Sunday, August 26, 2007

WCNR and the Question of Identity

A recent cover story in the Hook about WCNR "The Corner" touched on the struggle for the hearts and minds of a certain demographic between the station and WNRN (mentioned here in a previous post).

In the article, Mike Friend -- the general manager and founder of WNRN -- shares a new station policy, banning the use of the phrase "the corner" from the station.

"We don't say the word for any reason," says Friend. "It used to be that we said it eight times an hour because a lot of our underwriters were Corner businesses. But we're not going to be in the business of advertising for a multimillion dollar corporation."
I've heard several folks point to this policy as an example of Mike Friend being vindictive and petty. I see it as an example of how well Friend understands radio. Friend knows what many others in radio know -- most listeners have only a vague idea what station they're listening to.Arbitron measures listenership by sending out journals to a representative selection of a market's population. Participants are asked to log their radio listening, and at the end of the survey period returns the journals for tabulation. You can tell when the Arbitron books are sent -- every commercial station ramps up the frequency of their station IDs. Sadly, most people don't really know either the call letters or the frequency of the stations they listen to -- a significant number of books come back with mismatched call letters and frequencies, forcing the evaluator to guess which one the participant meant.

When I worked at WMJA in Orange, I often fielded calls meant for WCUL, WFLS, and other local stations. Listeners would look up "Radio Stations" in the Yellow Pages, and -- not knowing what station they were listening to -- made their best guess as to which one to call.

It still happens to me at WTJU. It's not uncommon for my Wednesday morning classical music program for me to get requests for "Acoustic Sunrise" (WNRN), or have someone breathlessly ask if they're the tenth caller for the "Big Greasy Breakfast" contest (3WV).

And it happens at Plan 9. I've often waited on folks who want some classical piece they heard on public radio. The key to figuring out what it was (seldom do they remember the name) is checking the playlist of the station during the time the piece was heard. What station did you hear it on? WVTF? WMRA? Perhaps even WTJU? They don't know, nor do they remember where it was on the dial ("Um, somewhere on the left side, I think").

A colleague of mine works at a public radio station that shares a market with another public radio station tells me this can sometimes be an advantage. He always knows when the competing station has a fund drive -- his station starts getting phone-in pledges out of the blue. The callers have only a vague idea which station they're calling to pledge support for.

And finally, although WTJU has run a complete opera every Sunday afternoon for years, the program's hosts (and me personally) have talked with several long-time listeners who think they're listening to WVTF!

So Mike Friend's decision to ban "the corner" from WNRN makes perfect sense. Every iteration of the phrase only potentially confuses their listeners. And even though they'll hear the call letters and frequency (WNRN/91.9), if they also hear the phrase "the corner," dollars to donuts when asked sometime later what station they listen to, a significant number of WNRN's listeners will respond "The Corner."

- Ralph

No comments:

Post a Comment