Research observations on music formats, talk radio and podcasting from Warren Kurtzman of Coleman Insights

Why is the hip hip format on the rise in America at the moment?

What is the best way to build a successful talk format?

How long is the right length for a podcast?

Coleman Insights’ President Warren Kurtzman was in Australia this week and radioinfo’s Steve Ahern caught up with him to get answers to these and other questions. Listen to the whole chat in the podcast at the bottom of this page.

Through its work with hundreds of radio stations in more than a dozen countries, Coleman Insights delivers information to help build and strengthen media brands.

American Radio Formats

Country is the most popular media format in America.

Hip Hop Urban formats are strong at the moment while CHR formats are a little down. Talk and Sport formats are strengthening.

CHR and Hip Hop formats

What’s driving this is a little difficult to ascertain… we go through these periods with pop music where the middle of the road pop isn’t performing as well then we start to see the edges strengthening, Rhythmic Urban on one side and Rock and Alternative Rock on the other. This is a cycle that we have seen before… Shares of top 40 stations are down from their peak of a couple of years ago.

Streaming Music

Consumers no longer feel they have to own their music, streaming services mean we can rent it… If radio stations are only a juke box they will be challenged by music streaming services if all they do is deliver what can be delivered by a streaming platform. We have always advocated multidimensionality in the brand. Music is important but so are personalities, specialty programming, contenting events, it supports my local community. These are even more important now because consumers can get any type of music they want now.

Talk formats

The biggest trend in spoken word formats in the States is the migration of spoken word formats from the AM to the FM dial. Sports stations particularly. There will be more and more spoken word on the FM dial in future.

Triple M in Australia is an example of this in Australia, and Macquarie Sports new format also shows the growth of sports formats in Australia. It will take a lot of work for Macquarie Sports Radio to establish in consumers minds the idea that they are the sports radio station.

Polarised talk formats

What’s interesting is that for pure talk programming we have seen a larger appetite for that type of content on the right of politics. There are consumers of left political views, but that tends to be public radio or community radio. The audience for left leaning content tends to consume it from NPR while those on the right tend to consume their content from commercial talkback radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. NPR’s position is more centre and left.

If stations are seen as being the middle they tend not to be as successful because the audience does nto have a clear impression of what they are about. There is a notable exception in the San Francisco station KGF, which was centerist and it managed to achieve that balance and be successful.

There is one other trend that is interesting. Some stations are doing very specialist talk such as stations focused on women or pop culture.

Talkback callers

There are many more ways to talk back to radio now, not just phone callers any more but texting and social media interaction. We’re seeing the incorporation of all these other ways of interacting with listeners. Is that not as good as hearing the anger of the tears in the emotion of the caller, have we lost some of the emotion? Yes, if listener interaction is a big part of the format you still need to work hard to get callers, but for other formats the host has always brought in information themselves, via a monologue… if they have a good producer the host can still bring in the funny or instructive comments and you can make it compelling.

Public Radio

One of the biggest things holding back public radio is a lack of awareness… it is a marketing challenge for those stations. They obsess over the content and their product, nothing wrong with that but once you get as good as you can be you are not going to be able to grow your audience further without putting effort into marketing that content.

People don’t have these stations on the top of their minds… if stations promoted themselves the right way they could grow their audience share. They would have bigger cumes if they were on the perceptual radar more.

Podcasting trends

Podcasting is one of those technologies that is going to reach a tipping point soon, but there is still a lot of confusion with audiences. We still have a long way to go before half the American audience is listening to podcasts. There are no big brands in podcasting… The Serial podcast was the big hit, but 4 out of 5 Americans didn’t know about it, we in the media think Serial is a big deal but the vast majority of Americans have never heard of it. Until there is a big brand we will not see the growth that everybody expects.

We have tested second by second podcast listening.. when people come to a podcast they have certain expectations of what they will hear, if the definition is narrow they have to go outside the main point of the podcast, but when they do that they have to deliver very high content because we are going beyond what the listeners expect. If I have a footy podcast and it is targeted at middle aged males, if you go beyond football then it better be good a relevant to the those men listening because they will not be forgiving if the content is irrelevant to them… it better be great content or the audience will turn away.

How long is the right length for a podcast? Everyone is looking for that number but I don’t believe it exists. If it is educational it needs to be longer but if it is a quick bit of information it needs to be shorter. You have to know what the audience wants, who they are then determine the appropriate length…. for a long as the content remains compelling.


Everyone things that people turn off when the commercials are on but the reality we found is that this does not happen. Within the first minute the audience is still 93% of what it was the minute before the commercial started…

Sometimes radio gets short shift because advertisers think people turn off when the ads come on, but this is not true. Radio advertising is effective, people do stay through the ad breaks. Commercial breaks are not nearly as detrimental to audience listening levels as some people perceive… Position in the break is also not as significant as some people think.

The US Radio Industry

Is it still in decline? We are at a turning point. There is no denying the last decade has been challenging with consolidation and high debt… and it happened just prior to the economic crisis and the rise of digital platforms, so investing in content and people had to sit int he back seat while people addressed their financial problems. Three networks went into bankruptcy but they are coming out of it and will emerge with stronger financials than before.

Kurtzman was in Australia talking to networks about what Coleman Insights can offer companies in Australia.

Contacts: [email protected], website contact.

Listen to the 35 minute podcast below in full or skip to your topics of interest using the chapter markers.


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