March 23, 2020

Should you change your music in a crisis?

One of your listeners is working from home. She hadn’t even heard of Zoom or Slack two weeks ago. She misses her office buds.

Another is working from home, but she’s trying to be a parent and schoolteacher while still trying to be a coworker. She feels like a failure at all of them.

Then there’s your listener who, out of nowhere, lost his bartending gig. There’s no savings. He has no idea how he’ll pay the rent.

You also have a listener worried about her mom in Palm Beach County. She so much wants to be there for her. It breaks her heart to know visiting her could be fatal.

In these times, does it matter if Post Malone is a power or a secondary?

Even in typical times, great radio stations inform, connect and entertain—all basic human needs.

Information provides listeners’ need to feel empowered—to feel in control of their destiny. In a crisis, timely and trustworthy information can save a life.

Connection fulfills listeners’ need to feel they’re not alone, even when they’re by themselves. Stuck in traffic, a favorite radio personality is a friend coming along for the ride. No wonder radio is huge in cars. Right now, when your listeners can’t socialize normally, hearing a familiar voice in real time is an emotional lifeline. Your voice—and the connections you make with and between listeners—reassures us of the kindness within us. No tweet can compete.

What about entertainment—which for your station is probably first and foremost your music?

The role of music on your station right now is escape.

Every song you play is three and a half minutes of normalcy. Your listener desperately needs something to be normal. Our adrenal glands simply can’t pump enough hormones to stay in crisis mode 24/7. We need a break.  As Chicago’s 97.1 The Drive told its listeners, our favorite songs are ““an escape from the news and a safe haven from the gloom and despair.”

Escape is far more important now than it was before.

The best way you can serve your listeners with your music programming is to keep playing the songs they love most.

  • Continue to utilize your callout and library testing to stay on top of listeners’ tastes;
  • Maintain the tempo and energy of your station so that your sound is what listeners expect from your station;
  • If you need to alter your clock structure to make more room for information, drop the weakest songs, but maintain your overall sound.

Your station might need to air information you traditionally didn’t provide. Your morning show may need to change the tone of its humor to reflect the gravity of the times. However, you should not make wholesale changes to your music strategy based solely on assumptions.

As Coleman Insights’ John Boyne put it, “If you liked ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ last week, you probably like ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ this week.”

Will this crisis ultimately change the music artists create and the songs listeners embrace? Recent history hasn’t seen such a reaction:

However, some experts suggest we haven’t seen a crisis on par with COVID-19 since World War II. During the Big Band and Crooner era, the war did significantly impact the themes of popular music. In addition to songs about military life, songs about separation and the loneliness that comes from being far away from loved ones during wartime topped the charts—most enduringly, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, if only in my dreams.

If 2020 is indeed on par with 1942, relevant themes may well emerge in popular music that resonate with life in this era.

Either way, you’ll want to keep using the tools you use now to know what resonates with your audience and play the songs they love and expect from your brand.

As you change seemingly everything about how you run your station, take comfort that the best way to serve your listeners with your music is to keep doing exactly what you’ve always done—play the songs they love and expect from your station.

Your listeners will appreciate the normalcy, even if you’re scheduling those songs from your bedroom.

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