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.


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.


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


What Chart Do You Use?

A station owner recently asked for and received my Country library playlists; Recurrent, Gold, Classics and Legends. He’d had some uneasiness about many of the songs he was hearing on his station; some of them just didn’t seem ‘right’. As he began updating and adjusting the library and was immediately pleased with the result, he sent an eamail asking which chart I relied on. Here’s how I answered:

for tracking top 10 performance,
i use MediaBase now. switched to it about 5 years ago.
before that, Billboard. i used the R&R chart until it

again, this is only for noting Top 10 performance,
the confirming fact that a song should be a candidate for
inclusion in the Recurrent and Gold lists in the future.
‘candidate’ because not every top 10 record makes
the cut. i hone in on Top 5 for those lists as it is
more reliable.

charts for new songs judgement/consideration are
culled from many different lists. i see what’s on
billboard and mediabase. more importantly are
the digital charts. iTunes shows what’s being bought
Youtube views are an indicator of bubbling interest.
same goes for the Shazam chart.
and the Slacker EQ chart. this one measures how long
a person listened to a track, did she listen all the way to the
end of the song, did he add it to his ‘favorites’, did
they ‘share’ it on social media.

since its debut this summer the chart to watch is:
this one is a comprehensive aggregation of sales from
all platforms.

as my sage mentor told me way way way back: the two indicators
of a record’s programming value are 1st: requests 2nd sales
and the dollar spent to buy a song is the more important of the two.

the conundrum that we can’t solve is: WHO is buying the record.
Country is primarily and Adult 35+ format.
under 30 demos are far and away more likely to buy and share
music than past-30 adults are. so that gives the charts their
present skew towards BroCountry and the Country-rap glut.
much of this is “not Country” to more mature ears, those who
are much more likely to listen to broadcast radio than ipods.
so, a Country music director needs to be careful with
acts like Dan + Shay and new guy Kane Brown, both of whom are
doing fairly well on all charts now.


Adding New Music – Early Lesson

In the early years of Top 40 Radio, song rotations and music formatting were way different than what we know today. It was common for a station to play the #1 song of the week every hour. WABC in New York, the biggest Rock ‘n Roll station in the whole wide world at the time did that until the fall of ’68 when “Hey Jude” in all it’s 7 minute glory stayed #1 for nine weeks and the whole staff came near revolt.

My first PD also played a Pick Hit Of The Week every hour at :45. This was the early days of the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Dusty Springfield, Simon & Garfunkle, Motown, Mamas and Papas, so there was a lot to pick from. One week, I couldn’t find the previous week’s pick hit in the control room. I’d really liked it and asked PD Buzz who told me he’d pulled it. “Why?” “Well, not everything we like is going to be liked by listeners. What they like is the important thing. So, I play the record every hour for a week, then I pull it out and see if anybody notices.” “What?” “Well, if they like it enough they’ll notice they haven’t heard it in a while and maybe call in a request. If we get some calls for it, I’ll put it back in.” I think he then gave me a copy of the 45 to take home.

Buzz said hit stations play hit music and the two things that tell you a record has radio programming value are first, Sales and second, Requests. The phone calls come first because that’s where people find a new one they like. But you gotta pay attention to WHO is calling. Are different people calling or is it just one or two request-line junkies? If an adult called, that is more important than a teen call. Counting the requests for the songs in the playlist is important. Knowing something about who is asking for songs is equally important. My first lesson in the difference between quantitative and qualitative.

Sales are the main thing, he said. “The dollar spent to buy the record is the single most important indication that the record has radio programming value. The ones that sell big are the one’s we’ll still be playing as Oldies in the future.”

The first record promo guy I remember talking to was Moe Preskell, a legend in his trade. Short, round, bald, Jewish, cigar, a distinctive somewhat gravelly voice. A total pro at what he did. My little station in Arkansas was a Gavin Reporter, one of only about 50 at the time and, by far, the smallest of that elite club. For those on the young side, The Gavin Report was the first radio-focused trade sheet. It’s chart was where hit records were launched. There were three record stores in my town and when KOTN added one that Moe was working, he’d mail five 45’s to each of them with a note that it was getting play on the station and here were some free copies for them to have on hand if any customers came to ask. A week or two later, Moe would call the stores to see if any sold. If so, he’d then crow about it to every other station on the Gavin reporter list. And he’d begin pitching hard and heavy to larger markets nearby, Shreveport, Jackson, Memphis, Little Rock. Smart.

A few weeks back, I read an excerpt from a new book about product success in the marketplace, “Hit Makers”. It has a few paragraphs about a record promo guy who gets a station in Victoria Texas to play a new song, then he plugs into a data tracker from Slacker, the app that can listen to a few bars of any song and instantly tell you what it is. The record guy watches to see if his new song is getting Slacker’d in that little Texas town. If it is, then calls stations in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas and tells them the story: Listeners heard it. Listeners wanted to know what it was so they could hear it again. That means this may be a hit record that is good for you to be playing, too.

It’s always true. To build and maintain an audience: Play what your targeted group of listeners like. Watch for what they respond do. If they take action to hear a record again, pay attention. That action can be a request, a record sale or download, a lot of ‘shares’, or significant Slacker hits.


More About Move/TV Music Synergy

Following my post about playing Goldfinger a few minutes after the Bond movie let out so’s some folks would hear it on the way home and, we hoped, be getting an extra little shot of feel-good juice from our station. Here’s how such a thing can be done today. Take The Sopranos. Season Five, in the opening segment something happens, Tony is pissed, slams the car door and takes off up the driveway. And out blasts “Heaven Only Knows” a solid Country rocker from Emmylou Harris. Now, the single wasn’t a big hit. Only got into the Top 20 in ’89. The Sopranos episode first aired fifteen years later. I moved it into a hot rotation for a few weeks after that episode first aired. The series, of course is iconic and continues to draw viewers today and I still schedule it in a Light Gold rotation. One could take something from The Sopranos for just about any format. Rock, Salsa, Classical. Here’s a list that shows every song used in every episode of the series. If you found something that fits your format, maybe the one that was on Tony’s soundtrack would pump just a bit more juice into your music mix than the ordinary Oldie would.

Here’s an up-to-date usage of the idea. HBO has another solid hit mini-series with “Big Little Lies” that made prominent use of The Temptations classic “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” in all the advance promos and trailers and was the background music for an extended seies of scenes at the end of Episode Six when some heavy shit was coming down. If I were programming an Oldies station this winter and spring, I’d have that one moved into Power Gold until at least the first of June.

I’ve always paid attention to the music used in movies and on tv, especially the music in the Hit shows. Whenever I hear something that is in my format, I pump up the spins on the station.


Playing Goldfinger After The Movie Ends

Before I started my 7 to 10:30 pm airshift one Saturday night in early ’65, my program director, the guy who’d hired me told me to play “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey at a specific time that evening. This was a surprise because he was the same guy who’d already schooled me that successful radio stations played the hits and “Goldfinger” was not a hit. It peaked at #21 and was on the Billboard cart for just nine weeks. Still, I was to spin it at the given time because it was approximately ten minutes after the James Bond movie ended at the local drive-in movie. He wanted people to hear it on their way home, to get another little taste of the hit movie. Buzz Bennett was a great explainer. He’d have said something like, “It’s a hit movie and the song reminds people of the movie so maybe some of those people will make a mental association that this radio station is in the groove with whatever it is they like.”

I took that to heart. Throughout my career, I’ve paid attention to the music being used on TV and in the movies, and when appropriate, I’d juiced my playlist with songs that echo the visuals from other media. When the hit show “Northern Exposure” had a Patsy Cline oldie playing on the jukebox in one long scene, I put it into a heavy rotation for the next week. This past week, the hit show “The Americans” had the two lead actors dancing together to Alabama’s “Old Flame”, a huge hit in ’81 that hasn’t been much heard on Country radio stations over the past 15 years. Popping that into a hot rotation for the next week or ten days now still makes sense to me.

This is a small thing really, barely perceptible. But I think it is elemental. A successful music radio station resonates and associates with other media.


The New Country Tradition – My New Format

My hand-tooled Country music formatting and scheduling service is now available for broadcast stations in the U. S.

Working with The Talent Farm syndication service, I provide my personally curated hour-by-hour music schedule to subscribing stations. The daily playlist is delivered directly into the station’s playout/automation using the services of Syncronicity. The full library is supplied in .wav format. New playlist adds are immediately downloaded to the station’s automation/playout system.

Radio managers, program directors and decision-makers can hear the actual music flow on a private, linked page. Send your request to me at this address:, or Phone: 512.392.2415


Seven Songs

At any time, each listener has seven favorite new songs. Everything else in the library is just part of the landscape.

Seven that s/he can name if asked the question: Can you name all of your favorite new songs? Seven is the most of any product that can be named according to the original “positioning” publications from Trout and Ries, the Mad Men type guys of their era. The book “Positioning” was published in ’80 and became the guiding-star idea for radio program directors seeking magical smoke that would help pull more listeners to their stations. Anything that got the cohort thinking about how to do the best with the product was good thing.

The big boys, RKO most prominently, had distilled the modern music fundamentals in the latter 60s. That group were the best. It was radio with a solid front line and a fancy, stunting backfield. Music radio got to gettin’ real good in the 70s as those basics were copied and spread. PDs freely shared ideas at radio programming conferences because at that time, one wasn’t sharing ideas with The Competition. All of the people at the pow-wow were from different markets, see, and we loved tellin’ tales and talking about our promotions and our stunts with new records and how we constructed our format-hour clocks. And gettin’ high and drunk together.

In the 80’s, good as we were as format masters, the competition started getting more intense. FM rock had first reared it’s head in San Francisco in ’67. Old Top 40 rock jock named Tom Donahue launched it buying time from a church-owned station and setting up shop in the church basement. He of KFWB in LA, the behemoth Top 40 from the latter 50’s until Ron Jacobs hit town as PD of KHJ. (’64?) Progressive Rock, Tom called it.

Music radio on AM held on until the end of the 70s when Disco killed it. AM program directors did not know how to deal with Disco. And there were half a dozen FM signals in all the top markets doing nothing special and ready to jump, to try something new. Donna Summer. Ka-Pow!

Until the FM wave began, a PD in any market had only one other guy to deal with, one other pop music station to take on directly. In most cities, the AM rocker that had the best signal was top rated even if it wasn’t the ‘best’ station. The other AM rocker had signal problems, a serious disadvantage and had to innovate and out-promote the big guy. (see my post “Boston Tests New Music”)

Come the 80’s, FM had fully taken over and Pop was on three or more good frequencies in every big market and on maybe a handful more stations with lousy signals, but still pulled a few ratings numbers. Fragmentation had arrived. That was new to radio guys. Competing with one other station was a breeze. Competing with four was a new conundrum. “Positioning” helped lot of us because it explained a simple way of understanding the problem. All the smart kids embraced it.

Now, I say all that to say this. Seven Songs. That’s the main thing I took away from that book.

Our listener likes a lot of music, but at any moment in time the typical listener can name just seven songs off the top of his/her head. And those are the most important things in your station’s library. But…and this is the big Q…each listener has a different head-list. Some of them cross over to other listeners, they share some co-favorites. The share lists are always different by 50% from listener to listener, my guess.

So, say we got a hundred listeners, each with seven personal super-faves that they share with some of the other 99. If you could find the most common songs, the ones that are in the Top 7 on most of the listeners’ lists, then THERE are your Power Hits for the moment.


Boston Tests New Music & Flunks Out (1972)

Going through my archives, I found this clipped from Rolling Stone in January of ’72. Written by the excellent reporter Timothy Crouse, this article was one of the seminal influences on my thinking about radio programming, music selection and also what a frustrating and capricious career I was involved in. I never met John Garabedian but this account of his work at WMEX inspired me, even as it drove home the fact that in the business of music radio programming, no matter how solid a station one might develop there was still no job security. Yet we did it. Because we loved it.