Friday, December 28, 2012

Country Music 2012 Year in Review Part 2: How 2012’s Music Compares to Years Past

2012’s music has something big going against it: 2011.

2011 of course was a great year for country. We saw new high water marks for a number of our metrics including overall Like A Lot and Total Positive scores.  So any comparison to 2011 has to take that in to account.

Having said that, 2012 was a good year for country although, in aggregate, A&O&B’s year-end scores were a bit softer than 2011’s and we saw more metrics off than up. 

Let’s look at two: Total Positive and Like A Lot.

Total Positive scores increased in 2012 making this the fourth consecutive year of higher scores. The growth was fueled by improved scores in the bottom 2/3 that more than off-set a slight decline in scores among the top 1/3 (ending two years of growing scores there).  As a result there was some ‘score compression’ as the averages for the top 1/3 and bottom 2/3 are closer this year than last, and the second most compressed since 2000.

Meanwhile, while our Like A Lot final average scores for the year’s top 1/3 are a bit lower than last year, they were not far from the average of the past 5 years. And, again 2011 was an extremely strong year.

However taking all the songs into consideration, the decline in Like A Lot scores is greater. And, unlike Total Positives, the scores from the bottom 2/3 of the list were much weaker. In fact, the overall Like A Lot average for the bottom 2/3 of our testers was the softest we’d seen in a number of years. 

That our Total Positive scores continue to grow is of course great news. More disappointing though is that the overall Like A Lot score for 2012 – arguably analogous to ‘must hear music’ and by extension ‘must hear radio’ – was soft compared not just to last year, but to A&O&B’s 10-year average.

Were there great powers to play this year? Absolutely – the top 1/3 was certainly strong.  However the Like A Lot difference between the top 1/3 and bottom 2/3 was widest we’ve seen since 2008, making not playing the ‘right’ powers potentially more costly.

It seems somewhat silly to say, “Make sure you’re playing the songs listeners want to hear.”  But tracking spins as your primary source of music information won’t provide the same data as asking your listeners how they feel about the music you’re playing.

Each year we see significant differences in the 'most spun' vs. the 'best testers.'

If you’re not already doing so, an important programming resolution for 2013 would be regularly taking your listeners’ pulse on the music you play.


A&O&B offers client stations online music testing, free, as part of our full service commitment. We’ll be glad to answer your questions about how it works.

Click here for Country Music 2012 Year in Review Pt. 1 Is Luke Bryan Worth of All Those Awards and Kudos?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Country Music 2012 Year in Review Part One: Is Luke Bryan Worthy of All Those Awards and Kudos?


Oh yeah. No doubt. 

Fueled by Tailgates and Tanlines, 2012 was Luke Bryan’s year.

This month alone, Luke racked up 9 awards including Male Artist of the year and Artist of the Year on the fan-voted American Country Awards December 10th on Fox (plus, earlier this year, an American Music Award). 

He also was singled out as Overall Artist and Male MVP in this week’s Country Aircheck.  Again, deservedly so.

He’d have won the Albright & O’Malley & Brenner’s “Best Testing Artist of the Year” award as well if we offered it (note to Fox producers).

Each year A&O&B produces a list of the top testing songs of the year based on call-out and online listener research. And this year, Luke led the list.

Luke Bryan scored 3 titles in our Top 10 for 2012. This is the fourth time this has happened in the past 10 years: Blake Shelton in 2011, Zac Brown Band in 2010, and Toby Keith in 2003.

Good company.

Besides Luke, Jason Aldean and Eric Church were the only artists to have three songs in the A&O&B’s top 30. Blake placed two in the top 20 as did Lee Brice. Dierks Bentley was the only other artist to place two songs inside the A&O&B top 30.

That Bryan, Aldean, Shelton, and Church all had big years mirrors data the February data we reported in A&O&B’s 2012 Roadmap online perceptual study where the “New Songs from Millennial Stars” cluster (where these artists reside) was the #1 25-54 music cluster among the 12 we tested.  

In all, 90% of songs in our top 1/3 were from Millennial Artists and there were no artists in the Top 10 whose discography (major label) precedes 2000.

Meanwhile, Historical Superstars (defined here as current or previous ‘Essence/Core Artists’ who had multiple chart hits prior to 1997) placed no songs in the top 10 (second year in a row) and just two in the top 1/3 – one each from Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.

“New Songs from Historical Superstars” as a music cluster still was one of the top four 25-54 clusters in terms of appeal in Roadmap 2012, and Kenny Chesney (4 songs), Toby Keith (3), and Tim McGraw (2) did place multiple songs on the year-end list while George Strait and Alan Jackson had one each. However the overall presence of Historical Superstars in the top 1/3 has been trending down since 2008.

While we had more artist diversity in terms of the number of different artists overall, the top third had less. In fact, this is the second “least diverse” top 1/3 since we began tracking this in 1998.

Artists that were new to this year’s chart had a smaller footprint as well. Kip Moore had the highest chart position for a first-time-on-the-charts-in-2012-artist; Hunter Hayes made it to the top 20.

So back to Luke and his three in the A&O&B Top 10 joining a select group of artists. Listeners responding so positively and passionately to "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye," "I Don't Want This Night to End" and "Drunk on You" puts a punctuation mark on what has been a great year. 


Next in Part Two: How This Year’s Music Compared to Previous Years 

Monday, December 03, 2012

Pandora Users And Radio's Opportunities


Ask Pandora listeners what they like most about radio and they’ll tell you it’s ‘feeling connected.’

Their big dislikes? Radio is boring and fatiguing.

Those are some of the findings Jeff Vidler, Sr. Vice President of Media and Entertainment Research, shares in a new Vision Critical report, “What Pandora Means for Radio.” The Canadian company surveyed more than 1000 US listeners 18+ in the September-October online survey where just under 1/3 identified themselves as Pandora users and 42% reported listening to some form of online radio.

Jeff shared a lot including the demographics of online listening (not surprisingly 18-29’s are the heaviest users), desktop consumption being more than that of smartphones and tablets combined and Pandora listeners spending more time with AM/FM radio than non-Pandora users (about 50% more - 19.1 vs. 12.7 hours).

That last finding got a lot of coverage (as an industry we're good at self-congratulation), but for growth and opportunity, this graph deserves our time and attention.  




The obvious first. The attributes Pandora most uniquely associate with AM/FM radio are “makes me feel connected,” “convenient,” and “easy” on the positive side and “boring” and tiring on the negative. Personal, local, live, and music discovery/curation were singled out elsewhere in the study as AM/FM attributes respondents valued.

While the distance between AM/FM radio and feeling connected is short in comparison to the other media shown. But if we were to draw ‘spheres’ of roughly equal size with Satellite and Internet Audio Services at the center, those two media are in proximity to a greater number of positive associations.


Imagine if radio were to occupy a slightly different space as in the graph below so that “puts me in a good mood,” “is for people like me” and “interesting” are also encompassed.


A&O&B’s annual Roadmap online perceptual has consistently showed the importance of “makes me feel good” and “DJs that sound like my friends” as core expectations/desires from AM/FM radio.

If you’re not already there, what will you do to move your show/station/cluster/group up and to the left?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Of Course I'm Going to Have A Great Show Monday: 20 Relatives Are Coming Over for Thanksgiving Dinner

It's going to be one of the most asked questions Monday: "How was your Thanksgiving?"

The majority of answers will be mundane - hardly show-worthy material. Yet there is a rich source of content that you can tap into simply by showing up for dinner.

A Pew Research Center Report from 2 years ago estimated that 89% of adults would be having dinner with family members present. 60% would have at least 10 family members at the table while a whopping 27% said there would be 20 or more relatives sharing the stuffing.

Get that many relatives in a room and with just a slight bit of exaggeration and embellishment you can expect to have more material than you can use. You simply have to be listening and watching for it.

That's the key.

A couple of years ago talent coach Tommy Kramer and I did one of those "50 ideas in 50 minutes" panels at the Conclave. Part of the presentation included video tips that some great talent around the country created for us.

One came from B96/Chicago's J & Julian who talked about the value of listening to each other as a way of finding content ideas.

That's good advice for family gatherings, too.

Thanksgiving leftovers can make Monday's show one of your best all year.

And we haven't gotten to Black Friday content yet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Effective Billboards Part 2: Positioning a Show with a Word and a Gesture


The leaves have fallen and the billboards have risen. It must be the November TV sweeps.

Clean, minimal word count, attention-getting/stand-out-ability, asking for action directly or indirectly, and having a post-impression ‘afterglow’ are traits of effective billboards.

The bright yellow on this Fox 5 board pops, while the iconic gesture and the portmanteau (the “aaayyy” is implied) do an effective job in positioning Good Day New York against its national competitors.

Here's an earlier billboard blog which includes shots of two excellent boards for morning radio. 

And here are two creative and effective transit boards that also might inspire your next campaign. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Radio Homepages Range from "All Over It" to "Absent"


Waiting for a hurricane is like waiting for unwanted company. You have to get ready, even though you hope plans will change and your company won’t show up.

No such luck in New Jersey today as Hurricane Sandy, arguably the state’s most unwanted guest, is at our doorstep.

With Atlantic City projected to be close to the landfall cross-hairs, I waited for Sandy’s arrival Monday morning by checking out websites for the majority of the market’s FM stations.

Yes, of course, it’s first and foremost about ‘what’s on the air.’ Still, with the potential historic nature of the storm, the appetite for information is already bordering on insatiable.  Some stations had strong online efforts augmenting their on air content while for others, online content about the storm was non-existent.

WSJO/SoJO 104.9 and WCHR:  devoted 2 ½ pages to Hurricane Sandy news and photographs.

WENJ, 97.3 ESPN: three of five flippers were dedicated to Hurricane Sandy content including a live video feed and storm photos.

While not an Atlantic City station, New Jersey 101.5 was heavily invested with unique pages for "Cancellations and Delays," "How Bad Will It Get?" (video that was also posted on a number of other websites), "Here Comes Sandy" (east coast story), "Sandy Ready to Blast New Jersey," "Share Your Storm Photos," plus about a dozen other hurricane-related stories and information pieces.

WFPG, Lite Rock 96.9 and WPUR, Cat Country 107.3: Each had a single, static, satellite photo of Sandy (still showing it south of Florida) that clicked through to links for live radar, headlines and evacuation news.

Two stations simply relied on their Facebook feeds; there were a few updates and photos but nothing approaching substantial.

One station website had a link to storm closings, but clicking there took me to a page of closings dated 8/29/2011. 

For seven others, beyond an AccuWeather.com (or similar) link, there was nothing on the homepage about the hurricane. Instead, it was the usual collection of flippers one might see on any non-extraordinary day: how to win concert tickets for shows (the shows ranged from December to April), plugs for weekend countdown and/or request shows, plus flippers for downloading the TuneIn app, booking a cruise with a personality (none of these activities I suspect were high on listeners’ ‘to do’ lists), and a couple or slides about winning a DJ poll or the last rating period. 

Then there was this listener poll question: “The best thing about fall is…” Hurricane Sandy wasn’t listed as one of the choices.


In today’s RadioInfo.com , New JerseyBroadcasting Association President Paul Rotella said, “…that’s what local radio is all about: being prepared, being nimble, and being informative, with real information our listeners need. It’s amazing how dedicated local broadcasters are, especially in New Jersey where local radio means so much to our state!”

Some of our state’s broadcasters clearly have embraced this attitude both on air and online. A salute to you and your staff and a thank you for your work and dedication during a very difficult time.

Hopefully too you've inspired others.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Can You Do A Show Like Taylor Swift?

On any number of levels it’s hard not to be incredibly impressed with Taylor Swift.

But watching her at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York do a ‘Live on Letterman' segment Tuesday night, I was way beyond impressed. 'Wowed' wouldn't be too much.

I want to be careful not to use the word ‘performance’ or ‘show’ in describing what I saw because the half hour or so felt far more intimate and personal. It was instead much like a feel-good gathering of close friends.

The relevance here is that, for the past 6 years, country listeners participating in A&O’s annual online perceptual study have placed a great deal of importance on ‘makes me feel good when I listen’ and ‘DJs who sound like my friends and not disc jockeys’ when talking about why they choose one country station over another.  

As they could relate to the next time you're on the air, here are some take-aways from Taylor’s performance:
  • Choose your words carefully so that they sound careless.  How would you tell a friend about something that just happened to you? That’s the language you’re looking for.
  • Be intimate. When you speak, strive to make it a personal conversation with a friend or group of friends. 
  • When planning the show, intentionally create opportunities for these conversations to occur.
  • Use body language, pauses and inflection to help make your points more salient and the conversation more interesting.  Yes, you can ‘hear’ body language on the air.
  • ‘Love on the music.’ Tell a story that heightens interest in hearing the next song. Of course that works for spoken content, too.  
  • Others players on the show can add power to your content. Taylor’s background singers didn’t just share the stage, they gave Taylor’s music additional power and punch with just the right amount of animation and interaction.
  • Be so prepared you sound spontaneous.
  • Be totally in the moment. Few at the Ed Sullivan Theater probably cared (or even thought about) Taylor’s day probably starting around 4am to prepare for a GMA broadcast. And even if they had known, their expectations wouldn’t have been any less high. Right now is what counts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Effective Emails Start with Strong Subject Lines

The likelihood of listeners opening up one of your emails is improved with a great subject line.

Here’s a good one from 3-time ACM Station of the Year winner (and long time A&O partner), Cat Country 98.7 in Pensacola, FL.

Subject: OPEN this email and you might win Zac Brown Tickets

A subject line like this plays to a key reason why listeners join radio “Insider” clubs: access to special privileges especially concert tickets – from winning them to being able to buy them early.

The body then reinforced the subject line and the value of being a Cat Country Insider:

Just because you are a Cat Country Insider you have also scored a chance to win General Admission tickets to Deluna Fest to put your "Toes" in the sand with Zac Brown. The Cat Pak will announce the Winner on Wednesday Morning at 840a, but you can only win if you are a reading this email!

This was followed by a “thank you,” an invitation, and signature:

Thanks for being a 'full-time' listener to The Cat. Follow the Cat on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/catcountry987.                              Brent and Candy, The Cat Pack Morning Show

At the very end there was a pitch:

PS: You can buy single day tickets to Deluna Fest at http://www.delunafest.com

How effective was this campaign?

Cat Country’s Brent Lane says it was, “…pretty great. Considering the average 'good' campaign is about 10-15%, this one did 23% as of last check."

Presslaff Interactive’s Ruth Preslaff shared that when open rates jump, “(it) means listeners are just waiting for something to capture their attention and when it hits their inbox, they respond."

Here are six ways to improve your subject lines.

We'd love to hear some of your lines and your techniques.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Listeners’ Picks for Top Country Songs of Summer: Want to Float a Guess at What’s Number 1?



Just for fun with absolutely no intention of being scientific, Albright & O’Malley invited our stations' listeners to tell us their favorite songs of summer 2012 by ranking the most played songs from Memorial Day to Labor Day (U.S.).

The hands down winner? Little Big Town’s “Pontoon.”

Here are the top five songs as picked by our respondents:

  1. Pontoon/Little Big Town
  2. Springsteen/Eric Church
  3. Drunk On You/Luke Bryan
  4. Come Over/Kenny Chesney
  5. 5-1-5-0/Dierks Bentley

Pontoon received more votes for “number one song of summer” than the next two songs combined.  In a place for comments, one listener said of Pontoon, “I could listen to that song all day.”

Luke Bryan made a race of it for second, falling just short of Eric Church’s totals. Kenny Chesney and Dierks Bentley were further back but close to each other. 

We posted a similar survey for our Canadian stations that included CanCon as well as International songs released during the same time period. Here’s that top 5 list:

  1. Pontoon/Little Big Town
  2. Springsteen/Eric Church
  3. Drunk On You/Luke Bryan
  4. Good Girl/Carrie Underwood and Gloriana/(Kissed You) Goodnight (tied)

Gord Bamford/Leanin’ On A Lonesome Song got the most #1 votes among the CanCon titles.

(Quick respondent facts: both panels leaned female and were country P1-heavy; ages were fairly evenly distributed across 18-54 though the Canadian panel was slightly older).

We invited station personnel to participate as well. Though we didn’t get a lot of takers, our US radio folks made “Pontoon” number one while in Canada it was “Springsteen.”

As a passing observation, the top three songs' themes were summer-related: two in the present, one in the past.

Aside from ranking their songs, we asked these listeners how they thought this year’s crop of summer songs compared to previous years. Both US and Canadian panelists were bullish.  

In the US, 64% thought this summer’s music was a lot (23%) or a little (41%) above average compared to past summers; 6% said this summer's music was a little or a lot worse. Among Canadians, 70% thought this summer’s music was a lot (30%) or a little (40%) above average with 6% saying a little or a lot worse. 

All this is interesting of course, but here's a key point: while the informal poll gave stations a little data, it more importantly gave them a fun and timely way to engage their listeners.

Feel free to share how you've recently engaged your listeners... and if you want, let us know YOUR favorite songs of summer 2012 - country or otherwise.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

For Better Content, Treat Ideas like Runners in Scoring Position


“Runners left in scoring position” is one of those “relative” baseball stats.

If a team scores a lot of runs and wins big, RLISP (runners who were on second or third base and in a position to score but did not) is an afterthought. But if the game is tight or the team loses by a couple of runs, the number of runners who had the potential to score but didn't takes on more significance.

At its core, RLISP is a measure of missed opportunities, of something that began with great promise but was not brought to its ultimate conclusion. 

A lot of shows stumble with their own version of RLISP: good ideas that don’t get sufficiently developed and simply remain “in scoring position.”

To more get more interesting, unique and fully developed content, try this 3-step, “brainstorm your brainstorming” technique. We did this last week with a room full of morning shows but you can absolutely do this by yourself with great results.

First, we brainstormed the big topics:  things we believed listeners are or were going to be doing or talking about, things that are now - or would in the near future be - impacting listeners' lives, and things the group had heard or experienced that they felt listeners would find interesting. We wrote all the ideas down without judging. The first round is about quantity not quality.

Next we choose one topic from our list that the teams felt had the best potential and did a second round of brainstorming, this time on all the different ways the topic could be approached. Again, we wrote down all the different perspectives, angles, or “takes.”

Here’s what we came up with for our big topic: “school reopens next week.”



Lastly from this list we chose the three approaches the teams believed would be the most fun/entertaining to listen to, that provided a showcase for each player on the show, that we could do stellar execution on, and that offered opportunities for listener engagement and participation.  Then we brainstormed how we’d execute each with the goal of presenting the big topic three times over the course of the show, but each time from a different angle.

“Schools reopen” put the idea on base. 

Brainstorming the treatments put the idea into “scoring position.” 

Brainstorming the execution drove the idea home.

Your content will be richer if you approach your good ideas as if they were simply in scoring position and it was up to you to keep batting (developing and enhancing) until you brought them all the way home.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

On Programming Success, Skill Sets and Sharing: RadioInk’s “Five Killer Questions for Five Great Consultants”


A “thank you” to RadioInk for including me in their August 6th article, “Five Killer Questions for Five Great Consultants.”

It was an honor (and fun) to share pages with Gary Berkowitz, Alan Burns, Fred Jacobs, and Randy Lane...all smart, passionate about what they do, and generous in sharing what they know.

If you don’t know them yet, you should.

With just a bit of editing (particularly on the last question), here are my responses to the questions posed by Radioink’s Editor In Chief Ed Ryan. Feel free to share your thoughts as well.


What does it take to succeed on the programming side today?

From a product standpoint, focus on the user-experience. Spend a lot of time learning everything you can about your listeners. Use your knowledge and creativity to create a station that’s so fun, interesting, uplifting, informative, entertaining, surprising, imaginative, interactive and ‘in the moment’ that listeners want to listen to listen to everyday and every daypart whether they can or not. 

Spend a lot of time with your talent, imaging, music, promotions and listening critically. 

Balance creativity with your overall strategy. 

From a management standpoint, prioritize and do what’s important first. 


List 5 skills PD’s must have in order to win on the air today?

       Strategic thinking with both a granular and 10,000 foot view of what’s important at/to the station, but also the ability to execute in ways that are creative, fun, timely, and occasionally out of the box
       The ability to lead and motivate individuals and groups of individuals
       A coach that really coaches to the benefit of the talent and the overall entertainment value of the station
       Strong organizational skills to handle/prioritize the many demands of today’s programmer
       The desire to know and embrace listeners – not only in order to over-deliver satisfaction regardless of platform, but also to anticipate new ways to surprise and delight  



Where can the young go to learn the tools of the PD trade? 

Find a mentor. Ideally that’s someone you work with so you that access is easy, but if not, reach out to those who you respect. You’ll find many eager to share their experiences and ideas.

A tremendous amount of great thinking is available for the taking. And it’s not just great thinking about radio, but great thinking about media, consumers, branding, marketing, technology, demography and more. Thousands of very smart people freely share their thoughts via blogs and Tweets alone everyday.

Identify people on Twitter who can teach you something and follow them. With Twitter it’s easy to quickly determine if someone’s Tweets are meaningful to you and to find others who might contribute to your knowledge base as well.

Spend time with listeners regarding their feelings about your station as well as their other passions.

Deconstruct radio stations and talent that are high achievers to gain insight into why they are successful.

Read a lot. 

Write a lot. Keep a journal of your discoveries, ideas and questions.  Think about how the former could be implemented and the questions could be solved.



How do PD’s program in a PPM world and keep their jobs?

PPM didn’t change how people listen, only how they are measured. Gary Marince said that back in his Arbitron days and it’s valid to this point.

PPM and some terrific researchers and marketers have helped us know so much more about our listeners. We have more information on our audiences than ever and that information is certainly an asset.

However we also know that people like to be engaged, have fun, and simply feel good when they listen.

There’s a lot a PD can’t control - often the most frustrating can be panel-related. But PDs should be charged with - and immersed in - creating a great listening experience, and given the support to make that a reality.



Pick five great PDs the young can look up to and follow.

This was the toughest question for me because there are many PDs – famous and not so famous – doing amazing work in their respective markets. I am privileged to work with some of them.

While I did make a list, I was thinking, why a list just new PDs could follow? And for that matter, why just five people to follow and and why follow just radio people when there is so much great applicable thinking so readily available?

New PD or long-time programmer, now is a time to inspire and be inspired. Make a list if you like, but also aspire to be on a list because everyone wins when we share what we’ve learned.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What if Usain Bolt Was On Your Staff?


Imagine if the Olympics’ Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt was on your staff.

The best at what he does.

Incredibly visible.

Never boring.

Occasionally over the top? Yeah, but most everyone agrees that it’s more than OK.

The WSJ’s outstanding sports columnist Jason Gay (@jasonWSJ) writes about Bolt smashing sport’s "Boring Line" but, with some different examples, the piece could have been about some of radio’s greatest  personalities (insert your favorites here).

Jason writes,

“What's great about Bolt is that he crashes over this line and nobody cares. He's just too good. The finger pointing, the shhhhh, the push-ups, the bow and arrow, the underappreciated somersault he did after the 100 last Sunday—he does all the things you're allegedly not supposed to do. Doesn't matter. Earth loves Bolt.”

It's a good read if you worry about a talent occasionally being too big for the room.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Talent and Listeners: A Paradoxically Strong yet Fragile Bond

You don’t have to look far to find documentation about the bond between listeners and talent.

For the past 6 years, A&O’s Roadmap Study has revealed the significant level of importance listeners place on air talent in their overall listening experience.

Last month a Katz-funded/University of Southern California’s Annembert School for Communications’ study discussed the parasocial relationship (‘illusion of intimacy’ where one party believes they know a lot about someone else) listeners have with talent.

Among the study’s observations (see results and methodology here) was social media’s power to give listeners a feeling of connectivity with the talent.

Over 70% of the respondents indicated they followed their favorite personality via social media including more than half (55%) who said they did so “to make them feel like they know the host better.” These encounters led listeners to perceive the talent as real, trustworthy, and ‘one of us.’

This is powerful of course, but not impervious to self-inflicted damage.

Case in point: A wonderfully creative talent whose tweets were typically character-reflective, fun, and often filled contained ‘behind the curtain’ content began delivering a non-stop pitch for a limited appeal sales promotion.

While tolerable initially, the push became increasingly disappointing and finally annoying as the days passed.

It was if my friend next door was suddenly and relentlessly trying to sell me insurance every time he could catch my eye.

In the process, my social media relationship with this talent changed from one of anticipation to one of avoidance. And now, although the subject matter has returned to what it once was, I'm left with some residue of suspicion.

Bonds that take years to build and appear to be/are in fact strong, are still fragile enough to unravel quickly when trust and expectations are violated.