Monday, October 05, 2009

WQXR - The Finest of the Flavors

There seemed to be a little bit of confusion about the intent of my post about WQXR's revamped programming. Let's see if an analogy will help.

Let's say that instead of music, WQXR served up ice cream. WNYC acquired WQXR and had to move them to a new frequency with a lower coverage area. Sort of like relocating an ice cream store to a different neighborhood with a smaller local customer base.

Continuing with the ice cream analogy, WNYC's announcement (reported in a New York Times article) might be paraphrased like this: WQXR will combine "the longstanding tradition of being a full-service ice cream parlor with WNYC’s passion and commitment to discovery.”

Now there're two ways you can go with ice cream. You can sell all kinds of exotic flavors, or you can stick the basics. Baskin-Robbins, Ben and Jerry's, et al. do just that (although some have more variety than others).

Or you can just stick to the basics and maximize sales. Dairy Queen, Tastee Freez et al. only offer vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, the three most popular flavors.

Now it's obvious what's going on with our radio/ice cream parlor analogy. Smaller market, need to recoup investment as quickly as possible -- going with the three most popular ice cream flavors makes sense. If anyone's going to buy ice cream, there's a very good chance they'll settle for one of those three flavors.

Nothing wrong with that, but what would you think if you had a "passion and commitment to discovering" new ice cream flavors and walked into the WQXR store. They said they share your passion, but instead of a Baskin-Robbins-type store, you only have the choice of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry? And, when you asked about the limited choices, how would you feel when the clerk told you (paraphrasing from the article again), "There may indeed be times when you have a taste for cookie dough, or chocolate mint chip, but we will not favor them over the flavors that speaks directly to the needs of the taste buds.... Vanilla trumps Rocky Road.”

And you had your heart set on Heath Bar Crunch. Feel like you've been a victim of a little bait and switch?

Right. That's one of my points. If you're just going to provide the three basic flavors, fine. But don't try to spin it into something grander.

As several observers have pointed out, we may all agree with the Bare Naked Ladies when they sang in "One Week" that vanilla is the finest of the flavors. But how many servings will it take before even the "finest of the flavors" becomes boring and unappealing?

And finally, what about the people who like fruit-flavored desserts? Or desserts with nuts? Or desserts with caramel, or marshmallows, or -- you get the idea.

If their only exposure to ice cream is vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry (if you want to go wild) they'll come away with the impression that ice cream is never a good choice for dessert. It has none of the flavors they like.

Does that grow or shrink the market for ice cream? There's a reason why those specialty ice cream parlors offer more than three flavors...

- Ralph

Day 174 of the WJMA Podwatch.

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