AUDIO & VIDEO
Qmusic had another record-breaking year, growing its market share to 24.5 per cent in Belgium and 20.4 per cent in the Netherlands. The Dutch station also celebrated the 15-year anniversary of Het Geluid (The Sound), which has become the most popular radio game in the Netherlands since its launch in 2007. But what goes on behind the scenes? And why is the game shrouded in so much secrecy? One of the judges (whose identity must remain secret) offers a sneak peek.
“I’ll never forget that security guard. He was doing his rounds through the building that night and opened the door to our studio, just as we were in the midst of our top-secret recording process for The Sound. We were in such a panic! Lucky for us, he didn’t realise what we were doing, but we did start locking the door after that incident.”
“When I talk about ‘we’, I mean the five-member jury that comes up with and records the sounds, and judges all the answers. We don’t go around advertising who’s on the jury to our coworkers at Qmusic – even the DJs don’t know. They don’t know the answer either, so they want to know as much as the listeners, especially if people keep guessing wrong. The judges listen in every hour for every answer given. Only if a listener gives the right answer live on the air does the DJ get to see it on their screen.”
The Sound in figures
Since its launch in 2007, 35 sounds have been played in the Netherlands. The fastest guess was 1 day, the slowest 72 days. The most lucrative sounds were: adjusting a travel adapter (2019, €100,000), closing a tab on the back of a picture frame (2017, €63,700) and putting a phone into a protective case (2011, €63,500).
More than one sound
“As a judge, The Sound is always on my mind, all year round. As soon as I hear a good sound somewhere, I make a note on my phone. When we meet with the judges, we go through our lists and decide which sounds to record. Yes, that’s sounds, plural, because we always record more than one for each year so we have something to fall back on if the first sound is guessed too quickly. Because as we know, someone can get it right on the first day, but it can also take two months.”
“The sound is always an action you can perform, and not all actions fit the bill. Opening a tin: too easy. The sound of a stapler – the most frequently given answer over the years – also not a good idea. The answer also has to be unambiguous and widely recognisable. So flipping a switch in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 is out, because most people will never have heard what that sounds like. The best sounds are those where you hear more than just click-click – like if you hear a spring, for example, or if it sounds hollow.”
“The most illustrious sound we’ve had so far was closing a tab on a pack of chocolate sprinkles. The hour before, a listener had guessed ‘opening a tab on a pack of chocolate sprinkles’. Unfortunately, that’s just not the same thing. But it did inspire the winner, who called in an hour later.”
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Playing on the listener's curiosity
“The Sound has proved itself as a booster for Qmusic’s listening figures, especially when it comes to listener retention. People keep listening to hear if the next caller does guess it. We like to compare it to TV programmes like Wie is de Mol? and The Masked Singer. At some point, you just have to know who the mole is, who’s in that suit or what the noise is. The reason the game is so successful is that it plays on the listener’s curiosity. “That’s why our slogan for The Sound is, ‘Know what it is yet?’”
“The Sound isn’t a new format – a game like this already existed on TV back in the 1970s. And before we started in the Netherlands, our colleagues at Qmusic Belgium were already doing their own version. It’s mainly about the way you play it. By introducing new elements like the Super Round and the wild card, we’re trying to keep things fresh, without compromising on the game’s basics. You hear the sound once and then it immediately gets stuck in your head – that’s the driving force behind the game, and it should stay that way. Because from that moment on, it’s on your mind, and you only want one thing: to know what it is. It’s simple, but irresistible.”