Songs Are Getting Shorter

In 2013, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 was 3:50. IN 2018, the average 3:30. And six percent of those were 2:30 or less. When I began playing rock ‘n roll records on the radio in the 60s, very few songs were over three minutes, in part because any longer than that and the grooves on a 45 rpm vinyl disc began getting very narrow, scratched more easily and were prone to jump and skip. And really, if a songwriter can’t get it all said in under three, going longer ain’t gonna help. With a few prominent exceptions, of course. I’d heard and played the single edit of “Light My Fire” probably fifty times before I heard the full 7-minute song on the album and after that hearing the 3-minute single just pissed me off. “Hey Jude” blew off self-governing music makers. We didn’t get a rash of super-long songs, but after that monster hit came to us in ’68 dang near every new rock album had one or more stretched out tracks. There was a single edit of “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” that ran 2:52, but the song took a full album side, ran just over 17 minutes. (great weed song, that one)

In the 60’s and early 70s, a disc jockey could easily play fifteen to seventeen songs in an hour and still have a fifteen-minute commercial load. By the 90s, we were getting a dozen songs an hour. Me and my cohort were often telling record promoters begging for a slot on our playlists when we didn’t have one: Make the records shorter and we’ll have more space for you. That was a cop-out, really, because if the song had the goods, we’d find a place for it. But still, fewer songs an hour helped nobody. Great songs are tidy songs. “Yesterday” is 2:00 on the nose.
All that said, I’m cheered by this little development. Artists have discovered that in the streaming age, short songs pay off more than long songs do.


Switching Stations

Here’s and interesting stat from the 2018 Edison Research findings about commuters. 36% of commuters said they switched stations to avoid AM/FM commercials. The kicker: 66% said they change the radio station to shift the music. Expressed another way, people in their cars are more likely to switch the station because of a ‘bad’ song than because of the commercials.


More Ads = Less Listening (Who knew?)

The greatest Top 40 radio station of all time, the one that everybody copied played one song, one spot, one song, one spot, one song. The greatest radio station I personally programmed and the greatest one I consulted both carried ten minutes of commercials an hour and never more than 3 spots in a break. And they both made piles of money for the owners and both paid their people well above average. A different age, yes I know.

The long spot breaks originally came into being as a way to promote long music sweeps. That was a tactic of the (then) new FM usurpers challenging the established AM music stations. Over the years, the breaks got longer and longer and now they are near universal; every station is blowing off it’s own toes with them.

Here’s an interesting number. Pandora did some research on it’s ad content. A long sample period; 21 months. A huge sample base, 35 million listeners. Listeners were divided into 9 different groups, each receiving a set number of ads per hour. Finding: increasing the load by one spot an hour resulted in a 2% decline in average listening.


The iHeart App

The first of this year, I launched a syndicated Country format service. As I’ve not been actively consulting for some years and so have not been listening much at all to any broadcast radio stations. No need, as I’ve not been in competition with anybody for a long time. And the length of commercial breaks that the corporate borg has lathered on is too much to bear. Austin’s great NPR station, KUT has me in the car, internet streams have me in the office.

So, I’m listening to the co-owned iHeart Country stations in Austin and it’s beyond awful to hear. Maybe I’ll get energetic some day and write a programming audit for some of my clients and customers to read; but probably not. It’s pointless to critique people who are rich and don’t know what they’re doing. (Talkin’ the borg exec’s here, not the workers, of course.) But the most maddening thing about listening to any iHeart station now is the constant incessant pitches for their app. Who the hell think’s it’s a good idea to spend so much time and energy telling the audience to go somewhere else to listen?! Ah, but these brainiacs will say the earth’s moved, listeners are getting audio from their devices and so we are planning for the future where that app will be the doorway and we’ll be the dominant source of all listening pleasure. And all on-demand video pleasure. And podcast pleasure. Good luck with that, boys.

A couple weeks back, I got a guided tour of a new radio app from SecureNet Systems and was totally wowed by it. That got me to thinking, and so I installed the iHeart app for the first time. I logged in, created an account, entered zip code. Said my preference was Country. The app presented me with a list of choices, a combination of radio stations and star-channels. The first local station, KASE/Austin was #7 on the list. KVET/Austin was #10. What?! They’ve been pumpin’ this app for, what, over a decade now? Both of those stations promo the app damned near every break and the thing doesn’t list them at the Top of the choices?! Have they heard of geo-targeting? The station in the #1 position is KSCS/Dallas. That’s 200 miles north of me. Were I the program director of either of those stations this would make me scream.


Commercial Positioning in the Spot Breaks

It is an eight minute drive from my house to the gym. I’m on the way back to the house just before 7am on a weekday. KVET is in a spot break as I start the engine, it is still in the spot break when I pull into my garage. Now that’s just stupid on so many levels; too many to get into here and any argument I make is like spitting into a hurricane anyway. All the corporate-owned biggies do it. But I will take on one factor here that a local PD might be able to control.

Stupid/Ignorant Scheduling: The spot break opened with four, maybe five of those crappy barter ads in a row. One tells me how I can get rich quick flipping houses. Another is pushing a pill you can take a night when you’re hungry and instead of raiding the fridge; you swallow this pill and lose weight while you sleep. One guy slept off eight full pounds. And after this drivel, THEN comes the local advertisers. The Austin auto dealer and the Austin plumber’s spots are at the END of the friggin’ spot block. The guys who are paying the highest rate are put at the back of the bus. The local advertisers radio’s most important clients. Why treat them that way?! Local spots should be FIRST in the cluster. Isn’t that obvious to any monkey?

Is nobody at corporate radio thinking about programming anymore? This is an iHeart station, of course.


Auditorium Testing Killing Radio Innovation

…Or, so says this guy who’s never worked in radio before. Here’s his article. He is kinda right, but mostly wrong. First off, it is not Auditorium testing that is mis-guided, it is call-out research that done the dirty deed.

Auditorium testing is an accurate and reliable polling system if: 1) it is properly conducted and 2) if the sample size is large enough. Oh, and 3) If the radio management and programming team know what to do with the data after they get it. For part one, rarely is it done well. Radio research companies do shoddy work. The only one I ever worked with that was really good was/is Larry Rosin’s Edison Research. The second tripping point is sample size. That article says the typical sample is “several hundred people.” Nope. “Several hundred” is two hundred and few stations pay for more than that. Too expensive for tight-wad Corporate Radio; they’ll pay for a hundred person sample, tops. Often, less than that. So garbage in/garbage out is the majority position.

And for the third point; Do they know what to do with the data they get? Too often, the answer is no. Here’s an example. Say the station chooses to test 400 songs in a session. That’s the max that the respondents can stand in one of these sessions. The resulting data will show have the songs will test above average, half below average. The corporate honcho or the GM will say something like, “We ain’t playin’ those songs that tested below the line.” I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen some of the most valuable records in the station’s library dropped from airplay because “we spent thirty grand on this project and we’re damn sure gonna follow what it tells us.”


iHeart Podcasts Numbers Greatly Inflated

James Cridland blogs and lectures around the world about all things radio, broadcast and internet. His post today (1.8.18) has this rather eye-opening number: It is theoretically possible for some podcasts to reach the top of the charts without anyone at all ever actually listening to them.

Here’s the story and report.


How Much Christmas Is Too Much Christmas?

How much Christmas is too much Christmas? I’m one of the original play Christmas early guys; always loved programming the season, particularly since I moved over to work in the Country format about a third of the way through my career. When I got into the business shortly after the Stone Age, Top 40 radio stations didn’t begin playing Christmas music until about a week prior to the day. Only Muzak did All Christmas All The Time.

Many stations would switch to all Christmas music at 6:00 PM Christmas eve, run with it until 6:00 PM on the 25th. Very few stations continued playing seasonal music after Christmas day. As a disc jockey I was quite aware of the phone requests that continued to come in through the holiday for the Brenda Lee song, Chuck’s “Run, Rudolph Run”, Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” and those great songs from the Phil Spector Christmas album.

Shortly after I got behind the wheel as program director, I began to play Christmas music on Thanksgiving day. The GM would have asked why so early? I would’ve said something like: All the decorations are up in the stores. The muzak in those stores is all Christmas. The two days after Thanksgiving are the biggest shopping days of the year. The holiday specials are on the tv networks. People are in the spirit, looking towards it, making plans. Makes sense to get the Christmas favorites into the mix early and now.

We could tell it worked. The sales guys starting getting favorable comments from our advertisers. Christmas song requests moved to the top of my weekly request-line tallies. It wasn’t until the early 80s when I got to PD a station in a continuously measured market. Now understand, Arbitron stopped measuring the second week of December, but we could get “weeklies” see numbers from the first week of December. That sub-set of numbers was based on very few diaries and the super-small in-tab would have a very wide margin of error, but I did see a bump in the numbers for that first week of December every year. Same thing in all the following markets I worked.

It was very easy to mix seasonal songs into a Country mix because so many of the songs sounded like the could have been hit singles had they been ‘regular’ records. Indeed, Alabama’s “Angels Among Us” was a hit single; it charted TWICE; January ’94 and again in January ’95. Alan Jackson’s “Honky Tonk Christmas” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Hangin’ Round the Mistletoe” and The Tractors’ “Santa Claus Boogie”. If all those aren’t in your local Country station’s Christmas mix, the PD’s missed a trick.

I haven’t kept up with the Christmas releases on the Pop side. Maybe they’ve got a lot of songs that have hooks and have the sound and feel of many of the songs the station’s regular playlist. Good on them if they do.

Now, I say all that to say this. I’ve begun to observe some media comments, some columns, some social media posts where some folks are seemingly about to puke with it all. “Enough, already!” I don’t think it’s a movement yet and I’ve no plans to alter my Christmas formatting tactics. But with almost all markets having at least one station switch to All Christmas sometime in November, with the channels on Sirius, and with so much of it being fed to people from other sources, I do think it wise to hone-in on just the very few most-attractive, most hooky songs you have to offer. Going into the season this year, there were 50 songs on my Power Country Christmas list. I’m pulling it down to about 30. Those I judge to be the absolute best are going to get all the exposure.


“Radio has to innovate….” Part 1

“Radio has to innovate to remain relevant as a source of music discovery.”
That’s a line from a well done research report that came across my desk this summer titled “Paradigm Shift: Why Radio Must Adapt to the Rise of Digital”. Coming from where I come from, there’s a whole bunch of directions I could go with that thought in mind. If i ever get around to it, what with all the other stuff I’m into. I talk with and coach people about this music radio thing all day, every day. And I’ve been doing music radio as a profession since I was sixteen. A long damn time, eh? Since ’64. Double damn. So, here’s one of my thought paths about the culture shift and Where Radio Is Going ?!!?

This report is proffered as a wake-up call to today’s radio operators. The ground has shifted and we’re not the primary music discovery source anymore. Kids, the biggest consumers of new music, are now getting their new music yum-yums from Spotify and YouTube. A big artist releases an entire album now, all the tracks at once. Radio has been a single-at-a-time music source. Not so much by choice as by record label marketing design. Record companies firmly resisted the idea of radio playing anything BUT the current single. I’ll give you an example.

I’ve always been known as a music director/program director/programming consultant who “took chances” on new music. What did that mean? That I’d add a new song to my station’s playlists because I thought it might be a hit. I didn’t ask the promoter “who else has added it”. I didn’t say “I’ll wait until I see some call-out research test scores.” I was the leading influence on the chart success of “Blue” by Leann Rimes, an old-fashioned Country song released in the middle of the Hot Country, boot scootin’ boogie era as the B-side of the 13 year-old’s first single. I heard it the first week of May ’96, added it Amarillo, Columbus GA, Santa Rosa CA and every program director reported back to me they were getting “INSTANT PHONES’ every time they played it. That is, listener’s calling to ask about it and request repeat plays. The next week, it went into power rotation, seven spins a day at my powerhouse station KKBQ/Houston. The week after that it went on at KPLX/Dallas. The record promotion staff absolutely luvved me, doncha’ know. Don’t misunderstand me now. I’m not saying it was me that made the song a hit. I was just on the leading edge, the first big-time guy to play it on important radio stations.

Jump back three years and there was a different story on a different hit record. “Chattahoochie” was the third single off an album released in October ’92. The Country format was hot and Alan Jackson was one of its hottest new stars. The first single was “She’s got The Rhythm (and I Got the Blues)”. Number one on the charts. The second single was the droll ballad “Tonight I Climbed The Wall”. Released the first week of January ’93, it eventually peaked at #4, but my god, there was “Chattahoochie” sitting there on the album. Anybody in Country radio at the time who didn’t recognize that record as a potential monster hit wasn’t qualified for picking music. We’d added it in Houston over the Christmas holidays and beginning in January it went into Power Current rotation. The official single at the time was the ballad, which we had in light rotation. The record label was not happy. Not at all. “What’s gonna happen to it when it becomes a single in the Spring and station in Houston has it in Recurrent rotation?! It’ll hurt Alan’s chart success. He might not get a Number One on it!!”

The come-back from radio in situations like this was usually something like “we’re not in the record selling business, we’re in the radio business.” True, on one level of course. But radio airplay certainly sold records and exclusive ownership of a hot hit was a very strong programming element. For the entire ’93 Winter Sweep (audience measurement period), KKBQ was the only Country station in the nation’s most competitive Country radio market that was playing the Song of the Year and the CMA Single of the Year. And Alan still got his #1.


How Many Currents? How Many Recurrents?

> For a country station, how many currents would you rotate?

30 to 35, depending on the flow of product.
(i hate calling records ‘product’)

> For a country station, how many recurrents would you rotate and how far back on those recurrents would you go?
……either 19, if i’m scheduling 1 an hour
or 38, if i’m scheduling 2 an hour
with this plan, each song rotates thru the five
dayparts evenly; playing in each of the other four before
it repeats in the first one.
i keep things in Recurrent until another song
drops out of Currents and takes it’s place. i don’t
always drop the ‘oldest’ recurrent to do this.
for example keith urban’s/ Blue Ain’t Your Color is
still monstrously popular. the stats on it show it
will clearly become an all-time classic. the way
it’s going, it could stay in recurrent for a long time more.

posted 8.17.17