In today’s radio, “Stationality” – Station Personality – has become increasingly important. By Stationality, we don’t mean the personalities on the station (though they most definitely can contribute to it)…we mean a station’s overall style, feel and attitude. 

Stationality is important because subtle differences in music mix or presentation alone are no longer enough to win a tough format battle. With multiple stations  playing the same music, Stationality can make the difference between winning and lagging.

And it’s not just radio competitors we need to worry about! With satellite radio, pure-play streamers, podcasts, etc. all vying for listeners, you need more than the right music…your station needs to bond with its core listeners on a personal, emotional level.

This might not sound like a “research guy” talking. After all, we pinpoint those subtle programming differences and research the music!

Yet Stationality is itself researchable. Just as research can study specific programming elements like music, personality talk and features, it can probe Stationality as well.

Let’s look at two approaches to researching Stationality — qualitative (using focus groups) and quantitative (survey research)…

In focus groups, we explore Stationality using a projective focus technique – where we literally ask panelists to imagine how they perceive a station as a person

Sound crazy? Well, in the hands of a talented moderator (uh, yeah, me), it works…

For example, in one series of four groups, a personality-oriented Hot A/C came across as a preppy married sociable suburban type who drove an upscale SUV! The consistency across all groups was amazing.

In another set of groups, our Country client’s P1’s saw it as a late-20s white collar woman with a Japanese car… in three of the four groups, a Honda!

A consistent personality doesn’t always emerge, of course! Sometimes, focus group panelists can’t agree on an image. That reveals a station with confused Stationality or no Stationality at all.

When multiple groups come up with the same vision of a station “as a person,” it’s hard to argue with. But in general, focus groups are best used for exploration, rather than drawing hard conclusions. So we may follow up with survey research…

In survey research, we probe Stationality by having respondents assess key stations and their ideal station on a variety of personality scales.

For example, we probed how a Classic Rock station’s P1’s perceived it on a number of personality dimensions, among them, relaxed vs. excited, predictable vs. spontaneous, and – as shown below – feminine vs. masculine:






We learned that its P1’s did want a station that’s on the masculine side (in light blue), but the station (in dark blue) was perceived as too macho. It replaced its station voice with one warmer and less intimidating, and improved its female numbers while maintaining its male core.

Another scenario involved a CHR station that we found leaned too far to the conservative side. Its P1’s found it (in green) significantly more predictable and safe, less exciting, spontaneous, and edgy than ideal (in blue):









As a result, it switched to an edgier production voice, added “attitude” sweepers and gave its morning team more freedom. Musically, it added an “oh wow” category of infrequently-played non-currents to add an element of surprise and unpredictability. It gained not only among its younger demos but older ones as well (because listeners – whatever age – seek energy from CHR). 

These are just two examples of how stations can improve their performance by going beyond the basics of programming to focus on Stationality.

Of course, music remains the biggest factor in most stations’ success. And music certainly affects Stationality in itself. For example, a Soft A/C shouldn’t be exciting (and couldn’t be even if it wanted to).

But there’s so much more. Personalities, production elements, promotions, community involvement and stations’ own advertising can enhance their Stationality.

Most often (unfortunately), stations focus only on the basics – format, music mix, presentation, etc. Yes, those aspects have to be right! The problem is that so few stations strive to go beyond those basics to cultivate an appealing Stationality.

And if stations are to succeed in today’s crazy-competitive environment, they’re going to have to be more than the music they play! Understanding, researching and crafting their Stationality is key to that effort.