Future military radio menu could be more pop, less talk
June 3, 2006
WASHINGTON — Military radio stations around the globe soon could be playing more hip-hop, more pop hits, less country music and no sports or political chat shows.
A media consulting group reviewing American Forces Radio has recommended those changes as a way to boost ratings. The analysis of the radio broadcasts is the first major review of the over-the-air offerings in more than a decade.
Warren Lee, operations and plans officer for American Forces Radio and Television Services, said no decisions on programming changes have been made so far.
But officials will meet Thursday to discuss the future of military radio, and the new review — conducted by Lund Media Research — will be the launching point for those discussions.
To compile its recommendations, Lund surveyed 1,125 AFR listeners between January and April of this year, and conducted 10 focus groups in Europe over the same time period. (See graphic at end of story.)
The biggest change proposed in the review would be centralizing most programming decisions in the United States, and creating a pair of music stations for broadcast worldwide.
The first station would feature hip-hop, rap, pop music and other similar formats. A second station would have classic rock, alternative bands and a mix of other Top 40 songs.
Popular talk radio programs such as Rush Limbaugh and those from National Public Radio, as well as country music, would be relegated to a third station, broadcast only in a few select areas with three military radio frequencies.
Going, going, gone
The Lund recommendations also include dumping play-by-play of American sports events from over-the-air broadcasts, noting that only a small audience listens to the events. Fewer than 15 percent of those surveyed said they had listened to baseball, basketball or hockey games on the radio in the preceding six months.
Instead, those games will be offered through the cable channels only. In addition to broadcast radio, AFRTS offers a dozen radio formats via its cable and satellite television system, accessible only with the decoder boxes.
The report also recommends removing the Tom Joyner show from over-the-air broadcasts as well, despite its popularity among minority troops.
Several white respondents complained about the show, and Lund officials deemed it too controversial for AFR’s attempts to broaden its listening audience.
Lund officials found talk radio — both sports and politics — aren’t a major draw for troops under 34 years old.
Country music, while popular with some troops, is also despised by others, making it difficult to mesh with other musical formats.
“They said when we play country, we pull in the country fans but lose everyone else,” Lee said.
So the recommendations would relegate those talk shows and country acts mainly to the cable system, along with adult contemporary and oldies albums.
“AFRTS should get away from presenting blocks of different styles of music on the same station,” the report said. “Instead, present the most popular mainstream formats. Radio programming elements should complement each other to increase the time one spends listening to the station.”
Seacrest vs. Cronauer
Andy Friedrich, deputy director for AFRTS, said that even if officials decide to accept the Lund plans, purchasing and installing the equipment necessary will push implementation to January 2007 at the earliest.
And he emphasized that none of the ideas are forgone conclusions.
“We don’t have the funding issues of commercial stations in the United States, but we do have a message to sell to our audience,” he said. “So the question is, how do we grab the biggest share of the audience out there and still provide a service?”
The goal, Friedrich said, is to have the largest audience possible hear the radio stations’ hourly inserts on local news, servicewide alerts and other military information.
Currently, the Armed Forces operate radio stations in 18 countries, each one receiving content from AFRTS headquarters in California. Decisions on what programs to air, when to air them and who should act as a DJ between songs are made at the local level.
“Traditionally, in areas where we’ve had two over-the-air stations, one has been different blocks of music and one has been news talk,” Lee said. “But this study is saying that might not necessarily be the way to get the best audience.”
Local DJs — such as Adrian Cronauer, made famous in Robin Williams’ portrayal in “Good Morning, Vietnam” — would be replaced by prepackaged American hosts such as Ryan Seacrest, except for occasional regional call-in shows. Local news reports would still be produced and inserted into each hour of programming.