’T even think about changing Stations…something GREAT is next!” Especially CKLW Big 8’s “20/20 News”. That was like listening to the front page of the National Enquirer. WMID was notorious for 30 minutes of News & Spots per hour, :10 & :30, many live, with a shortened Top 10 hit (no intro-cued to the vocal), JX, Oldie & jx to Stop set. Mutual News at 0:00 and Local News at 0:30. Except at WABC; “News 5 minutes sooner at :25 & :55 on W A B C, AM & FM, New York” Required by FCC. But, WE SAT THROUGH IT ALL AND LOVED IT. Because like Pavlov’s dogs, we were trained that “Now, more music with Big Dan Ingram, Next on…!” Pams JX How could you possibly turn that dial? If you grew in in the 7 State region, tell me you didn’t just hear that jingle? And today?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank You Bill. ALL of those stations you mentioned were ones that influenced me while growing up and becoming addicted to radio listening. (And yes, that jingle played in my mind as I read your words.)

        Thanks for the memories.
        -DT

        Like

  9. Dave Mason

    You nailed it, Dick. “Great radio is all about creating a fabulous listener experience”, the keyword here being “LISTENER”. Too much of what’s on media (and that includes satellite, streaming, etc.) isn’t aimed at the listener. It sounds like “we’re doing it for US”. In the cases you presented here, most of the time the jock is on 4 times an hour- the “imaging” voice is on 12. Charlie Van Dyke, Jeff Laurence, Joe Cipriano, Earl Mann, Jim Edwards, your deep voices in many cases are being used to do the job of the jock on duty-and it’s not fair to them or you! Radio production is voice over music, and that’s not production. (Have you heard some of the Mercury finalists?) These are all problems that can be fixed except that most of the people responsible are probably in meetings trying to figure out where the next budget cuts are coming from, so they can’t listen to their product. (Funny, neither can the listeners!!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave, you’re right about where the people who are responsible for the radio station’s sound are – in meetings – and often reviewing the next round of budget cuts. Also, as Fred Jacobs has pointed out, radio personalities are wearing too many hats and that’s a contributing factor to the air sound suffering.

      I hope people who own/operate radio stations are listening to this conversation and proactively brainstorming how what comes out of the radio speaker can be a better listener experience.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      -DT

      Like

  10. I would be curious your thoughts on the sound of the station I program, WISM-FM (Greatest Hits 98.1) in Eau Claire, WI. I try to keep a real tight flow to everything (we do have all-local DJs, with only Casey Kasem for syndicated programming). I always figure that the tighter the flow, the better the sound — I hope it’s working!

    Like

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