The KRCL focus groups can’t stand indie (“too crazy"), or Americana (too “twangy”). They really hate black music. (Those rap people use bad words.)
Babs De Lay, one of the KRCL’s volunteer programmers who attended the board meeting at Horizonte, wanted to know if the consultant had asked any black people?
The consultant’s response: How many minorities, are there really in the Salt Lake valley? (That brought grumbling from some at the back of the room, considering KRCL has for years been telling granting agencies that serving Utah’s minority communities was the reason for its existence.)
It’s all a numbers game, Peter Dominowski, principal of Market Trends Research, told volunteers and the board: Don’t get all high and mighty thinking you are providing some special service.
“Public service equals audience. They are synonymous,” he said. “Getting people to listen is the mission.”
Those who hoped focus groups of KRCL listeners would behave any differently than focus groups anytime, anywhere, were sorely disappointed. The pinheads who participate in focus groups said what they always say:
They want music that is “comfortable and familiar.” Music that is “appropriate” to listen to at work; that’s “uplifting and calming.” They don’t like to be challenged, or “work too hard” listening to the radio. As one focus group participant put it: “Different kinds of music, I just don’t like them.”
Focus groupies do like to hear the same songs over and over again. People don’t form emotional attachments to music, or a music station, without repetition, said Dominowski. And those emotional attachments are what make listeners contribute to fund drives.
KRCL should “adapt” techniques used by commercial stations. It should play “time tested artists,” and avoid “stressful,” “odd” or “polarizing” music during primetime, said Dominowski, who has been consulting public radio since 1985, providing focus group magic to more than 100 stations in the past two years.
Dominowski knows what the people want, because, with KRCL’s program director, he played music to six focus groups of 10 people each in late November. All participants were KRCL listeners. Two groups said KRCL was their favorite station. The other four were made up of people who sometimes listened to KRCL, but liked other stations better.
The guinea pigs were played five different two-and-a-half-minute music mixes, then asked to rate the music and give their thoughts.
Focus groups weren’t played any blues, jazz, or R&B. Those music types had already been excluded by analysis of Arbitron data measuring KRCL’s historic listener numbers.
- The “heritage rock” mix of Beatles et al. had the broadest appeal across age and gender lines. (“All bands that I know,” said a focus groupie. “Felt like an old friend.”)
- The Americana mix (including Lyle Lovett and Alison Krauss) got the thumbs down.
- The indie mix (including Tegan and Sara and TV on the Radio) was “not uplifting” said focus groupies, who somehow were scared by the poppy The Thermals.
- Older listeners hated the “urban contemporary” mix including M.I.A. and The Roots.
- On the other hand, the “modern adult contemporary” mix (including Josh Ritter and Feist) was “well accepted.”
Dominowski said the sound would be like (all together now) WXPN in Philadelphia. That just happens to be the direction station management was hinting at more than one year before the consultant ever set foot in Salt Lake City.
Much of Wednesday’s presentation to the board was made up of bar graphs segmenting KRCL’s listeners in categories like “loyalty by half hour.” Several volunteers noted that, according to the Arbitron charts, KRCL’s most successful current programs were playing exactly the types of music that would be banished from daytime in the proposed format switch. ("That's half of what we play," one said.) Currently KRCL's days from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. have among the highest listener “loyalty.”
But the consultant said people tuning into today’s popular KRCL programs were “fringe” listeners who listened only to a few programs and would never become “loyal.”
In addition to the recommended format change (KRCL should be all-music “minimally” from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays), the consultant recommended KRCL hire paid programmers.
Also, that KRCL’s music director program all music that is played during the days. No more having “inconsistent” DJs picking the music that goes out over the air.
Formally, KRCL’s board of directors won’t vote on the recommendations until Feb. 7, two days after a scheduled meeting of volunteers to discuss the proposal. But in fact the train has left the station. KRCL is already advertising for a new music director. Volunteer daytime station DJs were given their walking papers two weeks ago. It now appears that station directors agreed to hire paid DJs sometime this summer when KRCL signed a contract with the Corporation with Public Broadcasting, the agency paying for the station makeover.
All but lost in the general confusion and hubbub of the consultant’s presentation Wednesday was one of the his last recommendations: “Weekend primetime is just as important,” read the phrase projected on the wall.
Meaning that KRCL’s remaining volunteer DJs—the weekenders who thought they’d been saved in the switchover—may want to start getting nervous. (Ted McDonough)