In our continued series on stations that have chosen shorter stopsets and why, we talk with Jeff Ziesmann. Jeff is GM and CEO at Classic Country 106.7 (WNKR) and 105.9 The Oasis (WNKN), which operate in the Dayton and Cincinnati markets.
Radio Ink: First, how long have you been running shorter stopsets?
Jeff Ziesmann: We’ve been doing that since we put The Oasis on the air in July 2022, but we own a second radio station – Classic Country 106.7 WNKR – that serves northern Kentucky. We’ve been running short commercial brakes on that station for the 22 years we’ve had it.
Radio Ink: What convinced you to start?
Jeff Ziesmann: It’s an older audience so I tend to look at what the competition for that demographic is doing. Several of our competitors are music stations running two commercial breaks per hour with up to 14 units in them and they go on for 10 or 12 minutes. The other thing that we compete with indirectly is AM news/talk. And in the case of news talk formats, you kind of almost have to hunt to find the programming content. It’s almost like it’s little bits and snippets of program content woven in and out of a seemingly almost endless unit count.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a national advertiser like Home Depot or a local advertiser like Bob’s hardware. If either one of them is eight in a 14-unit spot set, they’ve got a problem. So what we decided to do because we’re primarily in the results business, more than the ratings business, is we decided to structure our commercial breaks into digestible segments that the audience could sit through.
We go into every commercial break saying, this is three minutes or less. The implication is, hey, you could sit through this. It’s not going to go on forever. And we’re going to be back to the program that you want to hear rapidly.
Radio Ink: What’s your strategy like for selling these stopsets to clients with so few units?
Jeff Ziesmann: We only sell :30s and :60s. We still believe in :60s. We think that digital advertising appears to be aimed at people who have already made their buying decision and are just looking for where the product is and how much it costs. One of the benefits of broadcast advertising is the ability to actually establish the value of the product. The value of the seller of the product. A 60-second commercial is a great way to do that. So we’re just trying very, very hard to create manageable-size spot sets that don’t drive the listeners from the land.
We retain 94% of our clients year to year, and I think it’s just because we do everything that we can to try and get them meaningful, lasting results. And part of that I think is not running a commercial break that has 14 commercials in it.
Ages ago there was research done by a major radio company into the effect that commercials have on listeners. They took two four-minute commercial breaks. One had four :60s in it. The other had eight :30s in it. And they asked, “which of these is longer?” Invariably, even though they were the same length, the focus group chose the commercial break with the higher number of units in it. This is an obvious thing. The audience is not sitting out there with a stopwatch. They’re counting commercials, not seconds and not minutes. And by moving completely away from :60s and into the :15s and the :10s and that kind of stuff, they drove the unit count up so high that they lost the audience’s attention. Less is more, in my opinion, tended to reduce the effectiveness of radio advertising rather than increase it, as it was supposedly originally designed to do.
Radio Ink: So do you subscribe to the ratings? I know some short stopset groups don’t.
Jeff Ziesmann: We subscribe in Cincinnati and Dayton, and we subscribe to the national regional database. We do that because our two stations together are both aimed at the same demographic. We buy them just so that we can prove an audience.
A growth rating point never walked into a business and bought anything, but what we’re talking about is audience delivery. To be honest with you, I think that some of the advertising agencies and certainly the national advertisers, which are strictly spots and dots oriented, would be doing their clientele a favor if they would pay a little more attention to the environment their commercials run in.
Radio Ink: So if stations did this coast to coast, if radio got behind the shorter stop set, debt notwithstanding, what do you think that would do for radio’s image?
Jeff Ziesmann: I don’t see a downside to that. I think it would improve radio’s image with the prospects and the clients out there from an advertising point of view. I think it would improve radio’s image with its listeners because we would not be asking these people to sit through 10 minutes, 12 minutes an hour of commercials.
If we put more programming content in front of them and broke the advertising up into digestible manageable slices, I don’t see a downside to it. I think the audience would like it better. And I think the clients would benefit tremendously from it. I think that’s one thing that the industry needs right now: a better image with clients. Nothing speaks louder than a successful campaign for the medium that created the successful campaign.
Radio Ink: One of the things that intrigue me about Spotify or Pandora is that ads will be 15 seconds and then done. It’s shorter than :30s and :60s, but they’ll buy the whole hour and ads will pop up randomly. Do you think radio could go that way?
Jeff Ziesmann: Decades ago, when radio transitioned from network radios and dramas and comedies to disc jockey shows and music formats, they did a very similar thing to what you’re talking about. And if you go back and you listen to an air check from the 1950s, it’s not common to find doing one song, one commercial, one song, one commercial, one song, one commercial. I think that that turned out to be rather impractical and I think that’s why they got away from it.
I don’t know why Spotify does what they do. I think that some of it might have to do with the fact that they’re a digitally focused company. If you look at the nature of most digital advertising, it’s that very brief fleeting impression kind of stuff.
We have a station Facebook page for The Oasis and I was looking at the measurement metrics that Facebook provides and one of them is the number of three-second video views you got. Three-second video views! That’s truly a measured statistic. I’m thinking to myself, what can you really get done in three seconds? Maybe the name of the advertiser, that’s about it. I mean, there’s nothing in a unit that short that allows you to tell the story as to why someone should prefer a brand or a retail seller over another one. If you are a confirmed Chevrolet pickup driver, and I want to sell you a Ford F-150, I need more than three seconds to do that.
I just don’t think those 15-second things that you hear on Spotify are going to get that done. I’ve never heard of a unit that short that does that.
Radio Ink: But stations and groups are pushing that digital advertising. Do you think there’ll be a digital reckoning where these advertisers realize people are rushing through the pre-roll and push back?
Jeff Ziesmann: It’s presented as the best value, but it’s not. The Radio Advertising Bureau, for example, I think should be very hot and heavy into the sort of thing that you and I are discussing right now. I think the NAB should be there, just establishing the value of broadcast advertising. There are 15,000 radio stations in the United States. I think the biggest group is iHeart. They might own, you know, 400, 500 of them, but that’s still a small percentage of the total broadcast facilities out there. I think that by not banding together and by not doing these things that help the clients out, we’ve met the enemy and he is us.
Radio Ink: So how do we beat that enemy?
Jeff Ziesmann: I think that you have to ask yourself how are you evaluated. Ultimately, you’re evaluated on results and it doesn’t matter how large or how small the client is. If you’re Home Depot and you’re the largest user of radio in the country, which they are frequently, and they have an advertising agency and the advertising agency doesn’t pay any attention to the quality of the stations they’re buying, or they buy it wrong or whatever, eventually Home Depot will fire the advertising agency and go find somebody else. That new advertising agency may or may not use radio in the quantity that the previous one did. The bottom line is, the only way to preserve everybody’s job in that process is to get results for Home Depot. And the same thing is true if you’re talking about a little local hardware store. That guy needs results as well.
And it’s not just radio. If digital advertising does not generate results for clients, they will not stick with it. Proctor and Gamble here in Cincinnati has moved back to radio and television advertising over digital because, in their opinion, it wasn’t working. Any advertising medium that ceases to provide results for clients will not have that client as a repeat customer in the long term.
It’s just common sense to structure your radio station to carry the largest percentage of your audience through the commercial break and actually deliver those people to your client. I just can’t imagine any consumer sitting there glued to their radio listening to those 14 back-to-back commercials. I just can’t see it, and therefore I don’t do it. It’s really that simple.
Read our previous interviews in the series here and here.
I’m curious to know if clients who are new to radio find this to be enticing, or do they just expect to only have a couple units in addition to theirs in a stopset?
I think this would be very effective in staving off attrition. Regardless, Jeff, you’re obviously one of the good ones.
Jeff’s a pretty smart manager, and it’s obvious that his company has his back on this. The two stations involved aren’t “major” signals in their respective markets and they’re slaves to small shares. The AQH measurement seems to benefit the bigger stations (for some reason)..even those with massive stop sets. I know these two stations were, at one time, big players in Cincinnati -and their shares have shrunk-but with a little more research and development this could be a major player in its respective markets. Jeff has the right idea and if he can incorporate that with the “ratings” game he can really win.
One doesn’t have to have a degree in rocket science to realize that no one wants to sit through 14 units in a stop set.
Good point Dave. And yet, crickets from the corporate radio groups. Their agenda is debt servicing and executive compensation. They could care less about the station employees, let alone the listeners or the advertisers.
Voice tracking and assininely long commercial cluster breaks have for the corporate owned stations, destroyed their value to listeners and to advertisers.
The corporates are run top down, with lackeys for Audacy iHeart and Beasley at the regional “management ” level. None of them would ever dare to challenge corporate on the insanity of listener-repelling cluster commercial breaks.
This GM is an example of good management and thinking outside the box. I don’t hear many good radio station stories lately, but this is very good. Cudos to Jeff for being a leader. Hopefully other radio stations will see the success and follow his lead.