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Coleman Review Highlights Importance of Recreating AM/FM Essence in Online Radio Streams.

The greater the growth of station streaming relative to traditional AM/FM radio listening, the more important the quality of those streams has become, especially in terms of replicating what goes out on traditional AM/FM.

That's the focus of Coleman Insights' weekly blog, which reviews findings from monitoring streaming during quarter-hours at random times of the day on various streaming platforms, from four different stations and formats across the U.S., to show how local radio is adapting to its listeners' changing habits.

“Several years ago, [when] I ran quarter-hour airchecks for the streams of local radio stations, it was hard to get past the clunkiness that existed, with spots, jocks, or music getting cut off,” Coleman Insights VP/Consultant & Marketing Director Jay Nachlis says. “Now in 2023, as the industry watches the incremental growth of radio listening via streaming, listening is far less clunky and more seamless. The four stations I monitored, with only one exception, had high-quality streams with smooth transitions. My listening experience, however, unearthed bigger obstacles for local radio.”

'An Absurd Number Of Spots'

Among those obstacles is, not surprisingly, a potentially overwhelming spot load, as in the 18 minutes' worth heard at the end of a morning show on an urban contemporary station. “[While] I’m aware the station was likely playing the backloading game, throwing an absurd number of spots at the end of the 9am hour so the morning show could have less spots earlier in the show, the listener doesn’t know or care about the backloading strategy, and as a listener 18 commercials in a row is awful,” Nachlis says. “There is literally no way I would stay until the end if I was doing any sort of active listening.”

Nachlis notes that not all stations monitored handled spot loads badly, referencing a news/talker that separated its commercials with a weather update and several station identifiers and positioners. “I thought it was clever to break up the short commercial break with service elements, which kept my attention,” he says.

As it happened, that news/talk station was an exception to what should be the rule when it comes to including plenty of station identifiers, as most stations came out of breaks or songs without mentioning where listeners were tuned. Streaming, Nachlis says, should by its nature provide “welcome branding” to address this issue. “Sure, if I tune into a station on an AM/FM radio, I’ll get what I get at that time,” he says, “but streaming enables the opportunity to make a brand statement immediately, which is particularly valuable as brand-building opportunities are at a premium.”

Even now, there remain technical problems with some station streams, resulting in awkward cutoff transitions to spots from other elements such as traffic, or confusion as to how to listen live. On a classic hits station stream, says Nachlis, “I clicked on a big 'play' button that didn’t immediately play the station as I would have expected. It took me some time to find yet another play button on the screen to actually get the stream to trigger and start playing.”

Effective Brand Building Matters

The most important takeaway from stream monitoring, Nachlis says, is the need for stations to more effectively build their brands in each quarter-hour. “If a local radio station is to compete in the streaming space, it must offer a streaming experience that isn’t inferior to other experiences, it must accurately reflect the listening experience one would expect on an AM/FM radio, [and] it must effectively find ways to grow its brand without friction caused by the streaming experience.”

Achieving the latter of those, Nachlis points out, means moving past “hands-tied” excuses. “Radio’s challenges are too often framed in simplistic 'too many commercials-type arguments,” he says. “Rather, let’s change that perspective to consider how self-imposed obstacles can impede brand awareness, the building of strong images, and the creation of bonds with our talent.”

Nachlis suggests stations monitor quarter-hours of their own streams to address whether the station is building brand awareness (“Do listeners know who we are?”), strong images (“Do listeners clearly know what we’re known for?”) and bonds with air talent (“Did they make an impression?”), and, when possible, he says, to “follow up with strategic research to track the effectiveness of your efforts.”

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