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Radio AM to FM: February 8, 2001

Cool Commercial Breaks

A funny thing happened on the way to the commercial ... Most music radio stations over the past decade have emphasized long music sets with l-o-n-g (but fewer) commercial breaks. Personally, I always hated that.

Not that I hate the long sets of music. But when you finally find a station you like (a feat that is getting more difficult by the day it seems), it is really a turnoff -- literally -- when the commercial breaks come. Some stations have up to 10 minutes of commercials at a time, meaning that you might as well turn off the radio, or at least change the station, when the commercials begin. Go wash the car, go shopping, sleep ... since you know it will be a while.

Stations can get away with it because they almost all do it, and they almost all do it at the same time. So even if you want to change the station, the next station will be running long commercial sets as well. And make no mistake: companies like Clear Channel didn't get their stations for free, and they certainly aren't going to cut their commercial load for us.

If I were an advertiser, I'd be furious. By the time the third commercial starts, no one is left listening and the ad I paid big bucks for is like the tree falling in the forest ... no one is there to hear it. No wonder radio constantly underachieves when it comes to advertising bucks.

The alternative? More stops with fewer commercials each. Maximum two, I figure, for the radio station in my mind. Enough to make money but not enough to drive away listeners. And I'd use a slogan like "always back to the music faster." I might even be able to get a premium from advertisers, who won't have t worry about their ad being buried among nine or so others.

Orange County's Cool 94.3 FM (KMXN) programmer Craig Powers agrees on almost all counts. The problem is, he explained in an interview last year, people are so used to the long commercial breaks that shorter more frequent breaks give the illusion that you actually play more commercials than your competitors ... even if you don't. It would take a while to get people used to the concept.

I think its worth the gamble, but then I don't own a station. Luckily, Cool is not owned by a mega-corp, and owner Art Astor hates long breaks as well. So Cool now runs no more than two minutes of commercials at a time, 5-6 times per hour. That, for the numerate, is a maximum of 12 minutes per hour ... far less than almost anyone else save for the public stations. When they're not doing pledge weeks.

Powers says that its too early to tell if it will work for listeners, but it certainly works for advertisers, who now actually get their ad heard.

I like it. Here's hoping it works; maybe it will start a trend. Now if we could just get Cool a decent signal outside of Orange County.


Pacifica has placed KPFK (90.7 FM) general manager Mark Schubb on administrative leave, the latest plot in "As the Station Turns." It's a leave from which he is not to return. What does this mean for the station that has had bad management for as long as there has been dirt (or at least it seems that way)? Hard to say, but my guess is that this story will be continuing for a long time to come.


Copyright © 2002 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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