Radio Music Research

  Auditorium Music Testing 

Tests... in person and online. This is part of how stations select their music.

The most commonly employed method for finding out what songs to play on the radio is to conduct an Auditorium Music Test (AMT) where a precisely recruited group of listeners or potential listeners is assembled in a meeting room. 

With time, the traditional music test will be phased out to take advantage of new technology using computers and portable devices.

For examples of the kind of technology being developed for on-line and mobile testing, visit

Online Testing with the "Dial"

But for the most part, a "music test" means the kind of procedure that you see described here.   
Technology for better testing.  
Although there is advanced  technology that permits music testing to be done online, there are issues such as lack of supervision, misunderstanding of instructions, "ringers" and failure to complete the test that affect this alternative. This is the same problem Arbitron has met in trying to administer diary surveys via the web and for which reason radio surveys online are not done... yet.

Nonetheless, we expect interactive online and smartphone testing to become the standard in the near future as recruit and supervision controls are perfected.
Click  here or on the graphic to visit the website of the major provider of the dial technology to companies of all kinds, ranging from radio stations to MTV and Fox News
A real Music Test...  
As the listeners arrive, each is checked in outside the test room to make sure the people who were carefully recruited the weeks before the test are the ones who check in. The recruit process generally tries to create a sample that accurately represents the composition of the core audience of a station or a format. Recruiting techniques also try to mirror Arbitron recruit methods.  

Recruiting is generally done by professional research recruiters who specialize in accurately delivering the client's specification.

These same recruiting firms also provide respondents for major consumer goods manufacturers as well as to retailers and other companies interested in having precise consumer feedback. Such a firm is compensated based on the turnout of qualified respondents. The respondent may earn from $50 to over $100 for a session that lasts about 3 hours.

Here are  Tom Owens and Ricardo Maza-nares of Hispanic Broadcasting's in-house research division setting up for a music test.

While this example is an in-house research division, the identity of the station conducting the test is not revealed to the participants as doing so biases the results.

This photo shows the preparing of the computer gear which will accept listener input from the dials (you can see them on the table) and feed them to a laptop where each score is cross tabulated with the individual who registers it.

At the music test, listeners spend about two hours and they hear snippets, generally around 8 seconds in length, of songs that a station plays or might play. These small samples of songs have been time-proven to be adequate for listeners to identify and give an opinion on each song. 

In the dial-based environment, about 80% of respondents have scored a song within the first 5 seconds of a "hook." Playing any more of a song increases fatigue, and does not change scores at all.
Some research companies continue to successfully use "paper tests" where respondents mark their score on a test sheet.  These sheets are scanned and read automatically to produce the scores.  
A set of dials ready to be placed on the tables in preparation for the test. If the dials look a bit familiar, they are the same ones used by several of the news networks to do those on-air focus groups about elections, candidates and issues.

One of the objectives of a music test is finding out how much listeners want to hear a song "if it were played on the radio today." The dial is an easy way for listeners to express an opinion; up is good, down is bad.

This view shows the dial which takes individual participant input and feeds it to the computer via a two way transmitter, called a "console". 

Scores are always tied to the dial holder, so that data on thier age, gender and radio listening habits can be applied to the results.

As a test begins, respondents "dial in" their age, gender and answers to certain screener questions in response to the moderator's questions.

Almost ready for the participants enter the test room. Ismar Santacruz does a final check-up on the equipment, now ready for testing hundreds of songs as well as snippets of morning shows. Additionally, the dial is the perfect instrument for the recording of responses to perceptual questions about station images and features.  
Session moderator Manzanares does a pre-session check on the test gear and list of songs and questions for the participants.  It is important that the moderator of a test be personable and pleasant, as listening to 500 to 600 song clips can be tedious.

To negate any fatigue factor, each of the test sessions plays the song sets in a different order so the scores "average out."
Starting the test  
The listeners are guided into the test room. Groups that may have formed to chat prior to the test are broken up by a process of sending every other person to different sides of the room. This helps minimize distractions. Right after this step, everyone is asked to turn off their cellular phones!

The first thing checked at the beginning of a test is whether the respondents are within the specifications of the test based on things like station usage, amount of radio usage, etc.
This view is looking towards the front of the test room, where a screen will supplement the verbal instructions to the panel taking the test.  By providing both visiual and spoken instructions, the degree of understanding of each question is enhanced and it provides sensory variety for the participants.

Ricardo checks the microphone and starts the music test.  Groups are generally limited to about 60 people, which allows for a personal experience for the participant. Often, after a test is over, a station DJ will give out Tshirts or mugs and thank the participants for helping to create the best radio programming possible; this can be a pleasant surprise for participants since they don't know until then what station is doing the research. 

The advantage of the dial is that it works just like the volume control on any electronic device.... you "dial it up" if you like it and turn it down if you do not. The procedure is intuitive and easy.

Since the test is done with real-time computer processing, an EKG-like graph of listener reaction can be seen on a monitor in a separate room. Station staff can see the instant results for each song so they get a "feel" for the overall music styles. The graph on screen can show listeners by age, sex, station preference and many other criteria. 

Here is Recuerdo Network's (LA, San Francisco, Fresno, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and McAllen) Amalia Gonzalez observing a two-night, 1350 song test in 2009.

Tabulating the Results  
The test is over. Tom Owens and Ismar SantaCruz process the data the same evening, making it possible to present the results the next day to the station programming staff.

Since the raw data is collected electronically, it is possible to produce an almost-infinite variety of reports to suit the station's needs, with data columns based on age, gender, amount of listening, morning show usage, and even deeper analysis based on cluster/factor analysis .
  Once a test is completed, the reports that may be printed or viewable in special software are a guide to station programmers as to which songs to play and how often. 

A sample view of the results on a perceptual question looks like this. Different sorts by age and gender are possible.  
It's up to the station to determine the data that is most important to implement the test. Software permits viewing many, many columns of data, by age groupings, station preferences, and even with cluster analysis applied. This allows the consideration of many factors in programming, all at once, to insure that every hour is balanced for all subsets of the audience.  So the processing of the data provides as many different data views as may be needed.
Results are shown to the client station in a full list with scores for different groups like men, women, younger half, older half, heavy listeners, light ones, and cluster analysis derived groupings.

In this example, Green means "great", blue means "good", yellow means "marginal" and orange and red mean "bad" and "terrible."
As the client station looks deep in the list (This is an older CHR test) we see that scores get very low very fast and certain groups fall even lower on specific songs.

This is the classic explanation for why stations do not have longer playlists: listener consensus limits the total number of playable songs.
Electronic Testing  
  The first AMT's in the 70's were done with paper and pencil, much like a college admission test. Results were tabulated using scanners and delivered several days after the test.

The advantage of electronic testing is that the results are ready within a few hours of the test, and ready for the station staff to use to provide the music and programs the listeners just said they wanted! 

In fact, the results can be watched on-screen in real time to get a real feel for audience reaction and response.