“Did you hear the show today?” is an oft-asked question talent poses to programmers, managers and consultants. Their expectation is usually for a “yes” followed by some feedback.
It sounds nit-picky, but the better question would be, “Did you listen to the show today?” Hearing is passive but listening is active and Critical Listening involves thinking about and evaluating what you heard.
We do a lot of Critical Listening at A&O&B and if you’re a programmer you no doubt do as well.
A while back I spoke to a group of GMs and Market Managers on “how to critically listen to your radio station.” The goal was to help these GMs and MMs be better critical listeners of their stations by identifying key programming elements and creating a framework to help them evaluate what they heard.
This could then be turned into a coaching tool for their PDs as well as helping the sales department better communicate the station's benefits to clients and prospects.
Of course these ideas are appropriate for programmers as well. If you’re a long-time programmer, you’ve probably internalized much of this making your critical listening and feedback more ‘automatic’ than a step-by-step process.
However if you’re new to critical listening or have moved to a new format, you might consider developing a joint GM/PD plan to help insure you’re both on the same page.
STEP 1: Create a listening roadmap.
“Critical listening” means evaluating what you hear. But because there are so many components to the final product, your critical listening will be more effective if you have a plan that will serve as a reminder of what’s important and help you focus your listening. It will also keep you from becoming sidetracked by any single thing, good or bad.
Later the plan will help you assess what you’ve heard and discuss it with the talent.
Start your listening road map by completing the following:
1. Broad and narrow target demos and ratings goals
2. Lifegroup values and interests
3. The needs/wants/likes of the station’s cumers vs. partisans
4. Unique value positions or advantages of the talent and the station and how these are leveraged (keep the list short)
5. Music position and focus
6. Most important activities going on at the station this week
7. The big 'talk-abouts' for listeners
STEP 2: Record specific evaluations and observations as you’re listening. Make notes on how closely the on air product matches each of the items in your listening plan. Consider:
1. Overall, how aligned is the product to the target listener’s tastes and values?
2. Are the music position and music focus clear and reflective of the overall strategy?
3. Is the talent content and focus in sync with the target and ratings goals?
4. Does the imaging reflect the right attitude and communicate relevant messages?
5. Can you readily discern the station’s unique advantage(s) and core benefit(s)?
6. Are today’s most important station elements and tactics receiving the most attention?
7. What other factors (service, community commercial load, imaging, etc.) are important to consider in your competitive environment?
8. How organized did the show sound? Was the content spread evenly throughout your listening? Were there quality teases that made you want to hear the pay-off? Were there social components?
9. If you’re listening to a morning show, how well did it help define the station?
10. If there were multiple players on the show, how was the chemistry? Did each get to stand in the spotlight? Was it easy to understand each player’s role and why they are important to the show?
11. Did what you heard meet the three major wants of country users: 1) plays the best music, 2) makes me feel good when I listen, 3) has talent that sounds like my friends and not like disc jockeys?
12. What did you hear that would make you want to listen again tomorrow?
STEP 3: Using specifics from your listening, discuss what you heard and take any necessary actions.
If the listening met or exceeded expectations, can the envelope be pushed further? Can what we did well in one area be applied to another?
If the experience didn’t match the expectations, did the disconnect stem from a lack of knowledge, difference in vision or interpretation, action/execution, or something else?
Write a few sentences to summarize what you heard and the actions you’re taking; this will be useful in your next critical listening session.
If you’re going share the results with the talent in a formalized setting, it’s always helpful to have the audio available to play.
Have some tips on critical listening? Feel free to share them here.