Monday, April 26, 2010

Station Voices in the PPM Era

What makes radio magic to us?  Songs of course have hooks that grab listeners.  I'm going to coin a term, "radio hooks."  I have seen posts from people on and mentioning how they were swept away by a jingle going into a song, in other words the kind of thing that would elicit a "Huh?" from the rest of the world.

CHR has always had the most radio hooks in its architecture, but other formats have them in varying degrees.  Jocks talking up to posts with just the right inflection and produced top-of-the-hour ID's are examples.  And while non-radio people might think I was ready for the loony bin if I told them about this, especially when you combine it with my interest in transmitter sites, I believe these radio hooks combine with the hooks in the music to subliminally seduce an audience.

Professional outside voices replaced in-house promos as well as much of the talking up to vocals in the late eighties and early nineties.  This created another radio hook as the station's voice became a big part of its product.  As consolidation and then a poor economy took their toll on local personalities, stations did not skimp on voice talent, which was relatively inexpensive and made stations with shallow talent pools sound good.  In fact, station voices probably contribute to the "radio sounds homogenized" complaint from people in the industry.

As we radio aficionados drool over how various voice talents sound, the normal folk are probably oblivious to them.  But remember my hypothesis on radio hooks: While they melt us, they contribute to the listener's subliminal perception of the station.  Rob Roberts, programming chief for Atlanta's Q100 and Rock 100.5, commented, "(Imaging) is generally noticed most when it’s bad…when it’s good one just glides along enjoying the audio ride."

Radio station voice people these days are kind of akin to physicians.  There are generalists in both industries, of course.  But if you had a skin problem, you would see a dermatologist.  Likewise, if you wanted to tell people that you were about to play 10 joints in a row, you would hire a hip-hop specialist.

As part and parcel as station voices have become, something has thrown a wrench into the mix.  That something is Arbitron's PPM technology.  Recently, Kiss 104.1, 95-5 The Beat, Project 9-6-1, 104.7 The Fish and other Atlanta stations decreased the number of times their voice talent speaks as well as the length of the sweepers.  Has the radio community seen one too many Gary Marince seminars?  (Mr. Marince is Arbitron's VP, Programming Services & Development.)  I too have seen Mr. Marince's minute-by-minute analyses that show ratings on a music station decline when music is interrupted.

While I can't argue with the numbers, I still believe in my radio hook theory; that many elements, including good imaging, combine with the music to subtly entice listeners, no matter that some will momentarily tune out at certain times.  In any case, excellent voice people are heard up and down the Atlanta radio dial.  Most are just so darn good.  The following are some of my favorites:

Best of the Best
Jon Carter makes a big difference, along with his partner Buffy O'Neil, in helping B98.5FM sound great.  His voice and delivery inject youth, brightness and substance into the station and are pleasing to all ages.

Dr. Dave Ferguson has perfected a style that is unique and oh-so urban.  When you hear him, you know you're listening to V-103.

Jeff Davis has been the voice of WSB-AM since 1993, when former PD Greg Moceri used Jeff's imaging to transform the personality of the station.  His body of work has remained on the station all this time and still sounds fresh.  Jeff is more of a generalist who voices a number of formats.  He probably is not the person I would use for a more niche format like CHR.  However, he works just fine for WSB's news/talk format and tips the overall sound of the station toward the youthful side of things.

Derrick Jonzun's confident delivery lets you know that you are listening to an Urban AC station, in fact the Urban AC station, when he speaks on Kiss 104.1.

George Robinson, who lives in Atlanta, is an artist who treats his work on Rock 100.5 as an acting role, and his sound matches the station to a tee.

Kipp Kelly brings attitude to the stage that he sets for Majic 107-5/97-5's Urban AC format.  He adds a different dimension to Atlanta radio.

Really Good
Malcolm Ryker - Project 9-6-1, Nick Michaels - 92-9 Dave FM, Brian Lee - 95-5 The Beat, Joe Syzmanski - Star 94.

Aside from these personal favorites, there is plenty more great voice talent gracing the Atlanta airwaves.

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