“Quality” in radio programming

For a while now, I have, evidently, been banned from receiving Chuck Peters’ SGShowPrep newsletter (he didn’t, it seems, care for this too much). So I didn’t see this until it showed up on musicscribe blog recently. Chuck is a veteran gospel music radio type and though his skin may be a bit thin when it comes to criticism of his reporting, his thoughts on quality in radio programming are required reading for anyone who works in that side of things, or for anyone who’s just interested out of curiosity (some of you may remember Chuck’s short lived radio blog … and, a lesser known piece of trivia: Chuck also did a stint as an anonymous blogger for a while). Money quote:

And here’s a shot of honesty.. Some of you [radio program directors] are wrong. I say this with all confidence. Some of you need lessons in programming practice. There are way too many bad music things happening in SG radio. From bad music production to bad song writing and poor singing. Quit airing songs just because the promoter tells you they are good.. or the artists sent you a free CD .. Don’t cheapen your format. In the long run an artist will appreciate getting airplay on your station if you are playing “quality”. If you are playing anybody and everybody.. then a sping on your station really isn’t worth much.. is it?

If I ruled the world, there would be a compulsory crash course in music and vocal performance for every radio programmer who thinks he knows what “quality” is, and then proceeds to plug in three or four cuts an hour from dear old Sister Pitchy and Brother Noteshaver who have finally given in to all the folks down at the Senior Citizen Center who kept asking for a tape of their favorite songs by Brother and Sister. Cause let me tell you sumthin right here, it don’t get no better suthern gospuhl than Sister Pitch and Brother Shaver, as us them that’s their friends call ‘em down at the Center. Sister and Brother know how to do it up right, fer shur. Listen to this here what is their latest: “He’s A Comin One Day Soon.”

Nobody loves ‘em but the people, you say, but maybe that’s because the people have been conditioned to like crap, junk, and garbage from so much of what they hear on the radio. Danielle Steele sells a pagillion copies of her books a year - nobody loves em but the people - but thank god my local bookstore takes some responsibility, exercises the judgment of people who know, and stocks more than post-modern bodice rippers (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

So, Chuck, I’m hoping you follow up what you started here with something like, say, a five-point memo on the foundational elements of quality sg radio programming. Cause if not you, who? And if not now, when? And if not in the SGShowPrep, where? And in the meantime, anyone who can figure out how to convince all those radio programmers to even admit there’s a problem with programming Sister Pitch and Brother Shaver in the first place, please, let’s bottle it and make a fortune.

Update: Chuck has a follow-up post of sorts on his quality and radio programming  entry. This one, about charting stations, is also available at musicscribe.com.

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Comments

  1. Dean Adkins wrote:

    “Sister Pitchy and Brother Noteshaver “…I used to hear them on nearby station..they shure wuz a blessin’.
    “post-modern bodice rippers”…that was one of my favorite quarets.

  2. Dean Adkins wrote:

    correction: favorite quartets

  3. DRIP wrote:

    AMEN–AMEN–AMEN—AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE ANNOUNCE AFTER EVERY SONG, WHO THE ARTIST IS—-DONT SET IT ON AUTOMATIC AND ONLY SPEAK WHEN THE COMMERCIALS COME UP—-DRIP

  4. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Quality or lack of quality.
    Any southern gospel music would be welcomed on the airwaves up here in New England.

  5. Rhonda Berry wrote:

    Gospel Music Fan,
    You would tire of the “lack of quality” stuff very quickly.
    With AGM coming next month, many probably think that the Dallas market has gotten it right. WRONG!!! It isn’t just New England with the problem, Dallas has it too. Now drive 1 hour east or 2 hours south and you have some great gospel music, but the stations will still play anyone who puts out a project, good or bad.

  6. gc wrote:

    subject change…Rhonda, have you heard how the AGM event is looking as far as attendance?

  7. Catoe wrote:

    Chuck is right on the money, on the other hand there are some songs Chuck reccommends that I wouldn’t play, but for the most part he makes good reccommendations.
    Tip for Drip: Buy some advertising or make a donation on our radio station so we can afford to pay an announcer to announce the songs.

  8. LSJ wrote:

    Our radio station out here is mostly for sermons and ministry broadcasts (which I enjoy and are much needed and appreciated), but the few times it broadcasts music (which has increased in frequency over the past few years) is typically a song or two they’ve played several times before by national artists (usually by request or by the DJs current favorite), a bluegrass gospel song or three, or maybe a local artist who sent in a CD (sometimes). But, considering it’s the only station around that plays any kind of SoGo, I enjoy those few bits as much as I can. (Pining for the days Solid Gospel had an affiliate station out here…)

  9. Bryan Fowler wrote:

    I have enjoyed this thread…Several of you have hit it right on the mark here. I programmed my first SG station over 10 years ago. We were a 1kw AM daytime station that had a 50kw FM flamethrower in our backyard that played music but was heavy on teaching. We were on the Cable TV system and everything trying to make our quality better. Even though we were AM, our programming made us shine above the powerhouse that was and was not our competition in our city of License. A gentleman who owned one of the first larger stations I put on, sad to admit is right in many ways. He said “the Southern Gospel peopel are all takers and no givers. They don’t mind filling up our professional office with tons of people wanting us to announce every single time Sister Essie is going to sing a special, but boy if you ask them to support you—its oh, God will provide”. Now, it would be my opinion and I feel that I am very qualified to comment that overrall that has changed within some communities of Southern Gospel. One thing that listeners must understand is the expense of Radio, then they must understand the importance and need to support it. If there is a market strong enough to play the format, then it is a strong enough case to say that it would be a great advertising source for you or you should consider donating. I am Much younger than Chuck (not meant to be derrogratory-I just am), but have seen since college the world of AM/FM change drastically. You can also notice that I do not count on making my living from terrestrial AM/FM Radio. Before I would return to making my living at a traditional AM/FM station, I would probably consider being a territory rep for Sony for their hi def cassette tapes. The SG industry must get on board with several of the “new” out of the box ways of promoting itself. I am very educated in most of the new sources available but have devoted my time, money and interests into the internet delivery. Go to Best Buy…there are stand alone internet radio receivers available right now…only they are always sold out. You can have an internet radio receiver installed in your car at Circuit City. People listening to our station are not “backwoods” type people and it is because of the quality that we are putting out there. People who listen to our station are listening from Delta Airlines, The Pentagon, Texas A&M, Unversity of TN, a ton of churches believe it or not The Salem Radio Group server. SG should continually look for high quality, low cost ways to promote themselves and not put all of their eggs in one basket. I am not convinced that the XM Merger was a good thing. Keep in mind ClearChannel merged with virtually every other major chain in America and while I do not discount them at all and believe they are great, it destroyed terrestrial radio as we know it. When I can drive around New York City and listen to The Rock or Real Southern Gospel for free in hi def quality, why would I consider paying for satellite radio? This programming will still be available I feel in 3-5 years but it will be free in some fashion. The problem is, when satellite radio becomes free, the SG stations become vulnerable to being cut off. SG stations are always going to be vulnerable when the costs are astronomical and when the decision makers do not believe in the format or do not care. I care, Chuck Peters cares, a lot of people care. Once a month, I go into Chase Bank and transfer $$$$ from my personal account into the account for paying bills for The Rock! while we get started up. At night I sit around and wonder what I can do to better serve the community and how to make it support itself and we are getting there. Do you think the CEO of XM would do that? No. Is Chuck Peters or myself better than he is? Absolutely not, but the decision maker has to love the format and know something about it. Artists, promoters and most importantly labels, must get on board and see the importance of SUPPORTING these outlets-all of them. We support them. As far as announcing every song…I agree with the philosophy totally, but being a saavy business person can tell you that it makes no sense. We show on our site and on our player which will show on your car radio the name of the artist, song title and their web address. This accomplishes two things. 1.maximizes music and 2.keeps a lot of talk away. You can never announce each song with an announcer but with this technology, every single song is mentioned and it also give extra plugs for your advertisers.

    I have tons of ideas and I am not afraid to share them if it helps promote the industry.

    Take care-Bryan

  10. Marlin R. Taylor wrote:

    If Chuck or anyone would like a collection of CD’s by “Brother” and “Sister” or Pastor Billy’s wife, I have a few tubs worth, and they are rolling in daily.

    I’ll be happy to pay the shipping, too.

  11. Tim Eutin wrote:

    Chuck does a great job. I don’t play everything that he recommends, but he is right more often then not. His desire to improve SG radio is to be comended. Good job Chuck!

    I program music across three formats and chart nationally for SG and AC.I find that SG music can me the easiest or the most difficult music to program.

    The easy route is to take about 6 -7 of the comp discs that come in each month and throw them in the trash immediately, without even listening to them.

    (Hey, make it really easy and stick with the Big Five Comps and chuck the rest. NO ONE WILL MISS IT, become better by ommission. I’m all in favor of “Southern Gospel Hit Radio” for the musically challenged DJ/MD.)

    You and your listeners will never miss the music. You will be able to establish “brand identity” in your market and with your listeners. You will have less of a chance to play a dud. Remember, it’s not radio’s primary goal to give exposure to unknown groups.

    The more difficult path, which requires an ear for entertainment (not necessarily an ear for music - there is a difference, you can sing with perfect pitch and bore the socks off of people), is to give these lesser known groups 15 seconds of your time. That’s all it takes to determine if a song has a chance - that’s all the dial scanner listens to before deciding to stay or go. You might find something interesting. Howevere, remember the words of Shrek, “better out than in, I always say”.

    The average listener doesn’t need a huge playlist of 1000’s of artists. They would rather listen to groups that they know - friends along the way. To many “strangers” makes people uncomfortable. People like familiar faces.

  12. SM wrote:

    You’ve also got to remember, though, that if you’re programming SG Hit radio from the comps, that you’re at the mercy of the distributors to release great stuff, and having been a jock for 5+ years, that rarely consistenly happens, imo. Instead, the best songs off of most SG albums never get the radio play they deserve. Examples that come to mind: “Promised Land” from Crabb Family–never released, but the most radio-friendly song on Driven, “Mercy Came Running” from the new Gold City album kicks the junk out of “Truth is Marching On,” and there was a string of a year or so where Greater Vision only put out slow, pokey ballads.

    The problem appears to be getting better. Kenny B’s “Lord Have Mercy” is a great radio tune, Three Bridges has had a string of good stuff, and “He Forgot” from the P’s sounds nice and full. But, still, I think he best thing the big 5 could do is to give the jocks & programmers pre-releases of the music and let us pick radio friendly songs. Granted, we get back to the argument of finding jocks & programmers who know what “radio friendly” means, but in principle it should work.

  13. Tim Eutin wrote:

    LOL…I remember the string of 5 minute plus slow songs by Greater Vision. It was terrible. Nice songs but they definately weren’t radio freindly.

    Record/Comp companies and artists need to realize that unless a song is extraordinary, a “10″, “a can’t-live-without -it ” kind of song, if it’s over 5 minutes and slow don’t release it as a single.

    It makes me laugh when a newer group sends out a 5 minute single. Show me you deserve 2.5 minutes of airtime before you ask for 5 minutes.

    While I’m waiting for the coffee to brew let me rant a bit….

    What’s up when a company sends me a comp disc filled completely with slow songs? I’m not in the sleep aid business. A radio show has to ebb and flow, but mostly flow. To much ebbing and the listeners fall asleep driving down the road - not good for building an audience. Dead people don’t count for ratings …unless a democrat is counting :~)

    I like the idea of picking singles from a full project to play but I think that it would hurt the industry as a whole. Music is a singles driven business. It’s up to radio to tell people what is good. Southern Gospel more than any other genre needs to put forth a stronger brand identity in the market place. Singles help to do this. Everyone on the same page.

  14. Daniel Britt wrote:

    Boy, I resonate with what Tim had to say. I agree that if you really have an ear for the “entertainment factor,” then you can take more risks in that direction and break molds, get creative and do some really incredible things for your station.

    However, If you don’t have that ear of discernment, it would be best to stick to the stuff that will give you the brand identity and become a “top 40″ SG station as opposed to another cheap sounding station.

    Bottom line is to play better music, which is subjective I know. But at the most basic level, even if you aren’t a good judge at what “good” is, then follow the known success stories in SG.

    In time, you should recognize the patterns that create successful songs and you can recognize it in other, new, up-and-coming artists too. Don’t try to scout out talent if you really aren’t a good judge to begin with. (And I realize we all think we know best… this is where it’s also very important to look at retail, the marketplace and at research).

    We certainly need more of a Simon mentality in what we allow on the air. Too many of us are sweet and insipid when it comes to giving unknowns a chance. Everything these days is so watered down, everybody wins, everybody does a good job and nobody is a loser.

    And I’ve been so guilty of letting stuff slide through myself….

    I repent.

    It has been said that SG audiences are a weird bunch. I agree. The audiences demand a lot of low quality stuff at times. It boggles the mind at what people will buy and go crazy over. But what’s the cause of that mentality? Could it be that if you’re spoon fed stale rice cakes all your life, you may learn to love it so much to a fault where you become turned off and repulsed by the smell of prime rib and roasted potatoes?

    Radio needs to lock up the rice cakes and save it for the times of famine and pestilence.

  15. Bryan K. Fowler wrote:

    I agree with all of you on this. Tim, I think you must have a camera on our studio. Certain comp discs go into a box that is never opened. Ironically, these are the same companies that I never solicited for service. We experience very high listen at work numbers so I do program out of the box during the day to really keep it non-repetitive and fresh, but you will always hear the top 4o material often. I tend to program high end and while I am not Apostolic, we do have a little bit of that flavor exhibited on the air.

    Daniel makes a great point. If these artists were on American Idol… what would Simon say. He would say “what on Earth?

  16. Tim Eutin wrote:

    Daniel, you are right when you say that the audience demands a certain amount of “low quaility stuff”.

    I call these people and these songs “the karaoke factor”: People that shouldn’t sing, singing songs done by people that shouldn’t record. Its something that is unique to Southern Gospel. I don’t cater to these songs or these people. My kids squawk for Happy Meals but I can’t allow that (to often) for their sake. Same principle here.

  17. SM wrote:

    For you guys experiencing the audience requesting the gutter trash, is it mainly local/regional talent they’re requesting or is it just poor national stuff? I have lots of people request stuff from friends in the area that put out table projects, but you and I both know that Buford T. and the Frogs don’t belong on drive time radio. One of our other jocks suggested making an hour-long show on Sunday afternoon to feature that stuff, and the response has been pretty good. I produced it for a couple of years, and the amazing part was that through some sort of miracle, the local groups also got better about production and quality as we featured the best “B” material. A select few made it into normal (albeit low) rotation occasionally.

    And I don’t think the problem is isolated in SG. I stole a comp disc off the PD’s desk the other day of P&W stuff from a label I’d never recognize, and it was horrendous. Poorly written, poorly produced…basically everything we’ve said here.

    Oh yeah, thanks Tim for mentioning the comp discs that are loaded with slow songs. It sucks when it happens, because the industry is also way to slow in releasing new material, so we have nothing but slow songs to play for at least three or four months if we want to feature current hits. But, its also nice when that happens, because I pick out an old album cut that should have been singled and play it instead–torques the PD off everytime, but there’s no way as a drive time jock I’m playing more than one ballad every half hour.

  18. Tim Eutin wrote:

    The calls come from local groups. It is usually friends and familes. SM’s idea of giving locals a regular time slot has merit.

    There seem to be a whole lot less comps coming in from AC/ PW / CHR. I think I could count them on one hand. Most of the music comes as singles or via Promonly downloads.

    In SG there are way to many comp discs. I think that for some it isn again, if people want to pay to have their songs recorded and sent to radio, someone will step up to take their money. Is it ethical?

    I agree, when the slow songs come out, I go deeper into the disc and pick something else or play some SG Gold.

  19. Bryan K. Fowler wrote:

    I have just taken the road that we will be glad to accept anything and preview it, but will only play what we feel is qualified to work into our format. In the art of honesty, though, I have to say the artists that are decent that are putting out a single on an “unworthy” comp disc would be better off distributing it themselves as those discs like I said earlier go to the infamous box. Before the days of everyone having a label and every group in America having out a single…stations did a lot better. Growing up-I listened to , WEMM FM in Huntington, WVA…it was pulling a 5 share in the Arbitrons in that market. Because of the “deregulation” the SG industry has underwent….we are not valued in the mainstream world as a vindicated format-we are radicals hogging up valuable FM frequencies that they would rather program with Country, CHR, AC or anything but what we are putting out there. Sad to say, but many times they are correct.

  20. Trent wrote:

    I have some thoughts & questions for you radio folks. First, you mention the Big Five comps. Who are they? I would guess that 3 of the 5 would be Rick Hendrix Co., Crossroads, and Rhonda Thompson, but who are the others?

    Secondly, I find it bothersome that you would receive comps in the mail & never even open them based on past experience. What about that great new group that just singled out their first song on the lesser-known comp? You missed their song, that’s what. OR, if you are so biased about the lesser known comps that you won’t even halfway listen to them when you do open them up, that’s a problem on your part.

    It’s plain and simple– if you are not listening to the comp or if you are halfway listening to the comp, you are possibly missing a great song. I can see if 8 out of 10 songs on there stink that you find it discouraging, but what if there are 2 really strong tunes on there and you have discounted the disc because of the other 8 songs or because you’ve not found any radio-worthy songs on this particular comp company’s offerings in the past?

    Part of of a DJ or radio programmer’s job is to find diamonds in the rough.

  21. SM wrote:

    Hey Trent: I’ll take a crack at the questions, though consider this a perspective of a jock and not a Program/Music Director.

    To me, the main distributors are Crossroads, Daywind, Spring Hill (least, they were, but I think a lot of artists have left them for others–can a PD confirm/deny this), Gaither/Heritage, Rick, and Rhonda. Resting Place, RSI and Airplay also put out discs that normally have some decent stuff on it (anybody else besides me really impressed with the Living Waters Trio?).

    You do make a good point about looking for diamonds in the rough, and I don’t know that I’ve got an answer that will completely satisfy you. There’s a couple big reasons it happens. First, I think that PDs in most sg stations wear way too many hats. In addition to programming/music, most are also jocks, production directors/assistants, traffic managers, reporters, and head flunkees, which leaves very little time to go treasure-hunting for a good song on a mediocre comp.

    Even after the comps are screened, many stations use programming software to schedule music, and entering music into a database like Selector can take 3 to 5 minutes a song. For a PD that’s stressed for time, that’s 10 minutes of work for a couple of songs that may see 2 or 3 spins a week. It’s not worth it when listeners are just as happy with a classic or recurrent song from a major group. Besides, if you’re programming sg hit radio, you’d rather play a former Gold City #1 than a song destined for maybe a #20 national spot.

    Secondly, we also need to distinguish song quality and production quality.
    Many people can write a great song, but few choose to spend the money to get it produced to radio standards. With fun gadgets like equalizers, compressors, etc that we use to get a full FM-sound, any minor technical error becomes magnified when its run through this equipment. I remember we got one pre-release from a major group a few years ago that sounded okay in the PD’s office stereo, but when we aired it the first time, we heard low-bit digital hiss, a lazy autotune, and a host of other problems that really made the song sound pretty awful when backed with a professionally mastered single.

    In the spirit of the thread, if we’re about raising the quality of SG radio, we nix the poorly produced stuff, no matter how good its written or who its from. When you combine the lack of time with the standard of quality, PDs turn to places where they know they can get the best quality stuff as quickly and easily as they can, and that means they only use the reliable comps. Think of it this way–you can get a decent engagement ring from Wal-Mart, but you’ll find better stuff more easily at Zales. And you sure as heck don’t want to tell your fiance where you got the ring if you choose the former.

  22. Chuck Peters wrote:

    Trent,..

    I hear you… and you have some good points.. I think a good programmer will audition everything that comes in. But finding diamonds in the rough is not his job.. His job is to program music that will get,.. and “keep” the biggest audience possible. If he doesn’t have time.. or just doesn’t want to listen to all the comps.. then he is better off playing the established artists.

    More times than not,.. a SG station will get into trouble trying to discover new talent.. or mining for those diamonds.. than if they play it safe.

  23. Trent wrote:

    Thanks for the informative answers, you all. This is a great topic! Another question: let’s say I am the PD at a 100,000 watt southern gospel station. How many comps can I expect to receive in a month? I am trying to get some perspective as to how much weeding out would have to take place to find that great song. 10 comps per month? 20? 50?

  24. Bryan K. Fowler wrote:

    Trent, you have a great opportunity with a 100kw SG station. Unfortunately most of us do not have the time we would like to audition all of the comps….most of my auditioning is done in the vehicle on my way to meetings, etc. I find it a great time since there is not a SG terrestrial station to listen to SG and audition at the same time. That is where a great radio contact at the label comes in handy. The ones I hear from I have to be honest get my attention a lot quicker. The afforementioned labels up above I would agree are the main ones. In a perfect world we would all have music directors who listened to each and every song and someone who was proactively seeking out new music-but like I said in a perfect world. That is where the artists need to be more aggressive. I do not want to speak out of turn here but I see a lot of negative comments about some of the more aggressive SG people in the industry. I have not been fed any information that would make me have ill feelings toward any of them-the fact is their abrasive personalities and aggressive nature turn some people off. I have one thing to say to that …. good for them. I deal on a regular basis with about 200 artists. 50 of them give great service, answer e-mails, phone calls and are Johnny on the spot with my requests/inquiries, the remaining are terrible at correspondence. That is why I believe you see a lot of the programming trends you see. Everyone likes good service-this industry is not exempt. When they hear from someone consistently they want to deal with them. If the industry would tighten up their customer service skills and be 25% more aggressive it would clean up a lot of the other problems. When I send over 25 e-mails to &&&&&&&&& and get none back besides…its in the mail or we are getting with our manager and six months later still no response…I move on to the next artist. As for the number to really work with on comp discs. I would say the 5 is accurate-but an open minded 5 and do not automatically write off the others.

  25. Tim Eutin wrote:

    Chuck..in a perfect world all comp discs would have quality songs because in a perfect world someone somewhere would have told someone the truth….ya’ll can’t sing (or as we would say up north, “youns’ can’t sing”)

    A good programmer has to have great time management skills. This means that if he has “gone to the well” of a certain comp disc company repeatedly and in good faith for a good length of time and there is never any water in the well, well, logic says look else where and save your time.

    Trent…. a quick count, and I’m sure that I have missed some, shows that I can receive up to 20 comp discs in a month: Oasis, Daywind, Lamont,Lo,Sims, Gospel Train, HMG (2), Crossroads, Hendix, Heritage, Teresa Smith’s, Rhonda Thompson, Frostbite, Eddie Crook, Journey, Millenium, Sonrise, Kim Hudgins,Airplay, Family, DJ Man, Capital,Resting Place, New Haven, etc…
    I’m sure I missed some, and some do not come out monthly, but there you have it.

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