Summertime Top Down Music; Station Staffing; and Tech Challenges
Charlie Cook’s enviable radio pedigree stretches from WSDS in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he began his country career in 1972, all the way to the Radio Hall of Fame where he was inducted in 2011. He serves on numerous industry Boards such as CMA and ACM plus is a past President of the Country Radio Broadcasters and board member for over 25 years.
Cook currently, serves dual roles as President, McVay/Cook & Associates and as Director of Programming for West Virginia Radio Corp. He also writes a weekly radio column for industry trade magazine, MusicRow…
In the following brief dialogue, the programmer, consultant and analyst shares his insights regarding current musical trends on the country charts and top of mind challenges to the format from both audience and technology viewpoints…
NEKST: What are some of the music trends you’re hearing on air this summer?
Charlie Cook: There’s always been a belief that in summertime everyone puts the top down and wants to crank up the radio and drive around listening to something like “Cruise” by FGL. But actually, that song was a hit outside the summer which shows that a good song is a good song no matter what time of the year. I don’t believe the ‘top down’ thinking always entirely serves the audience because exceptional songs that are labeled ballads sometimes get left behind. But without question the records reaching the top of the charts and being spun the most on country radio today are uptempo. The energy in country radio almost feels greater than any other format, although CHR is going through a resurgence with really good music from acts like Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Robin Thicke and more. Many country programmers came out of contemporary music and are looking for songs to keep the energy of our format up, too. So perhaps country programmers are moving songs up more quickly that they would normally.
NEKST: Tempo and theme-wise the top of the country charts seem to support your observation.
Charlie Cook: When you look at the chart there are so many fun, uptempo aggressive songs. They’re almost all party songs, every single one—”Beat This Summer,” “Done,” “More Than Miles,” “Running Out Of Moonlight,” “Hey Pretty Girl,” “Anywhere With You,” “Jump Right In,” or “Boys ‘Round Here” and of course “Cruise.”
NEKST: What are the top of mind challenges for radio either from an audience or technology perspective?
Charlie Cook: We’ve put many of the current challenges that radio is facing in our own path. One of the biggest is simply the lack of station personnel. It’s difficult to operate something 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with very limited staffs. And that’s what radio has done to itself of late. We try to keep our stations at West Virginia Radio live and local as much as possible, but I’m not going to tell anyone that we are staffed 24/7, cause we are not. It is also difficult to keep the audience engaged on the social media side. You can voice track a shift, but then how do you post to Facebook, Tweet, answer texts or even the phone? Voice tracking people can’t properly do any of those things. Yes, someone can sit in a master location, voice track 5 stations and also post to their Facebook pages, but I’m telling you it’s not the same thing. You can successfully build a car with one person because they have gone so far with robots, but I don’t think you can deliver a 24/7 radio station with one person.
NEKST: What about people trying to get into or return to radio?
Charlie Cook: It’s sad. I talk to people regularly who are out of the business saying, “I miss what I love and I want to get back doing it.” I haven’t been a disc jockey in a long time, but did some air shifts recently. Part of that is like riding a bike. For example, I’m confident about putting together 17 seconds over the intro of a record. But sometimes I do have to go into the next room to ask, “If I push this button will I blow something up?” The industry has come pretty far technically and unfortunately it puts a lot of people behind the 8-ball who are wanting to return.
NEKST: What about challenges on the tech side?
Charlie Cook: Is there competition from services like Spotify and Pandora? Absolutely. But the radio industry can wait out these players. They are all losing money hand over fist. Also playing tricks by buying radio stations is just pissing off the pig, so I’m not sure that is the answer. Pandora, for example, is more of a substitution for the songs you have on your iPhone than it is for a radio experience. But yes, radio is challenged to be better. I will say though, Pandora did not tell anybody in Oklahoma there was a tornado coming.
NEKST: What keeps you going?
Charlie Cook: That’s simple. I love the Nashville community and all that it encompasses. I’m so blessed to be part of it.