Adult Contemporary is the future of music radio, but good old AC could use an upgrade. Here’s inspiration to develop and promote a Modern AC format and brand.

In this first part, we’ll cover how to develop a successful Adult Contemporary format radio brand and promote your AC station on air, off air and digital (including social platforms and video websites). In two separate articles, we focus on music scheduling and morning show production for AC radio.


Refresh AC radio’s image

As the average world population age increases (in Europe it’s already 40 years and counting), the future of music radio could be Adult Contemporary. But the AC format is ready for a facelift – also to appeal to a new listener generation with a modern and active lifestyle. What are the ingredients of a successful AC station? How can we upgrade the tried-and-tested format to a fresh new version? Questions that were answered in a Radiodays Europe 2012 session called AC 2.0. Programmers from Germany, Spain, Scandinavia and Latvia shared some best practices of building successful AC brands.





“It’s a mixture of a pure numbers game,

plus the ideas for the station”



Francis Currie, Hans van Rijn, Christian Schalt, Kevin Palmer, Ivars Embrekts, Radiodays Europe 2012

From left to right: Francis Currie (radio consultant) and the panel consisting of Hans van Rijn (SBS Radio), Christian Schalt (94,3 rs2), Kevin Palmer (Cadena 100) and Ivars Embrekts (Radio Skonto) during the ‘AC 2.0’ session at Radiodays Europe 2012 in Barcelona (photo: Thomas Giger)



Align brand and audience

Hans van Rijn has managed 27 radio brands in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece as a Group Program Director for SBS Radio, before focusing on the Scandinavian markets as Nordic Business Development Director. He points out that it’s crucial to know everything about your listeners. “It’s not just a question of behavior; it’s just as much a question of values, attitudes, and truly understanding where the listener’s at when we create our content.”



Radio Norge logo, Mix Megapol logo, NOVA fm logoAdjust your format locally

In his experience it’s easier to create a Contemporary Hit Radio, where the core demographic has just a 10-year span (so they’re people with basically the same interests). “For an AC station, it’s a lot more complicated – and a lot more differentiated when you look from country to country.” Therefore, Radio Norge in Norway, Mix Megapol in Sweden and NOVA fm in Denmark vary from Oldies-based AC to Mainstream AC to Hot AC, respectively.



Package older music younger

Even if these AC stations have different accents, they all seem to have brand values like ‘modern’, ‘updated’ and ‘contemporary’ – even for the Gold-based Radio Norge. Why? “A big chunk of our music output is older. That means that there is pressure on the content that we do – our promotions and so on – to constantly be updated, contemporary and fit the mindset of the listeners”, Hans van Rijn explains. Their Swedish AC brand Mix Megapol aims to be ‘authentic’, ‘friendly’, ‘modern’ and ‘entertaining’. Here’s a TV commercial for the station:





Modernize your AC station

From Scandinavia, over to Germany’s most competitive radio market: Berlin. About 10 of the 35 radio stations in Berlin are (sort of) Adult Contemporary. Needless to say, it’s a challenge to cut through. Christian Schalt is General Manager of CHR brand 98.8 KISS FM as well as AC sister station 94,3 rs2. When he came on board, it was decided to steer the traditional sounding AC format towards Modern AC. rs2 has an average of about 150,000 listeners an hour, it’s main competitor 104.6 RTL (Hot AC) has around 200.000, according to the second ratings book of 2012.



94,3 rs2 logoCombine research and vision

The recent programming strategy of 94,3 rs2 is based on research. It was chosen to execute a strategic study and a lifestyle questionnaire, and complete it by personal visions of radio consultant Francis Currie and the station’s management. “It’s a mixture of a pure numbers game plus the ideas for the station”, Christian Schalt explains. “That together was developed by the programming team, and matched and checked with focus groups.”



Make brand values tangible

He underlines that you should always be aware of your radio station’s core values and constantly implement them, both on-air and off-air. The program management thought of something simple and effective to consciously remind themselves of the most important things. “Everyone at rs2 has a little card with the core values on it. They can use it as a kind of blueprint for everything they do – and most of them use it.” The four key words on that card are: ‘contemporary’, ‘grounded’, ‘connected’, and ‘feel good’.



Cadena 100, target listener, brand values

Core brand values of Spanish AC station Cadena 100, focused on a female target listener (photo: Thomas Giger)



Change your format strategically

From Germany to Spain, where nationwide AC station Cadena 100 also made a format change – one leading to a quantum leap in the ratings. “We blew up the radio station and re-launched it as a Hot AC”, says Promotions Director Kevin Palmer. Since then, it grew from 400,000 daily listeners in 2006 to 1.7 million daily listeners in 2012 – over 4 times as much. “We’re now the third largest music station in the country in what is quite a competitive market.” Talk radio has a lot of influence and music radio is dominated by heritage brands.



Cadena 100 logoVisualize your target listener

Kevin Palmer shows a picture of the female target listener, with key words that define her daily lifestyle. “We have this target listener tattooed onto the brain of everyone who works at the station. Everything goes through this filter. Is this something our target listener would be interested in; would enjoy; would relate to? Is this an event that we should associate our brand with, and would our target listener go to this event?”



Achieve mass-appeal through focus

“We even think about the target listener in production. Our station voice is Brad Pitt. In Spain, all movies are dubbed, and this guy is the voice of Brad” (audience laughs). But how do you avoid alienating men when the station apparently is so female-focused? Kevin Palmer answers: “Focus is one thing, and the results that it gives you – the profile of the station – is another. Diet Coke is marketed at women but it’s not a girl’s drink, as far as I know. Our profile is in line with all music radio in Spain; with 52% slightly more female.” Here’s a TV commercial for Cadena 100:





Gain radio experience abroad

A somewhat different market is the Eastern-European country Latvia. Ivars Embrekts has Latvian parents but was raised in New York. He worked in The Big Apple as a morning host and was a PD in Chicago, before moving to Latvia in 1991. There he founded Radio Skonto of which he is the General Manager and owner. It’s now the number 1 private station and reaches 300,000 people – 14% of the population of 2.2 million, while their FM-transmitters cover 75% of Latvia. “You have more listeners than my country has people”, he jokes towards his fellow programmers in the panel. “But we do the best we can.”



Radio Skonto logoOffer more than music

What does Radio Skonto stand for as a brand? “I was just talking to Lee Harris and we remembered radio stations that we both knew from the New York area.” Ivars Embrekts recalls listening to WGSM. “Their slogan was ‘The information you need, and the music you love’ – I think that pretty much describes us.” He also mentions WYFA: “That stood for Where Your Friends Are. Another important thing that shows that we’re not just a music box.”



Be personal and accessible

Embrekts considers personal interaction as an important part of Radio Skonto’s success. “We’re not just a place where you press a button and get music, but we’re also a place you can text, email, call and we will then within reason try to help you. We might say that a person is selling puppies, so that they don’t have to go to a dog pound. Pet owners love us. Believe me: if you’ve got the parents of children and pet owners loving you, you’re a long way to become a really popular radio station!”





“Underline why you’re different, what your station is about,

and what your brand values are”



Francis Currie, Hans van Rijn, Christian Schalt, Kevin Palmer, Ivars Embrekts, Radiodays Europe 2012

Christian Schalt of 94,3 rs2 (middle) combines major promotions with outdoor advertising (photo: Thomas Giger)



Produce engaging major promotions

What makes a great radio promotion? For SBS Radio’s Hans van Rijn, it’s not all about the prize. “We do want the listeners to dream of winning, but it’s just as much the mechanics in the contest that makes it engaging and entertaining.” Christian Schalt of 94,3 rs2 thinks that good promotions are a big challenge for AC radio. As they “cannot scream” on air, some of the typical CHR concepts don’t necessarily fit their brand. His strategy is not shouting loud, but doing big: “I would rely on cars, money, and big billboards”.



Die 94,3 rs2 Auto Monate, radio contest, radio promotion, major promotionCreate talk of town

Their most successful major promotion was giving away one car every day. “Even in a crowded market like Berlin you do get awareness for this kind of promotion”, Schalt says. They were driving through the city with two trucks, fully loaded with cars that were all branded with the station logo – and used these ‘mobile billboards’ to actually distribute the prizes. “As soon as someone won on the radio, the car was delivered 15 minutes later or so.”



Build cume, image & awareness

“I’ve just seen the difference between the German economy and the Spanish economy. We have no money…”, says Cadena 100 Promotions Director Kevin Palmer (audience laughs). Christian Schalt replies: “But we gave away French cars – that’s the new friendship, you know?” (laughter again). Palmer explains that Cadena 100 runs 3 sorts of radio promotions, each with a distinctive purpose:

  1. cume building promotions
  2. image building promotions
  3. awareness creating promotions (like events or stunts)



Christian Schalt, Kevin Palmer, Ivars Embrekts, Radiodays Europe 2012

Kevin Palmer of Cadena 100 (middle) prefers radio promotions that drive the station’s brand (photo: Thomas Giger)



Boost your ratings incidentally

“When we can’t afford to do big marketing campaigns, cume-building promotions are how we grow the radio station”, Kevin Palmer explains. An example is ‘Make Us Your Number One’, where they give away prizes to drivers who have made Cadena 100 the first preset on the car radio. Even if cume-building promotions work really well and are obviously important for your ratings, the most long-term impact is being achieved by pushing the brand.



Javi Nieves, Cadena 100, radio studioBuild your brand constantly

Brand-building promotions should always “underline why you’re different, what your station is about, and what your brand values are.” Cadena 100 has an award ceremony to highlight ordinary citizens that have accomplished extraordinary achievements. Listeners of the morning show with Javi Nieves (photo) nominate people and the audience votes. The winners receive their awards from celebrities during a big event in a fancy theater in Madrid.



Find contest inspiration abroad

Radio Skonto runs a benchmark contest where they call a random phone number – an idea for which he credits American radio. (It’s indeed something like ‘The Phrase That Pays’ on Z100.) People who answer with ‘Radio Skonto is my favorite radio station’ win a car. According to Embrekts, it’s taking Latvia by storm. “My former program director is a master of ceremonies for events. The president of Latvia came up to him and, when being introduced, said: Radio Skonto is my favorite radio station!”





Develop two digital strategies:

one for audio streaming, one for social interaction



Cadena 100, Facebook

Online listeners of Cadena 100 can login with their Facebook account to post their comments (design: Cadena 100)



Exchange on-air & online content

Cadena 100 has integrated Facebook into the station’s web radio player. The introduction of the social network was a complete game changer, Kevin Palmer recalls. “Facebook, when they opened their Spanish office, came to us and said: hey – it would be really great if you could promote our little website. That doesn’t happen anymore. But it’s fantastic for us.” He explains that they use Facebook content on air, and give radio content a second life on Facebook. The deejays and producers of Cadena 100 do this a lot.



Facebook, Like buttonMaintain your own website

Christian Schalt of 94,3 rs2 considers Facebook as a good interaction tool – unless it’s an excuse for not having a good site of your own. “It can be a trap, because it’s easy to manage and convenient to upload.” They now encourage radio personalities to post more on the station website than on Facebook. Another challenge for an AC station is having two different audiences: people under and people above 40 years – the latter is less social media savvy.



Follow online listener behavior

His Latvian colleague Ivars Embrekts adds that in his country, this borderline is around the age of 30. Radio Skonto’s audience lives mainly above that line: “My listeners aren’t quite there yet, for us to have a mega Internet- or digital presence. Sure, we’re there. We have a website, Twitter, Facebook and its Latvian equivalents, but don’t spend much time obsessing about it right now.” The station’s focus for 2012 is putting out a good product on the FM band. “In 2017, things might be very different, I certainly realize that.”



94,3 rs2, Mix Megapol, radio apps, mobile apps, iPhone apps

Mobile radio apps of 94,3 rs2 and Mix Megapol, designed for the iPhone (photo montage: Thomas Giger)



Develop dedicated digital strategies

Hans van Rijn considers digital “increasingly important” and thinks that apart from your music- and content plans, you should also have a separate digital strategy for your radio station. SBS replaced the classic model of “brochure websites” where stations simply used to highlight what they do on the air. Instead, they develop two digital strategies: one for audio streaming, and one for social interaction. Noteworthy is the fact that of all online listeners of Mix Megapol, 50% is using a mobile device. So it might be smart to make sure that all of your apps and sites mobile-friendly.



Cadena 100, YouTube channel, 20th Anniversary ConcertFollow up on YouTube

Cadena 100 is using video as an extra dimension to their promotions and programming. YouTube can be a powerful follow-up tool for morning shows, if the footage is posted right after or during the show. A good example to illustrate this comes from Kevin Palmer: “Yesterday, they had a hypnotist on the show. Before the end, people were ringing up, saying: ‘Am I able to see this on YouTube when I get into work?’ You’ve got to be there.”



Focus on programming fundamentals

In a closing summary, session host and radio consultant Francis Currie mentioned the Top 5 for program directors to think about every day:

  1. Market – whom are you competing with, and what are you competing on?
  2. Listeners – who are you talking to, and do they care about what you do on air?
  3. Brand – what do you stand for, and how does the listener know?
  4. Product – what are you doing on air, and when have you heard one complete hour of your station?
  5. Communication – what are you saying, and how are you saying it?



Francis CurrieLive your brand values

“The listener really has to be right in the middle of the station. You obviously need to know where they are, you definitely need to know how they behave. But to truly build a brand, you need to understand their aspirations, attitudes, values. You need to understand their own sense of their identity.” Currie (photo) says that in terms of building a brand, it’s easy to come up with a few brand values. “It’s how you take those words and live those values.”



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