Music Scheduling and the State of Radio

Computer-based music scheduling programs have been around for over 30 years. I know, because my first Program Director and I collaborated on a very rudimentary one for the Apple II back in the late '70s. Soon, there were quite a few commercially available systems available, including the venerable Selector.

Today, I was researching some new opportunities and I read an article on Jeff Pollack's site by Pat Welsh about stations moving from DOS versions of music scheduling systems to windows-based versions. This article was posted on December 23, 2008 Huh?
When you look at how many things have changed in radio over the past few years, it’s stunning to realize that one of the most important tasks, music scheduling, has changed so little. Many stations, especially in the U.S., still use legacy DOS-based programs (elsewhere around the world, especially in markets where music scheduling has only recently been introduced, stations are more likely to use Windows based systems).

But things have started to change in this area, too. Many stations have converted or are converting to new, Windows-based releases of various music scheduling systems. Besides the new interface and the ability to do things like changing the color scheme, doing copy and paste, customizing screens and other Windows type functions, under the hood there’s a lot more going on.

Of course, it's absolutely true. For various reasons, many (most?) established US stations have not upgraded their music scheduling tools to even 1990s' technology. I won't get into the reasons here, except to say that it's partly an unintended consequence of consolidation.

This has put established radio stations at a decided disadvantage over the years. It's a creeping problem; if you don't upgrade your software today, you save money today. However, you also suffer the consequences of an inferior product on the air. This is not immediately apparent, but over the years the problem becomes more and more audible to your listeners - if not to you. And - by the way - this isn't a case for "DOS" over "Windows" (I can't believe that I am writing that in 2009) as much as it is a case for providing the best, most effective tools for your team. As a radio software guy, I can tell you with no equivocation that relying on an old platform (even if it's updated frequently) for more than 7 years or so will cripple your ability to accomplish what is really possible with the tools at hand. This kind of inertia also creates a disincentive for your software provider to collaborate with you and their other customers to create new, cutting edge, improvements for your software. If you are not constantly pushing them to innovate by staying current with their their latest software update, the vendor will have little if no reason to provide a new version - especially when there is one extremely dominant provider.

What's the result? Well - stations cannot take advantage of the incredible power of current technology in providing music scheduling capabilities. For example, with today's technologies, I see a music scheduling product that takes into account "on the fly" research from social networking sites, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora and so on while providing a user interface that is based on User Centered Design principles rather than the baggage of the past.

And - why on earth does a music scheduling system need to be an application that is installed on your PC? This is the perfect application for a web-based, hosted solution that is built using a powerful back-end technology running on multiple redundant servers. Imagine if your music scheduling program had a feature as powerful as Amazon's recommendation engine - a feature that could take the input of tens of millions of listeners and provide guidance for scheduling your music? This isn't possible on a traditional "PC-based" platform, but would be absolutely possible on a using AJAX and LAMP in a web-based environment. Want off-line capability in case of an internet outage? No problem - technologies today allow offline use of web apps - check out Google Gears.

This same logic holds true for other software tools in your station, such as automation. Many stations are running on automation systems (reliably, I must say) from the last century while vendors have released systems that are ready for the challenges of the 21st. Yes, the music still gets played, but your station can sound so much better with a contemporary automation platform!

Check to see if your current vendor has a contemporary tool available to you. Ask hard questions about the platform, its compatibility with your current system and its future product roadmap. If they don't have a contemporary system or you aren't satisfied with their answers, then switch vendors!

Don't procrastinate on this - your new competitors are using the latest and greatest technologies to compete with you.

In order to compete in the media environment of the second decade of the 21st century, you needs the tools tomorrow. Get rid of your old, dusty programming software systems and invest in those that will bring you immediate benefit today.