Ever wonder how radio stations choose the songs they play? Do the DJs sit around and decide?
Uhhh, no. To earn a coveted slot on a station’s playlist, songs must survive exhaustive testing (and flawed research).
Imagine you’re cooking dinner when the phone rings. A radio station intern wants your opinion on some tunes. So while you stir the peas, she plays several song clips and asks you to rate them from 1 to 5.
Let’s recap: you’re interrupted and asked to rate songs with bad fidelity, while listening in one ear. Yet, this ‘callout’ research is treasured at radio and the results drive airplay decisions. Meanwhile, music discovery and gut instinct have been sent packing.
Then there’s the artists’ careers that hinge on test scores. For years, Taylor Swift’s songs tested poorly. Same with Springsteen, Bowie and The Who. Thankfully, some savvy radio folks overruled the numbers.
Today, listeners are bailing from radio. Still, execs insist that repeating the same, top-testing songs pleases the Nielsen Ratings gods, which pleases advertisers.
So, don’t expect anything to change.
Here’s my take. Nobody listens to music in a vacuum. It’s a mood-driven feeling that can change by the hour. So, I’d argue that songs can’t be rated. They’re a personal taste that can’t be measured any more than literature, paintings or ice cream flavors.
Sometimes we like hearing the unexpected. And even if we like a song, we don’t want to hear it all the damn time.
Dave Van Dyke, President of Bridge Ratings points out, “If radio wants to know what songs are popular, check Spotify’s metrics. It’s unbelievable that stations ignore Spotify and aren’t playing the most-streamed songs!”
Airplay decisions should be made by passionate fans who have great taste in music. It’s radio’s only hope. Data can help light the way, but it can’t predict the future. That’s why research is like a lamp post.
It should be used to illuminate, not lean on.