What Your Radio Knows About You

Talking “vibes” with media specialist Marc Kaplan

Posted Jun 05, 2017

Source: Shutterstock

One day not so long ago, I was flipping through channels on my car radio—you know, looking for that perfect tune to hit the spot.  I wound up stopping at an old piece by the John Denver—Leaving on a Jet Plane.  I caught the whole thing and interestingly enjoyed experiencing every minute.  I was a little surprised because Denver was never one of those musicians I’d liked much, at least not back in the day.  It was funny.  I started out liking him—very short term—then stopped liking for the long term, and here I was apparently liking again.

Why do so many of us have songs and musical artists that we at one time in our lives thought we would never include on a personal playlist, or even more interestingly, maybe just wouldn’t admit to liking—and then as the years go on enjoy. This change in “vibes” interested me and led to a series of discussions with media specialist Marc Kaplan. 

“I am embarrassed to say when I first heard Jimi Hendrix,” recalled Kaplan, “I thought he was fine.  It wasn't until many years later that his music and talent finally smacked me in the face, and I realized that he was nothing short of amazing.”

Kaplan is currently with WVCR Radio in Loudonville, New York where he is an air personality. He is no stranger to programming and audience analysis.  Marc has spent decades in the business. He loves talking music. And I have been working with music (and natural environmental sound) as potential physiological and psychological wellness agents for years.

Interesting story: “The song I especially remember my mother requesting when I was on the air, “Kaplan recollects, “was I Just Called to Say I Love You by Stevie Wonder.  I used that song as part of my eulogy at my mother's funeral.  It was a special moment.”

He continued, “My wife and I used a line from the Brad Paisley song Today as we went up to light a ceremonial candle in my daughter's honor at her Bat Mitzvah.  The line we had the DJ play was, “And the memory of a day like today will get you through the rest of your life.”  The words and thoughts were perfect and really touched me.”

This brought to mind music’s influence within the body-mind connection.  On a personal note, my own work on music and natural sound has centered in particular on the capabilities of influencing, and in some cases rebuilding, activities of both body and mind—e.g. with regards to better alertness, calm, and strength, as well as improvement of memory and stabilizing emotions.   

Music Can Be Good Medicine

One of the reasons music can extend such influence into the body-mind connection is because the same processes that the brain uses to coordinate activities and carry out its functions are also core features of music.  In many ways, this remarkable elixir we dose out of our car radio, cell phone, and other electronic devices can make complementary and stand-alone contributions to many health goals and a general feeling of everyday wellness. 

Part of the beauty of using music this way is that nearly everyone already has an intuitive sense of its contributions to our overall pleasure in life.  So why use a more academic/medicinal approach?  Because with just a little science you can ramp up music’s natural effects and learn how to make them last longer.  You can self-regulate desired effects in situationally specific activities, and ultimately condition your body and mind to trigger them automatically.  

Anyone can learn to use their favorite tunes this way.  You just need to get familiar with a few “tricks.”  For a metaphor, if music were a pharmaceutical you’d be learning how it works, and how and when to increase/decrease the dosages.  You’d learn what you can do to increase efficacy.  One basic difference between the two, however, is that your mind, once trained with healthy and deliberate “frequencies,” can eventually go to your target mindset all on its own and naturally. Effects can be long-lasting, some permanent.  It’s worth a try.

But there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to using music this way.  It’s really up to what songs (or natural sounds) work for you.  What’s important is that you like them—the more the better.  And the more tricks you know about how to organize songs into a package that will influence your body’s electro-chemical activity the better.  This makes a radio station’s job a little touchy.  Enter Marc Kaplan.

What Radio Knows About You

Kaplan says that, “WVCR, for example, “targets people starting in their 30s.”  The station touts a motto of “We play anything.” I’ll second that; their net is pretty much that wide. 

To clarify, when I asked him what they mean by anything, he cited songs going back to the 70s mixed in with rock, country and pop and even ethnic songs and specific cultural shows they air.  One such show that comes to my mind is a Sunday show on WVCR that plays a steady stream of Irish tunes. 

I turned our discussion to how radio stations in general might intentionally target audiences.  He cited considerations like age, gender and economics as criteria for determining playlists—at WVCR and other stations.  “Some stations,” he throws in, “want high incomes—e.g. a business station may target ad sales toward banks, insurance agencies, for certain cars etc.” 

WVCR is owned by Siena College but is also carried by iHeart Radio.  The station’s desire is to attempt to eliminate human borders and include music appealing to a wide range of cultures and lifestyles. So they plan diversity. 

“Whereas a talk show,” says Kaplan, "has to be consistent to some extent [just consider some], a station like WVCR can have a much broader net.”

For music shows, the net is the playlist. 

Your musical tastes may seem to you like a solo fish in the ocean of fish, but Kaplan thinks stations can build a net sophisticated enough to find you, bait you and pull you in.  He explains that some stations “highly research their audiences using focus groups.” What can that get you?  They can find out things like, “a certain song does well at a certain time of day.”  They use info like that to draw their listeners to them, the “if you build it, they will come” approach, says Kaplan.

Consider this: If you personally find certain pieces of music able to work better for you at particular times of day; it’s true.  Music has the same effect in our personal playlists.  You can benefit by becoming more sensitive to how to mix tunes and timeframes with goals, starting with songs you like and think will be a fit and then spreading your wings from there.

“Years ago,” Kaplan recalled, “I worked for a person in a major radio station and this person had a thought that Whitney Houston had a high burnout factor so the person who managed the station had people take her songs off after a short time—yet his idea was based on nothing.  Then it [the song] would come back as an oldie.”

“Then there were things like this:  I used to be program director for a certain station.  The person who ran the station didn’t like the song, Joy to the World, and he wouldn’t let us play the song just because he didn’t like it.  But these days with large companies like iHeart those kinds of things don’t happen.”   The reason is research—which is now important to a station’s survival.  The kinds of things Kaplan describes from years back won’t happen with regularity and radio stations can as a result better connect with their listeners. 

So you have to build your net with care.  But then there’s this:  What people say they like is not always what they really like.  You can see this concept play out in many other areas of life too besides music—e.g. politics, business, socializing, and art.  All seem affected by a discrepancy of what we say and what we actually “feel.”  I remember some tests done on focus groups (which BTW were reported across top national media) way back during the Democratic Primary, in early 2007—the point to which was people said they liked one candidate, but tests showed they were liking the other more.  The big question was which lever would they ultimately pull in the voting booth? 

Along the same idea, according to Kaplan, certain songs and artists have a “hidden audience.” Interesting term, I thought, well for music.   Asked to name a few so that we could get the idea, the first artist he cited was Barry Manilow.  Kaplan explains, “There’s kind of an underground fan of his.  Even if you do focus groups, a lot of people will say they don’t like Barry Manilow.  If you program him on the radio, though, a lot of people will listen.” 

Todd Rundgren also has a hidden audience appeal.  He has bubble gummy songs, main line pop songs, and edgy songs.  “Rundgren could be edgy,” explained Kaplan.  “But then take his song, We Gotta Get You a Woman, that was more bubble-gummy—totally unlike Rundgren really.  But you just have to know how to tap that.  Kind of like a silly song, but it’s Todd Rundgren,” he emphasizes, “whose an amazingly sensitive and talented person.”

That brought the Dead’s Touch of Gray to mind.  Kind of like that? I threw in.

“Yeah, yeah,” he replied.  Then there’s Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs.  Some people think that he is way too soft anyway.  “I think that a lot of these artists—not that their selling out—but instead they’re having fun with it.  They put out this song that some record executive might say give it a try; it may sell.”

Kaplan explained, “A lot of programming is counter programming. If you know that another radio station is playing a lot of country music, you’d want to stay away from that and angle toward something else unless you have a specific reason.  [So if somebody] is playing a lot of traditional country, you might play modern and no traditional—so same format but a different angle.”

“In the Albany, New York market, for example,” Kaplan cited, “there was a station that was a well established soft rock station and another came along to take them on.  There are certain core artists in any format.  This station played a lot more of the core artists and said they did—played a lot more of Billy Joel, for example, than other stations and basically using that [formula] they blew the other station away by playing a lot more of the core artists than the other station.  The core artists are the artists the audience really loved.” 

People say they want something new, but … most people like some familiarity in music and other areas of their daily lives too.  Playlists can challenge just how new and different people really want to be.  “As much as people say they like to hear new music, most of the popular stations mix in the familiar.  Even the majority needs to be familiar,” says Kaplan.

Music Can Be Your Personal Discovery Channel

In many ways, these changes between how we related to a certain piece of music in our past—and now—can provide positive self discovery. We can use our playlists to map personal history and personal evolution.  We can use songs to look deeper into our past and perhaps more accurately discover who we were then, as well as who we said we were.  We can see what energies and themes drove us at a given point in time and how they presented themselves in our lives. We can measure how we have changed, how much, why, where we evolved—and where we’d like to evolve more.  We can mindfully identify what is deeply changing in us now, predict where we are headed, evaluate these changes and nurture those we find stimulating and satisfying.  We can find the consistent energetic thread(s) in our lives through words rhythms, tones, and imagery, tap and use their power again or reshape it and as a result reshape ourselves.  We can use music to live creatively, more strategically and consciously, refining our own personal soundtrack to the script of our lives. 

Next time you’re in your car and a tune comes on the radio you feel differently about today than you did back in the day, consider letting it soak in and taking some time with it later for an even closer look.   Enjoy.

Note:  If you wish to explore a wide variety of ideas on body-energy, you may like to check out my book, BODY INTELLIGENCE – Harness Your Body’s Energies for Your Best Life.