Why should successful stations should do research? Because research can help them stay successful. It can tell them whether their music mix is on target, whether their personalities are appealing, and if they have any vulnerabilities that a potential competitor could exploit.

Beyond these obvious benefits, though, is the “bigger picture”… Research can help managers better understand all of the reasons why their station is successful! Often, execs don’t fully grasp the reasons for their brand’s success, with potentially disastrous results.

New Coke is a prime example. It was Coca-Cola’s response to losing the “Pepsi Challenge” — a series of ads featuring consumers who preferred Pepsi in blind taste tests. Coke’s chemists developed a formula that could reverse the preference. After nearly 200,000 taste tests, Coca Cola’s Chairman announced New Coke in Spring of ’85, calling it “the surest move ever made.”

But consumers said “no” to New Coke”…

“Changing Coke is like God making the grass purple or putting toes on our ears or teeth on our knees.”

“Like spitting on the flag.”

“Next week, they’ll be chiseling Teddy Roosevelt off the side of Mount Rushmore.”

Coke management — fixated on winning taste tests — had ignored other research it had — research that suggested changing Coke would break an emotional bond with many of its consumers. Said Coke’s President: “We did not understand the deep emotions of so many of our customers for Coca-Cola.” What resulted was one of the biggest busts in business history.

Coke was more than carbonated, colored, sweetened water. And listeners’ emotional reactions to WBCS-FM’s switch to Jack back in June suggests that it was more than just its music, DJ talk and commercials…

“I came home and I turned the radio on and it was not there. I thought I was going to faint . . . I really am sick. Part of my family is gone.”

“It was a crushing blow. I grew up on WCBS-FM, it was the station my parents listened to when I was a child and it was the station I listened to as an adult….It was the first pre-programmed station in every car radio, in every car, my family has owned. Now that is gone.”

“It’s the last thing New York needs.”

“Not all city radio stations feel like a part of the city,” said radio veteran Jonathan Schwartz. “WCBS-FM did.”

Infinity had logical reasons for making the change. Anyone involves with Oldies station knows that the format’s listeners are moving up and out of 25-54. Jack was an opportunity for WCBS-FM to adopt a younger, newer version of Oldies.

And format changes often bring protests. Many times, we encourage the controversy as a way to promote the new format!

But so far, the results for WCBS-FM are not positive. In the latest Arbitrend, the station’s 12+ share was 1.7…half of what it was prior to the change. Younger demos won’t compensate for that big of a decline.

I wonder if Infinity entirely grasped that WCBS-FM was more than an Oldies station, any more than Coke execs realized that their brand was way more than a soft drink.