Monday, June 2, 2008

Is Radio Overplaying Specific Songs?

It's a common complaint that commercial radio plays the same songs over and over again. Addressing this perspective, Ben Fong-Torres wrote an interesting column yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle. He talks about a letter sent in by a reader who complained about hearing the same song repeatedly on her favorite stations. After doing a bit of research, Fong-Torres found out that the song in question wasn't played nearly as often as the listener thought. In "Radio Waves" he quotes KFOG Program Director Dave Benson, who says:

"'I often try to point out to listeners that everybody has an artist or two, or a song or two, that just get stuck in their craw. If it comes up, it's an irritant, and every time you hear it is too many times'...

Mike Preston, VP of programming for CBS stations Live 105, KLLC (Alice@97.3) and KFRC (106.9 FM), echoes Benson.

'Listeners tend to say a station repeats songs too much when they are playing the wrong songs,' he says. 'You can never play their favorite song too much, but if it's something they don't like, then only one play is too many.'

Chris Mays, former PD at Alice, believes that every radio station, regardless of format, gets that complaint.

'And it's from your most loyal listeners, who listen the most, and they hear the repetition,' he says. 'It's a really tough line, because the people who get the most tired of the repetition are your best customers. But if you were to solely serve them, your library would need to be vast, and you'd be playing relatively unfamiliar music for people who listen on a more casual basis.'"

Fong-Torres goes on to provide statistics on how often new tracks are played on commercial stations. It varies tremendously by station, from 3-5 times a day for a new song, to up to 19 times a day (at a station in Houston). In discussing a few San Francisco Bay Area commercial radio stations he writes:

"Rock stations such as Live 105 and Alice, Mediabase shows, play new tracks six or seven times a day. So does country station KBWF (the Wolf, 95.7 FM). KIOI (Star 101.3) spins its most popular newer songs five or six times a day.

And then there's KFOG, whose most-played new track, Coldplay's 'Violet Hill,' got five spins over 24 hours. Most other newer tunes maxed out at three airings a day. Older tunes pop up about once a day.

KOIT plays its most popular artists' current songs three times a day, while KFRC rotates even less often, with no one 'classic hit' getting played more than twice a day.

And still listeners complain. And the stations conduct research, hoping to learn when listeners are beginning to tire of songs. It's an art - and a science."

I'm curious how often new tracks are getting played at college radio stations. Back when I was tallying playlists at WBGU to compile our "tops charts" to submit to CMJ and record labels, I remember that our top albums for the WEEK got maybe 10 plays if we were lucky (meaning that one track was played even less). For the most part, the top 30 list was made up of albums that were played around 5 times a week. (Additionally, I remember struggling to come up with the list in weeks where 10 albums were tied with 5 plays each, for example)

Similarly, I've had conversations with DJs who believe that one should not play the same song on one's radio show more than once a year, as many DJs strive for more music diversity, shying away from playing the same artists/tracks week after week. What kinds of guidelines does your station have? Do you pay attention to whether or not you are playing the same artists and tracks repeatedly? As a radio listener, how often do you want to hear the same songs?

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