Monday, January 16, 2012

"...No, It Definitely Says Here That You're Not Supposed To Be Enjoying This...."

Old joke.

A consultant is someone who can give you fourteen hundred different expert opinions on how to make love to a woman.

And doesn't have a girlfriend.

Someday, I predict in my usual maverick, inevitably misunderstood and/or misconstrued manner, the decline, and eventual extinction, of conventional broadcast radio is going to be linked back to the moment that conventional broadcast management made the decision to program conventional radio stations based on what consultants told them was their best path to success.

Don't get me wrong.

Some of my best friends are consultants.

On the other hand, some of my best friends are vegetarians, too, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop eating things that once had a face.

Or begin suggesting that you should likewise come out with your hands, and your double Angus cheeseburger, in plain sight.

The problem with expert opinion, within the parameters of the conventional definition of expert opinion, is that it is fluid and not static, when you add to the equation the insidious and inevitable "x" factor.

Human nature.

We like what we like and dislike what we dislike.

Right up to the moment that we start to like what we once disliked and dislike what we once liked.

In September of 1997, The Dixie Chicks couldn't get arrested.

In October of 1997, the single "I Can Love You Better" was released and went top ten U.S.A. country.

Within 90 days, every record label within a dead cat's swing of 16th Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee had a multi girl group on its wish list, drawing board or roster.

Had you asked a radio consultant in September of 1997 about multi girl groups, the response would have been, at best, a polite "uh, what part of market research don't you understand?"

Numbers, the experts insist on insisting, never lie.

And there's not a consultant worth his retainer who won't whip out a pie chart or bar graph to make the point with a speed that would have made them a force to be reckoned with in the fast draw gunslinger days.

Here's a thing about pie charts and bar graphs, though.

They might be good for telling you what is.

But they can't possibly predict what's next.

I'm reminded of all this because I have, just recently, made the decision to move on in my broadcasting career, leaving conventional radio behind and putting my money where my maverick is, so to speak.

More on that as the days, weeks and months progress.

Meanwhile, I came across a fun website that lets you look up number one songs at particular times. Friends and family on Facebook are using it to look up the number one song the week they were born and sharing with friends and family on Facebook., by the way, and click on pop culture to share in the fun.

In the course of looking up my own birthday chart topper, I discovered something that brought into focus an issue I've long theorized, proselytized, pondered and/or pontificated about when it comes to expert opinion, more specifically that most sacred of consultant worshiped idols...

...the audience demographic.

And why, during my time in oldies radio, I spent an inordinate amount of time politely explaining to civilians/listeners who were perplexed, and asked, why I couldn't play, on the air per their requests, songs that were recorded and released in the years 1960,61,62 or 63 even though the station that I was on, at the time, proudly touted itself as "the greatest hits of the sixties and seventies".

A positioner most assuredly determined by hours of consultancy.

Bet your bar graph, baby.

And the reason was the greatest hits of the sixties didn't actually begin to accumulate until January 26, 1964.

Anything prior to that is officially (read: consultingly) designated as greatest hits of the fifties.

Say what?

That's right, campers. Trivial things like planetary rotations and eons old calendar calculations are both superfluous and academic in the universe of pie charts and bar graphs.

And, conventional consultant wisdom (and there's a phrase that just comes out in a choking noise no matter what) conventionally marks the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties, popular music wise, on January 26, 1964.

January 26, 1964 was the day that Bobby Vinton's place at number one on the Top 100 Pop Chart was taken by a new group with a song that would reside at number one for the next seven weeks.

The Beatles.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand".

The debate endures as to why the beginning of Beatlemania became the designated decade demarcation. Best guess would be that with The Beatles came the ensuing onslaught of English groups, the historic "British Invasion" and that caused popular music to pivot off in a totally new direction, leaving behind, it its wake, the then current trend of single vocal hit makers like Chubby Checker, Tommy Roe, Neil Sedaka, even Ray Charles and Elvis and, of course, the guy who has the dubious distinction of being the "last hit maker of the 50's" if you buy the whole premise.

The silliness here is that Bobby Vinton's "There, I've Said It Again" was no less the hit song that had been at the top of the charts for four weeks at 12:01 A.M., Sunday, January 26, 1964 that it was at 11:59 P.M, Saturday, January 25.

And Bobby Vinton was no less the hit maker at a minute past midnight than he was at a minute till. In fact, it was a little less than a year later, ear deep in the hoopla of the British Invasion, that Bobby popped back to the top of the pop charts for a week with "Mr. Lonely". (Of course, the week before that, the number one pop song in the country was "Ringo", the classic gunfighter saga sung by Lorne Greene, the then star of one of the more popular weekly western TV series, "Bonanza". Brits coming out of the woodwork and every American radio speaker notwithstanding, it really was quite the eclectic period in pop music history).

Here's the point.

Consultants rely on, and advise their radio station clients via, bar graphs, pie charts and other geometric paradigms constructed using the latest empirical numerical data accumulated through focus group inquiry and geographic market sales trends factoring in age and gender demographics.

Listeners turn on their radios and they either like what they hear or they don't.

Radio programmers who continue to wander around in the desert lamenting the stalled growth of their audience while blindly following the false prophets who sternly exhort their followers to either adhere to the gospel according to pie chart and bar graph or ignore at their own peril may be taking care of the small details but they're missing the big picture.

And every great chef will tell you that a recipe is a guideline, not a gospel.

I've done oldies radio twice in ten years.

At some point during both gigs, I played The Beatles.

And Bobby Vinton.

I got fired from both of those gigs, by the way. For not following the programming philosophy of the stations.

And, not for nothin', but my show was number one in the market in both cases.

I'm pretty good.

But not so good that I would have been number one without playing the music that people love.

From either side of the designated decade demarcation.

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