BWhat Is Adult Contemporary

-Mike McVay

Adult Contemporary, in its truest form, is what its name says. It is contemporary music for adults. That generally means that the stations Recurrents are already gold on a Top-40/Pop Contemporary station and its Currents are the Recurrents from Top-40/Pop Contemporary. The cycle of success for AC is often dependent upon other formats. Meaning, when Top-40 is in an Urban leaning cycle, Hot AC and AC perform better in the ratings as there is a slice of the audience that does not like Urban leaning music. 


The greatest difference in the flavors of Mainstream AC can be found in the Gold library. How far back do you go? Meaning are you playing Top-40 hits from the 80s, 90s, early 2000s? The gold is generally from the Top-40 Gold category. That is all of the gold was once played on Top-40. Most of the successful AC’s in North America focus on music from 2000-2018 with a couple 90s. Some play a song or two per/hour from the 80s. Those would be the late 1980s songs that sound like they belong in the 90s. My ideal hourly clock on a Mainstream AC is to categorize the music with 1 song from the late 80s, 1 Power 90 and 1 Regular 90, 1 Power Early 00s, 1 Regularly Early 00s, 2 Power Late 00s, 2 Regular Late 00s.  Add to that 1 Recurrent, 1 Power Current and 1 Regular Current.  That gives you a 12-song hour.


Soft AC plays more older gold. A significant amount of the gold comes from the AC format when that format had exclusive artists, mixed with former Top-40 Hits. Meaning Seals & Crofts, Michael Bolton, John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand. One will hear songs that were once big hits in a time when AM stations played music, that have been lost in recent years, which gives the format an image of variety. Simon & Garfunkel, Debbie Boone, Amy Grant, Pure Prairie League, Huey Lewis, Rod Stewart, James Taylor and Carly Simon. The strength of the song and the texture/tempo of the song have a lot to do with the rotation the song receives. Most of these stations play no currents, except for the occasional soft hit like Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s song from A Star is Born.


There have been several AC Programmers that have approached me about creating a Soft & Contemporary format. That would be akin to the burgeoning theory that Soft AC can be newer and softer. This format, as described to me, could be this generations “Relaxing” format. It takes the place of yesterday’s Smooth Jazz (NAC) or yesterday’s Easy Listening (Beautiful Music) format. The necessity would be that the music be familiar, tempo based, almost Triple A in delivery, and have as little clutter as possible. That means a low commercial load. No contests. Very few promotional messages. Air talent that sound like real people and avoid “Silly DJ Games.” I believe that there is an opportunity in this arena, but it will require significant marketing to break through the noise that exists today. Longtime AC and Country Programmer Sue Wilson, a former McVay Media consultant, has crafted such a format. It is worthy of consideration.

Better Story Telling: How to Make It Strong and Direct

-Mike McVay

Storytelling is the key to communication in media. Be it on-the-air, on a podcast, during a newscast, a sportscast, a You Tube Video, from the stage during your musical performance … whatever and where ever.

I am excited to share this link with you as it was shared with me. Mike Birbiglia shares how and why he tells stories and how to do it in a strong and direct fashion. Find the full article HERE. This comes from



The Commonalities of Great Morning Shows and Great Morning Talent

- Mike McVay

Coaching Talent; A message to Program Directors

  • Coaching talent properly can make a big and immediate difference. Focus on the forest and not the trees. When a PD is too far into basics and bits/features, the talent feels as if they’ve lost control of the shows content, and they stop being genuine and become contrived or manufactured.
  • The show has to be about more than the basics. The basics are important, but no one listens for the basics. They listen to be entertained and to be put into a good mood. They want to start their day feeling alive and energized. Audio adrenaline.
  • Focus on the content of the show. Is it fun, funny, interesting, emotion evoking and targeted properly to the station’s specific audience? What about the delivery?
  • Listen to the talent. Make them a priority when you meet with them. Don’t be checking texts and interrupting the meeting with calls. I repeat … Listen to them. I’ve sat in meetings, heard a morning talent tell me what type of show they feel they do best, and the PD then suggested something that was 180-degrees away from what the morning talent believes to be best. If a 180-degree change is needed, then you address the need for a change, but don’t offer a content suggestion that’s contrary to the talent’s personality.
  • When I start to coach a show, or specific talent, I begin by understanding who they are, who the audience is, what the objective is for the station and who is the competition. I never focus on the basics in the first few sessions. It’s like coaching a baseball pitcher. If they can throw fast, you work on that, then later you teach them control.
  • Most PD’s don’t coach the talent. They fail to have regular meetings whereby they offer constructive criticism and suggestions upon which to build the programs content.
  • Too many PD’s focus on the wrong thing and deliver criticism that focuses on basics or suggest bits/features that are not befitting the talent. If all you do is define the parameters of a show with negatives, it will be easier for the talent to do nothing, than risk getting into trouble for trying something new.
  • The best morning shows are fun, funny, connected to the community, have a strong link to the listeners lifestyle, thinks like the audience thinks, is continually doing show prep and is anchored by an intelligent person. I’ve never seen a successful morning show that wasn’t anchored by someone smart.
  • The best on-air personalities can be difficult to coach. They can be difficult to keep focused. Some have issues that go far beyond anything ion your scope of expertise. However, the very best air talent are intelligent, committed to excellence, have a strong work ethic, a keen sense of right versus wrong when it comes to their audience and they often hear a “party” in their head that no one else was invited to attend. Great and successful air-talent are involved in their community. They are everywhere and they are seen everywhere.
  • Always remember this; don’t fix what isn’t broken. Evolve and grow the product before decline, but don’t make dramatic changes without being prepared to run the risk of losing audience. I can put up with a lot of “stuff” to be number one.
  • Apply the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Commonalities of Great Morning Shows and Great Morning Talent

By - Mike McVay

• The anchor or co-hosts are intelligent, topical, understanding of their audience’s lifestyle and connected to the community in which they broadcast.

• The best performing morning shows are fun, funny, positive and encouraging and overall entertaining. The shows are fast paced and provide audio adrenaline to the audience.

• Great talent stand for “something” and they’re true to that “something.” Think of the scene from Bull Durham when Kevin Costner’s character explains what he believes to Susan Sarandon’s character. What’s the purpose of your show.

• They are continually doing show prep. Everything that they see and/or hear comes back to an evaluation of “Does this fit with what we do on the air and should we do it?”

• They see the forest over the trees. Meaning that they aren’t so close to forest that all they see are the trees. They understand that the basics and formatic’s are important to getting rating credit, but they don’t focus on that at the expense of the shows content.

• The show is MAPPED. There are buckets which the talent drops into them the content of the show. These buckets contain Hot Topics and Cold Topics. Hot Topics are perishable. Cold Topics are non-perishable. Hot has to be used today or its old news. Cold can be used anytime today or in the future.

• They use various Camera views - change the view on regularly mentioned items. Example; anything that will be repeated throughout a show is presented differently each time.

• They use Topic Pulse for Topics (What’s Trending) or other social media tracking programs to be able to follow what your local community is talking about on this specific day.

• It’s OKAY to be political and be controversial WHEN it touches a high interest topic. The big shows never take a side, unless the show is on a Talk Station that has a particular bent or lean.

• FUN is the reason for the audience to tune-in daily.

When They Say "Winners Win!"

By - Mike McVay

Jimmy Fallon hosting The Tonight Show on a Sunday night. Following Sunday Night Football.


Do you think Fallon grumbled because he had to work on a Sunday night or if he thought “how do I take advantage of the huge audience that will be watching TV on Sunday Night Football?” 


This is what people mean when they say Winners Win!

How Do You Pysche Out the Competition?

By - Mike McVay

On a recent weekend, a friend and I went to an Atlanta Braves baseball game during their Braves Alumni weekend. We met several former players and spent some time talking to them.

One player that we spoke to was Ryan Klesko … a legendary Braves player who in his late-40s looks like he could still play. Ryan shared that his WALK-UP SONG (the song played as a player walks to the plate to bat) was “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood. He said that it psyched him up, but it also psyched up the pitcher.

He wanted the pitcher to be full of adrenalin so that the pitcher would shake off whatever pitch the catcher wanted him to throw. He knew that the song would make the pitcher want to throw a fast ball. Thus, he’d be prepared for a Fast Ball in the strike zone and look for that pitch to hit.

Think about it. He was “Counter Programming” the pitcher.

How do you counter program?

How do you psyche out your competition?

Are you focused more on your station than the competition?

It’s a lost art whereby we, as PD’s, pay attention to what the competition are doing and then work to outsmart them.

So many PD’s that I speak to feel that if they work to make their station as good as it can be, they’ll win. That’s not necessarily true. You need to be that focused on your station, but you also need to know what the competition is doing, and block or counter-program against the station.

Psyche them out.

Study: Stop-Set Conundrum Solved

By - Mike McVay

Programmers have debated where to place stop-sets and how to divvy commercials up in the hour for years. A recent study appears to have finally uncovered the magic formula for minimizing tune-out. The findings may convince some stations to cut spot-loads.

Easily the most-dense, highly nuanced of the half-dozen studies presented at regularly scheduled Nielsen Ratings annual Fly-Ins, “The Impact of Commercials on Station Performance” came to a simple yet pragmatic conclusion: two stop-sets an hour, each straddled across adjacent quarter hours, appear to maximize AQH performance. To reach that elusive answer, Nielsen Ratings VP of customer enhancements John Snyder correlated October PPM data from the top 15 stations in the top 10 markets with stop-set placement and commercial counts.

“Every time a station breaks, some part of the audience bolts,” Snyder said. “The more opportunities you give them to bolt, the more missed quarter hours you’re going to have.” (Five minutes of listening are required for Nielsen Ratings to credit a station with a quarter hour).

The study found a correlation between AQH Differential — or temporary listener bounce caused by
commercials — and missed quarter hours. Although evenly spreading out spots appears to reduce
bounce, more breaks turn listeners away, Snyder said. Placing commercial breaks at the top and bottom of the hour (or at the 15 and 45 minute marks) would minimize bounce and reduce missed quarter hours.

The average station could increase its AQH performance by 35% by getting credit for all the quarter hours in which listeners heard the station, Snyder said.

“Don’t assume that commercial time can be increased without impacting AQH,” Snyder said, adding that he hopes the study leads broadcasters to reduce spot-loads, making radio a more pleasurable medium, thus driving up ratings and demand for spot inventory. The average station in the study places just 9.5% of the hour’s spots in the first quarter, 31% in the second, 23% in the third and 36% in the fourth.

Country, regional Mexican and urban AC run the most commercial minutes per hour among music
formats. There doesn’t appear to be an AQH difference between stations that run higher levels of units vs. higher level of minutes, the study concludes.



The Steps to Winning Programming

By – Mike McVay

To program a great radio station, you must have many different components working together harmoniously. The following are the components that I most strongly believe in. I believe in this formula, given my 40 years of consulting and my most recent experiences working inside a major broadcast company


MUSIC: I feel as though music is the most important part of a music driven radio station. Music selected for the station should be a group decision among the program director, music director, and the VP/Format. Your market’s VPPO should be involved with you (the PD) in setting the stations music direction and essence. It should be a collaborative decision. Your music choices should be based upon local callout (if you have it), the National Research and chart from your VP/Formats, M-Score, Airplay Intel, tracking on-line exposure and trends as well as using BDS for the monitoring of stations similar to the dynamics of your station.  All of our stations have BDS accessible to them. Music should be on-point and should be scheduled so that each quarter hour is representative of the format.


ON-AIR PERSONALITIES: Developing an emotional connection between your on-air personalities and listeners (without increasing the amount of talk) is an effective way of ingraining the station’s brand into the listener’s memory.  On-air personalities need to be disciplined hosts who are providing relatable content to the target audience while keeping the music moving. The more real you are, the better connection you’ll have with your audience. You need to have personalities that the listener can identify with or be greatly entertained by when they listen.


PROMOTIONS: Promotions are one of the most important parts of station awareness. A station needs to be highly visible around town in order to be as successful as possible. When it is time for listeners to fill out their Nielsen diary, they won’t go to the radio and see what station is on, they will recall it from memory. If you’re a PPM market, then you want to develop contests and content that create repeat tune-in. This is why I feel it is so important to always be on the streets, being seen and talked about is what keeps a good radio station on peoples’ minds.  You will need more than on-air promotions, though, if you plan to grow your cume. You will want need marketing to do that. That means on-line marketing via website ads, social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as the more traditional platform of transit and billboards. I’m not a big fan of TV for marketing as it isn’t cost effective. If you can advertise on Cable or Digital TV platforms, then maybe, but as far as local TV … news is the only thing worth investing in and that’s best for marketing spoken word stations


COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Getting a station with organizations like St. Jude Children’s Hospital or Children’s Miracle Network, Salvation Army, local food banks, and Toys for Tots are great ways to tug at the emotions of listeners, and it makes the on-air personalities “human” and clearly local. A station who takes every opportunity to celebrate the community in which they live in will accomplish much more than a station that is syndicated or voiced tracked.  If you are using syndicated programming, network programming or are voice-tracked, then work hard to be local sounding and really focus on what is important to your market. Do NOT “flip the switch and walk away.” These simple things don’t take up much airtime, they sound great on the air, and most of the time lead to free local press coverage. 


LISTENERS AND THE ADVERTISERS: If you keep harmony with both, then the reward is increased share and increased revenue. When your station is on the air, it should be the one that listeners and advertisers say is their radio station. This is because it not only satisfies their radio listening needs, but also properly reflects the community.


A program director needs to know the strengths and weaknesses of every one of their staff members and use them accordingly. The program director must see to it that the air staff has the coaching and direction it needs to be the best in town. By working with and knowing the goals, personalities and skills of each on-air personality, she/he will send the message that you not only care about the product but most importantly that you care about the individuals’ careers. 


Maybe the biggest most important thing for a Program Director is to keep it fun!  Without fun, morale slips and on-air personalities move on. If you’re having fun, it is reflected on the air. Never forget … a radio stations “personality” is that of the Program Director.