Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why do they play the same songs every hour?

This morning I had breakfast with my carpet cleaner.

Josh owns his own business and he brought up a subject that is dear and near to my life, and that is radio station's playlists.

I've worked for radio stations off and on since I was 16. I was a disc jockey, I programmed the music, I moved to the advertising side slowly and except for learning some of the latest software, could pretty much run the whole thing if I wanted to. So know that you know my qualifying background, here's the answer:

Mass Media is designed to get as big of an audience as possible. Back in the 1950's a couple of guys were watching a waitress in a diner take her tip money and put it in the jukebox. And she kept playing the same songs over and over. She played her favorites and ignored the others.

You and I do this when we go out to eat. Next time you are looking at the menu of your favorite restaurant, count how many items are on the menu. Then count how many of them you have ever ordered. See, we all have our favorites in life.

Back to the jukebox story. These two guys decided to hook up with the jukebox company and get a list of the most played songs each week and play only the very best on the radio. This would (in theory) mean that by playing the very best and most popular music, they would get the biggest audience possible tuning in to listen and then they could sell commercials to the businesses that wanted to invite those radio listeners into their store and spend money buying the stuff they needed. That's how TOP 40 Radio came about.

Dick Clark hosted American Bandstand each week by playing the hits. Casey Kasem and later Rick Dees hosted national radio countdowns each week on American Top 40. In Fort Wayne in the 1960's there was a radio station that 65% or more of the town listened to: WOWO.

As broadcasting changed with the growth of more choices with additional radio stations, television stations, then cable tv and now the internet, there is even more competition than ever to gather an audience.

Some have done this by limiting the number of songs they play, so you'll always hear the most popular songs of the week of a certain genre. Others have taken the other approach and expanded their music library to over 10,000 songs. Which works better?

Think about your restaurant again. If you could pick out 10 of your favorite meals and be served them and only them everyday for the next month for 5 bucks a day would you do it? Or would you rather be served every item on the menu of say 30 items, one each day until you've had all of them, still for 5 bucks a day? Most people stick with their favorites.

With over 20 radio stations in my town, there is a variety of music available. Just push the button to find another station. Still can't find it? Search the internet. Get an Ipod.

Remember that the reason the radio station plays the same songs, is because they want to get the largest share of listeners to attract advertisers that pay to have their commercials played and pay for it all. This is mass media.

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