Theory of Controlled Unpredictability (Re-Sent)

Theory of Controlled Unpredictability (Re-Sent)

Post by Mark Robert » Sat, 12 Feb 1994 10:31:26

The following re-sent because no autoreply received the first time and
because the other one I sent *did* make it to the newsgroup.....
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    Stuck home with a sinus infection for two days in cold, snowy weather,
I listened to a lot of KLZR, the modern rock station from Lawrence,
Kansas.
    And found I was totally bored with a format I really do like.
    Part of the problem is the station's presentation, which is kind of a
throwback to the "Mister FM" days of the 70s, best satirized by a Saturday
Night Live sketch in which Dan Ackroyd satirized radio style by
simultaneously playing a hyper AM DJ and a mellow FM announcer.
    But part of the problem is another one of those entries in the What
Else Ails Radio department.
    I have a theory, maybe accentuated by all the prescriptions I am
taking at the moment, called the "Theory of Controlled Unpredictability."
What KLZR plays is utterly predictable:  what you would find in the
"Alternative" or "Modern" (non-import!) section of your local
mass-oriented CD store.
    And it's all guitar-based stuff, quite a bit of grunge.  Nothing with
a beat.  Heaven forbid we should hear a synthesizer-based piece of music
on KLZR.
    I think for a station to attract listeners -- and *keep* them -- it
should be consistent yet offer up a surprise every once in a while.  In
other words, it should do things that are juuuuuust outside the boundaries
of its format.
    Talk radio stations inherently have this quality.  You know people are
going to be calling in and talking about *something* -- but you never know
*what* they're going to be talking about, or how vehement they'll be, or
how colorfully they'll state their opinions.
    I think that may be why talk radio is increasingly popular.  You never
know quite what you're going to hear, but what *is* predictable is that
you will hear a host and/or guests and/or callers talk about some issue.
    Music radio stations emphasize consistency, but I've heard a few use
the Theory of Controlled Unprectability to their advantage.
    The old KXXR in Kansas City, one of the pioneer Rock 40 stations at
106.5, stuck pretty much with a standard AOR playlist later on before it
went CHR.  Except for listener requests.  How else does one explain a
station that would break format to play Frankie Goes to Hollywood?  At 4
pm?  On a weekday?
    KITS in San Francisco *most* of the time sticks with a standard
modern-rock playlist.  But it will play new music, and imports, and dance
mixes.  In some cases, such as the "Screamer of the Week," you're alerted
ahead of time that something different is coming up.
    Both KITS and KXXR have had air personalities who were just slightly
off the wall.  You never knew quite what they were going to say next.
    I think program directors overemphasize consistency at the expense of
a little controlled unpredictability.  Their stations are lifeless and
promote passive listening and deliver at best an indifferent audience to
their advertisers as a result.
    Consistency and knowing what to expect *most* of the time is
important; also important is to keep the listener sharp and alert so he or
she will be listening when it comes time to peddle the advertisers' goods.
    I now return to my regular sneeze, already in progress . . . .

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