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John Frost

Time for the annual check up!





The beginning of a new calendar is traditionally a time to reflect on the previous year and make some decisions on what you’ll change so that you’ll have different and, hopefully, better results.  Loosing weight, stopping smoking, and equipping your skills for a better job are fairly common New Year’s Resolutions.  I think that the beginning of a new year is also an appropriate time to review your station’s music architecture to determine if it’s actually doing what you want it to.   

Some basics:  every music category should consist of songs with a similar value to your station which is based upon the song’s appeal with your listeners, as quantified through music research.  Songs that your listeners really love, obviously, have greater value to you than do songs that people don’t know.   Therefore, these songs should be in distinct categories and exposed differently.

Most stations have several current categories.  The “hots” are comprised of 5-7 of the most popular songs.   The “mediums”, then, are comprised of the next tier of songs based upon popularity.  The thought is that songs in this category will become more popular if they become more familiar.  The medium current category generally holds 7-11 songs.   Some stations also elect to have a third tier of current songs, often called “lights” because they play in a lighter rotation, often just at night and on weekends.  Since these songs are generally brand new and unfamiliar these songs are exposed less frequently.   This light category holds usually 5-9 songs.   

Now let’s move the conversation to the strategic level.  The only reason that a station plays unfamiliar music, i.e., new music, is that the programmer hopes that with the proper amount of exposure the songs have a good chance of becoming popular, i.e., in the hot category.  Few listeners tune to a radio station to hear music they’ve never heard before, therefore don’t yet know, therefore don’t yet like.  Taking this one step further, the only reason a station would play a “light”, is so that it can become a “medium”, so that it can become a “hot”.  

Exam time!  How are you doing?   Of all the songs you’ve added to your radio station in the last year, how many of them ended up in hot rotation?   Is your success rate 20%, or 80%?   If it’s the former, I’d question the value of the category to begin with because songs are not becoming favorites.   If it’s the latter, you can declare yourself to be program director of the year.   (P.S. It’s also valuable to make sure that your non-current categories have not accidentally grown larger over the last year resulting in your song rotations slower being slower than you intended.  A good rule--when you move a song into a category you also move another song, the lowest testing one, out, keeping the category count and rotations the same).  

I recommend that you time this analysis of your music inventory to the beginning of each year.  It’s sort of like remembering to change your smoke alarm batteries when daylight savings time begins or ends.   If you’ll do this, you’ll get a better sense of the value of your music categories and whether they really are accomplishing what you intended for them.   


John is a partner in Goodratings Strategic Services, and has been a successful major market disc jockey and program director for such companies as CBS, Cap Cities, Westinghouse, Sandusky, Gannett, and Alliance during his 38 year broadcast career.  John joined Goodratings’ partner Alan Mason in 1999.