Sunday, I’m driving from Reno to the Bay Area, and listening to classic rock on the radio. From “The River” 103.7 (no call letters available) in Reno, in the first hour of the trip, I heard “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, and “Up Around the Bend” by Credence Clearwater Revival.
Reno fades out as we get over the Sierras, and I tune to “The Eagle”, KSEG 96.5, Sacramento. In the first hour, I hear: “96 Tears” and “Up Around the Bend”.
On the one hand, I realize that commercial radio stations have relatively limited playlists.
On the other…there are 1000s of songs to choose from. What are the odds that I’d hear those two, twice in the same day?
Aren’t some radio stations nowadays completely automated and part of a franchise? Here in the New York area, there was a big outcry when WCBS, a well-known oldies station, switched over to a automated, DJ-less format called JACK FM. Outcry was so huge that WCBS was forced to switch back. There are various JACK FMs all over the country- I don’t know if all of them share the same playlist, though.
This is not based on any research other than having listened to classic rock radio, but despite having literally hundreds of thousands of songs that fit into the very vague parameters (basically any pop/rock song from say, 1963 to 1987), every classic rock station sticks to a rigid, finite playlist of recognizable hits, like for example “96 Tears.”
Listen to any classic rock station for more than 20 minutes, I guarantee that you will hear:
a Led Zeppelin song,
an Eagles song,
either a Steely Dan song or a Steve Miller Band song*, and
either a Doors song or “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix.*
*In either case, if a song fromthe former act is played, then in the next 20 minute block, a song from the latter act will be played, or vice versa.
I have definitely noticed the same thing (actually in the same area, on road trips from Reno). Its kind of stupid if you ask me, I mean say what you want about classic rock, but there is ALOT to listen to (I mean any vaguely gitaur based song from the sixties to eighties counts as classic rock to SOMEONE). The one thing you should never have to do listen to the same songs over and over.
I assumed it was shared playlists between Clear Channel stations, quite what benefit they get from this I’m not sure.
I work at a Classic Rock station and just finished laying down the voice tracks for 7 to midnight tonight.
It is not uncommon for a group like Clear Channel to produce playlists for various formats.
In the case of classic rock, though, remember that you’re looking at a specific time period and at a PD (Program Director) who’s picking the top selling Billboard numbers from that period.
So add to your list: Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Eagles, Stones, Led Zepplin, Temtations and a smattering of Marvyn Gaye and Earth Wind & Fire.
Whoops! you already had Eagles on your list.
Its my understanding that it has to do with marketing. Through the 80’s or so, DJ’s chose their music, and as long as he got good ratings and the music fit the station’s format, everything was fine. This encouraged more variety on the radio, along with a more localized flavor. In the early 90’s radio stations started letting (national) programmers give them lists to play. Instead of listening to their listeners, they listened to the programmers. The advantage for the radio stations, was that by only (or mostly) playing songs from a set list, they could claim to have a very accurate understanding of their station’s demographic. This helps in selling advertising to their customers.
The way the story was told to me, many of these programmers are from the pacific northwest, which helps explain how grunge took over the country in the early 90’s.
Hmm weird, that three of us has the same thing in the same patch of Northern California/Nevada. Maybe DJs there are paricularly enthusiastic in following Clear Channel playlists Though I think the song in question for me was something by Santana.
The Hardening of the Airwaves that you allude to happened much earlier than that-late 70’s at the latest. We had two local FM rock stations at the time, one of which had a rather loose format, and the other which was very rigid. Guess which one was forced to change its format (to “modern soul” or the like)? Not the rigid one; I was literally driven mad one summer (1981) listening to it while doing daily maintenance on my parent’s apartment buildings (the guy I worked with insisted that the knob not be changed). [At the time I was very much into New Wave, postpunk, and such, and to the jokers at this station it was like virtually none of that existed]
When I lived in Greensboro I could get three distinct classic rock stations from my car. I had a game I’d play on my fifteen-minute drive home–can I find a song by Boston on one of these stations before I get home?
I probably did this a couple dozen times, and every single time I found one.
One of these stations had a commercial that said (imagine in dramatic DJ voice) “We play the hits you can’t hear anywhere else!”. Then they played a clip of–I’m not kidding–“Stairway to Heaven”. I wrote the station to let them know that I could hear that song on at least two other stations in town, and to ask what the songs were that I couldn’t hear anywhere else. They didn’t write back.
One night, as I was driving from St. Louis to Cincinnati, I heard a CCR song in Illinois. The station faded, and I surfed along to hear the same CCR song on another station. Within an hour, I was in Indiana, and listening to the same CCR song. When I’m not listening to news, I’m usually listening to classic rock, but that was too much even for me.
That’s the whole friggn entertainment business anymore - marketing to marketers. It’s a closed system. You get to point at the public taste in music or tv or whatever, but it is actually irrelevant. You’re the decider; they get what you deem fit.
Payback for the days when every national act that broke big came from within a 3 hr drive of New York.
Do radio stations have to pay royalties to BMI, or ASCAP, or some other group to play copyrighted music? I always assumed the reason for set playlists was to keep the royalties straight. Maybe the selections we always hear represent some kind of “bargain” with regard to royalties? Just wondering, I never worked in broadcasting.
But that’s the whole point of “classic rock” radio - safe hits that everyone knows! You don’t want to run the risk of playing a song that listeners might not recognize until 15 seconds in, or worse (shudder) that one or two listeners might not remember at all!!
What gets me, beyond the fact that anyone would bother listening to these stations for more than a few minutes at a time, is that people actually call in to request these massively overplayed songs. “Uh, can you play Can’t Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon? It’s been 6 hours since I heard it the last time, and I can’t function if it’s not perpetually rattling around my cerebral cortex, what’s left of it.”
I’d go along with that – it’s a matter of playing it safe, in other words. Find something that works, and stick to it, no matter what, because that’s what the computer models (metaphorically, at least) say the public likes. And the public will like it, dammit! (That’s why I like Little Steven’s Underground Garage – oldie and oldie-type music, but a lot of stuff I’ve never heard, as opposed to the commercial oldies station, which has a playlist of what? 6 songs, I think.)
On a side note, no cite, but I remember the national programmer issue being brought up in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. I seem to remember Andy Travis railing against the machine of programming (maybe after Johnny Fever, et al led him to the trough of rebellion), but the point is the issue was brought up in that show, which according to the imdb, lasted from 1978-82. And I distinctly remember DJ-less national programming was gaining steam by the mid-late-80s. I didn’t listen to much, if any commercial radio through the 90s, and listen to even less today.
Most every music station with a noticable audience went to programming services a couple decades ago. There was one company in AZ that programmed a lot of stations way back when. With the increased consolidation in recent years, it’s only gotten worse.
There was a rigamarole locally several years back when a popular oldies station changed formats and then back. There was a huge number of complaints about the “40 song” playlist the station had. The new format maybe had 80. They are back to 40.
A very small station played oldies you wouldn’t believe. “Tallahassee Lassie” and even Mario Lanza. Now they’re a Spanish language station like most small stations in the market (well, that or religious).
Radio is dying and the execs are speeding it up. But at least they get their bonuses.
I recently rented a car for a short road trip, and had, for the first time, satellite radio. Oh my God, that was great. I especially liked the “Deep Tracks” station - some really good, rarely heard stuff there. Some of these classic rock programmers should listen to that to hear how it’s done right.
Commercial radio makes money off of the music so each station must pay a commercial fee for the rights to broadcast the music.
BMI wants a copy of what actually plays on the air. Years ago when the forms arrived you could hear a universal groan. A typewriter would go next to the turntables and you’d enter the title and writer to the page each time you played a record. This would go on for a week. Today it’s handled by computer. You print out the playlist for a week and mail it to Deloitte Touche. You’re charged a fee based on airplays and market size.
ASCAP shows up every couple of years and runs an audit of your billing. They base their charge as a percentage of that. I’ve been told they also get a copy of the BMI stuff.