The day the music died

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Ron Frizzel
Ron Frizzel

To singer-song writer, Don McLean, the music died the day Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens were killed in a plane crash. To your residents, their music died during the 1990s when radio stopped playing music they loved.

But in many assisted living and other seniors living organizations, music is coming back. Residents will say “that's when music was really music.” If you ask residents what they wanted most, however, playing their favorite music would never come up.  They miss it dearly, but accepted its absence years ago.

The easiest way is to place “the right music” on your closed circuit TV information channel if you have one. Or you can use mini-FM transmitters so residents hear your music and messages on the radio. You can turn that audio into your communities own great radio station!  If you have the music formula right, it is now well documented that residents will listen for long periods, and they will love you and recommend you for it.

Discovery Senior Living in Florida is a fast growing progressive company always looking for new and better ways to serve their residents.  Last year the executive director, Therese Williams in Venice, began to work with a former radio executive.  They picked up where radio left off. He also knew from experience that you can't just play a bunch of old songs, as that makes residents feel even older. That's the problem with attempting to use satellite radio, CD's, or a service such as Pandora. Research has shown that a softer balance of music from the 40s through the 80s, with a splash of today's current music, works best. The music needs to be balanced by year, tempo, and popularity to prevent listener fatigue. That's how successful radio stations handle it. 

What does this mix look like? Residents woke up to Glen Miller, Whitney Houston, Bing Crosby, Celine Dion, Sammy Kaye, Percy Faith, Patty Page, Nora Jones, Broadway show tunes, and more. There were also morning greetings from the staff. The results were absolutely amazing.  In the first weeks over a third of the residents thanked Williams. It was a spectacular breakthrough in resident entertainment.

Discovery and other communities quickly adopted this trend. Social activities directors report that residents listen for many hours, love it, and “talk about it all the time.” They even alert each other when certain songs are playing.  Many said it made them happier.  When one communities' cable failed, the director said, “residents had a fit. They thought we took their music away.” One Florida executive director called the music “the greatest gift we have ever given our residents.” 

These results are not isolated. There may be hope for our residents as others follow this trend. Some are using this as a marketing and sales tool by placing subtle messages on the channel urging residents to bring friends in to hear the music and receive a tour. These experiences were so successful that one of America's largest senior providers is now investigating placing tiny FM transmitters in their buildings so residents can get this programming on the radio.

Our industry spends millions bringing in speakers, singers, bands and entertainers, yet we avoid the obvious: making residents happy while they are in their living quarters, the place where they are often the loneliest. Unfortunately, many executives don't recognize this opportunity so music on cable channels is considered unimportant background. Unqualified people are asked to place “background music for old people” on the television. I have observed sophisticated communities spending thousands of dollars to have impressive video, then throw it all away by spending nothing on the audio.  After all, “it's just background.”

Executives can easily identify great looking messages and pictures, but identifying the right music is much more obscure to them, but ironically not their residents.  All the information on that great looking channel is available elsewhere.  However, the one thing they can't get anywhere else, the right music, is what would set that channel apart. What a missed opportunity!  Your residents will never stand around and talk about your TV pictures for long.  However they will listen for long periods, talk about “the right music” and love your facility even more if you have it.

Don't be deaf to this trend and miss your golden opportunity.  If your competitor has “the right music” and you don't, you could lose your next prospect.

Ron Frizzel is a former CEO and owner of a 15-radio station group. Three of his stations specialized in music for seniors. He lives in Florida and may be contacted at Ronfrizzel@aol.com

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