FROM THE MAKERS OF JACK FM.
By Ross On The Radio.
Differentiating a station from its competitors by claiming to play more music is arguably one of radio’s most long-standing competitive traditions, and programmers have tried everything you can imagine to back up the claim.
Some tactics like reducing spot loads or cutting back on jock talk can create a slight advantage in the number of songs a station can play each hour. Others, like long commercial-free sweeps, don’t actually change the song counts but create an illusion of playing more tunes. And then there’s the classic top 40 move of turning up the pitch on every song a station plays, which has just enough of an effect to give the claim of “more music” credence without really changing much except for how songs sound to listeners.
All of those tactics are about to become obsolete as a new top 40-based syndicated format called QuickHitz is making it possible for stations to play 24 songs an hour, a significant increase over the 12-14 songs most stations average during the course of 60 minutes.
The jump in song count is made possible by editing all the tracks in the pop music-based format down to around two minutes each. But the edits aren’t the product of an automated process: Each song is individually edited by hand to maintain as much structure and integrity as possible. And while it doesn’t work for every song, Paragon Media Strategies CEO Mike Henry says the company has been successful in creating shortened versions of nearly all the current pop hits.
“In radio we’ve been editing songs for as long as I can remember,” says Henry, whose company is working in conjunction with Sparknet Communications to syndicate the new format. “But this breaks the traditional radio paradigm for the listeners.”
HOW IT WORKS
The concept of QuickHitz was born in 2005. That’s when Sean Demery launched a feature called “The 60 Song Music Hour”—where songs were cut down to one minute each—on CBS alternative KITS (Live 105) San Francisco, where he was PD at the time.
Henry says he told Demery back then that there was a new format in what he was doing. Then, about 18 months ago, the two revisited the concept and decided it was time to get serious. “Between the pace of society and people’s short attention spans today, the world has caught up with us. What was a joke seven years ago is actually a real format today,” Henry says.
He believes the timing is right because the shortened versions of songs match well with the pace of culture and will appeal to people who get bored quickly. For example, Henry says the average drive time in America is 17 minutes. With QuickHitz listeners could enjoy eight songs during that time instead of four and not get bored with the songs while stuck in traffic.
Henry also touts reduced burn as another benefit of the format. With songs only lasting for two minutes, the impact of playing a well-worn hit includes all the upside of familiarity with less downside of fatigue since it ends quicker. “The repetition isn’t nearly as noticeable because the songs are short.”
Most important though, the format is supposed to dovetail nicely with how younger listeners want to use radio. With 24 song slots every hour QuickHitz is able to deliver the top hits in a heavy rotation, with plenty of room left to introduce new songs to the audience. “Young people want to use radio as a source for finding new music. QuickHitz lets them sample songs quickly in shorter periods of time.”
The QuickHitz listening experience includes short stopsets, so the listener is never more than three minutes away from another song, and the hosts are social media-savvy and prepared to engage the audience. There is also a regular feature called “The New Music U-Turn” that gets listeners involved in the station’s new music selection process.
Delivered utilizing Dial Global’s STORQ box, Henry says the format can be customized by local operators to reflect their markets. “It’s incredible how the technology enables you to localize a station to the point that even radio people can’t tell it’s a syndicated product.”
CONSIDERING THE IMPLICATIONS
As you might imagine, ask 10 people in the industry about QuickHitz and you’ll likely get 10 different points of view.
While most people who commented preferred to remain anonymous so they could answer more freely, Edison Research founder/president Larry Rosin says he thinks this concept should have been followed long ago.
He suggests everyone go back and pull out the early Beatles records, which he describes as “135-second masterpieces.” Those songs, Rosin says, didn’t need to be any longer, so why does what we play on the air? “You can write a masterpiece in just a few minutes.”
He also points out that a number of songs might be greatly improved by being edited down to two minutes. For example, John Mayer’s “Say What You Need to Say” includes the title phrase 40 times, according to Rosin’s count. “Really? He couldn’t say what he needed to say in 20 [repetitions]?”
On a more universal scale though, Rosin sees QuickHitz’s two-minute edits as being like movie trailers for songs. “Audiences don’t always see the whole movie. First they watch the trailer. As a listener, if I knew I’m only hearing a two-minute version it would mean the four-minute version is twice as good, so why not download it?”
From a label perspective this concept works well with some acts and not with others. One person defined the difference as being between artist and entertainers. But even with less temperamental entertainers there is definitely an overall feeling of caution when it comes to bringing this idea up to performers who may see it as bastardizing their work.
Of course, that being said, the capitalist in every label person says the concept of being able to get higher rotations and more new music on the same station is very appealing.
Response to the format concept from PDs is mixed. Several say they can see the shorter songs appealing to younger listeners who don’t have the patience to listen to full songs. But one person said his 14-year-old daughter’s thought on the concept was, “Why do I want to hear shorter versions of songs I like?”
The concern in larger markets that are measured by Arbitron’s Portable People Meter is that adding a lot of newer songs—even two minutes at a time—seems to only increase the number of times a listener could have an incentive to tune out.
So far QuickHitz is still waiting for its first terrestrial radio outlet. When it does find a home, Henry says he expects big things. “We are opening a door to a future generation of radio listening. Young people say this will change the way they use radio.”