By Wayne Clouten, BPR
David Kidd’s excellent article about music repetition in the last edition of the Nudge reminded me of one of my first great lessons about the issue of music repetition. The year was 1983 and I had just taken over as Program Director of 4CA Cairns. A gentleman called to complain that we were playing the same songs too often. I took the call as I have always believed in acknowledging criticism up-front, particularly from a listener. After sounding off about wanting to “throw a brick at the radio if I hear that @#$%& Elton John song one more time” I then asked the chap what he thought about the latest Billy Joel song we were playing. “That’s a great song and you don’t play that song anywhere near enough” came the equally passionate reply. I went on to ask him about a couple of other songs and he felt we played them about right. I thanked the gentlemen for his feedback and promised to ensure that we would play the Billy Joel song as much as we played the Elton John song. He was happy with that. “By the way, before you go would you mind telling me how often you listen to 4CA?” I asked. “All the time” the gentleman replied “It comes on first thing in the morning and I listen until after I finish work”
What fascinated me about this call at the time was the fact that the Elton John song and the Billy Joel song and the other songs I asked him about were in the current playlist and shared the same rotation. In the case of the Elton John and Billy Joel songs they been added at about the same time. Presuming what the guy said about listening all day was correct then he was likely hearing both songs the same number of times each day. All the evidence suggested that it was not the playlist rotation that was the problem, this guy simply did not like Elton John, or at least that particular song. And so ended my first and most important insight into the issue of music repetition – it is less to do with how often you spin the records around and more to do with the relative like for the individual songs you play. In those days I did not have music research to guide me, but I am quite sure that if I had, I might have seen a burn score on the Elton song amongst middle aged males. Many times, over the years I have repeated that same investigation whether it be speaking to a listener on the phone or probing a focus group and the observation is always the same.
Perceptions of excessive music repetition come mostly from certain songs or artists, particularly if they are heard at a similar time each day or your playlist is over-represented by a particular artist. Managing this problem is one of the best arguments for music research. While music research assists in picking the music your station should play, it’s most significant role is helping you manage the music on your radio station such as building categories, flagging when you need to back off the rotation of a particular song or indeed when you need to focus more on building familiarity for a new song or artist.
That said, there is a reality check to all this. If you spin records around every 2 hours while wanting a TSL of 4 hours, then you may spend a lot of your time disappointed. Music driven listeners will not be held hostage when they start to hear you repeating songs they either don’t like or have heard enough of that day. No matter how much the listener may love your station, they also have many perfectly suitable music alternatives to radio.