When people find out that I work at a top 40 radio station, the number one thing that immediately falls out of their mouth is “Why do you guys play the same songs over and over???” And I never quite know how to respond, so I end up saying something like, “Because we are a TOP 40 radio station…” The answer to their question is obvious to me, but I forget that not everyone understands the behind-the-scenes workings and reasonings in radio. They think working at a station is all fun. You just play music all day and talk about stuff between songs! Incorrect, my friends. Let me fill you in.
Radio is a business and everything in business is strategic. Music Directors and Programming Directors spend hours a day deciding what to play and when to play it. There is a strict structure of songs, commercials, legal IDs, and more. I’m not going to go into how much time producing ads, spots, breaks, mixes, etc takes, but just know that it’s a while. One thing that MDs and PDs pay very close attention to is play counts. That’s right, we are purposely playing Blurred Lines so many times that it drives you crazy and you end up singing it in your head everywhere you go. Sorry, not sorry.
What people fail to realize when they ask me that initial question is what people are tuning into KDUK hoping to find. I highly doubt people tune into any top 40 station hoping to find a song that they’ve never heard before in their life. They tune into that station because they know exactly what they are going to hear: the top 40 songs in America. They are going to know every word to every song. You want to hear that Miley Cyrus song that you know your friends would endlessly give you crap about for liking? Don’t you worry, it’ll be coming up this hour and you can sing it at the top of your lungs in your car, happily and shamelessly.
Now, I’m not saying this is the perfect model, or that another method wouldn’t get more listenership (in fact I have some ideas that are different from this that I think would, but more on that in later posts) but with Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming services making headway, radio is in a delicate spot. Not many stations are willing to take risks with programming and possibly drop in ratings. They stick to the setup they have and focus on providing unique and entertaining talent (which I will repeat over and over in these blogs is the biggest thing streaming services lack) to compete with stations airing similar programming.
So go ahead, turn the radio on and say that you are sooo sick of hearing this Miley song, but five bucks says that 20 seconds later you’re screaming “I CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BAAAALLLLLL.”