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.