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How Do You Choose the Music?

Many PD’s spend hours every day generating the music logs for their stations, working to make every quarter hour as good as it possibly can be, given the competing interests of rotations, vertical and horizontal replays, artist separation, sound coding and the like. Additional hours are spent every week reviewing research and other intel on current music and making adjustments to current and recurrent categories. Hours are spent on some sort of regular basis massaging the library, reviewing Mediabase analyses of competitors and similarly-formatted stations in other markets. And, there can be days of work associated with reworking categories after a library test.

Listeners usually hear about none of these efforts being expended on their behalf. They remain in the dark about how stations select their music. And because radio almost never talks about it, listeners don’t recognize the value they get from the huge effort involved in choosing and scheduling the music. But, increasingly they hear about the curated playlists available on Spotify or Beats and the high-tech computer algorithms used by Pandora.

When we asked over 1500 music radio listeners 18-54 how they imagine the music is chosen on the station they listen to most, we were surprised how little variation there was across the demos. In fact, roughly equal numbers across the demos guess that stations use charts like Billboard to select the music. Nearly as many believe that the DJ’s choose the music. 15% believe stations use requests from listeners. Another 10% believed in the idea of a representative sample of station listeners being polled for their music preferences (“Ask listeners” in the chart). And 7% figure there are computers and algorithms involved, like the ones they’ve heard about being used at Pandora.

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Of course we asked how they believe stations should choose the music they play and got different responses. Between the ideas of using requests from listeners (41%) and stations asking the preferences of representative samples of listeners (“Ask listeners, 16%), the strong majority believes we should be reflecting their tastes, which we in fact do, though we don’t necessarily get the credit for it. Charts do play a role for some listeners (15%) and are actually one more way stations might reflect the tastes of the listening public. DJ’s being the face of the station’s curation process is an attractive idea for 18% (and can certainly be a great way to introduce new music).

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Not surprisingly, no one felt that record companies paying for play or corporate owners dictating airplay was a good idea – even though nearly 20% believe that’s how it works.

Since there’s precious little being said on music radio about how songs are chosen, we’re allowing the table to be set by representations in TV shows and movies, opinions of bloggers and rumors or conjecture amplified by social media. Moreover, we’re selling short the station resources involved (budget and person-hours), to say nothing of the tremendous value provided by our carefully-curated playlists.

In the face of Pandora’s algorithms and the curated playlists of Spotify and Beats, it’s high time radio upped its transparency and joined the conversation. There’s a lot we could say.

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