Immutable Laws Of Music Programming

With a nod to Ries and Trout’s 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing, there are several fundamentals of managing a radio station’s music database. There are many variables for each music system, but several basics are universal. Think of them as the immutable laws of music scheduling.

The immutable laws of music scheduling are not comprehensive, but they apply to every station and programmer. If you don’t master these, you might as well get rid of your music software and manage the music with 3×5 index cards like the old days.

Laws of Music Scheduling #1: Bad Math


Bad logs start with bad turnover caused by bad math.

If a category turns over every 36 hours, guess who gets to hear the song? Two groups of people: Those who listen at lunch and those who listen at midnight. Or it could be the people who listen at 5 a.m. and those who listen at 5 p.m. Nobody else hears the song. Ever! Can you figure out why?

It’s called a polarized turnover. The song never plays in another daypart because it naturally wants to play at the same hour every other day.

It will play at midnight on Monday.

it will play 36 hours later, or 1 day, 12 hours. That means it airs at noon on Tuesday.

It will play at midnight again again on Thursday and noon on Friday. And so on.

You MUST start with proper math in your categories and clocks to walk songs through other hours and time slots.

What makes good turnover time? There’s a simple formula to calculate perfect turnovers.

#2: Use Rules To Manage, Not Fix


When you have lousy turnover, you’ll know it, especially if you also are on the air. However, if there’s a lot of voice tracking on your station, you may not hear the problem for a while. Then complaints start to show up that you’re playing the same songs over and over.

So you check into it and notice that songs are playing at the same hours. You try to fix the problem by adding a shift rotation rule to the category and forcing it to play in another shift. That doesn’t work, so you add an hour rotation rule. Soon, your Rule Tree is filled with junk, and the software can’t function. Some songs never play because they can’t play without violating at least one of the rules.

When a category naturally wants to schedule every day at the same general time, a rule that forces that song somewhere else competes with the natural turnover. Other issues arise, and you constantly deal with conflicts and unscheduled positions. Fixing one problem creates three new ones.

The same goes for song attribute rules. If your database is 75% rock music, a rule preventing two rock songs back to back doesn’t make sense based on available inventory. It won’t work.

Use rules to guide the scheduling process and establish the radio station’s foundational sound. They are not meant to be a Band-Aid for bad turnover math or a magical fix to an imbalanced genre in the database.

3: Variety Is the Most Important Goal


Once song turnover is established and songs rotate through a day properly, look at each quarter hour.

Think of a quarter-hour as a storefront. What do they sell at The Gap? Look in the window. They sell essential clothing to a younger demographic. What about Victoria’s Secret? They sell women’s underwear, robes, and lingerie. They want you to know what they are and who they’re for.

The same goes for each quarter hour. Listening occasions are short. You get access to your best listeners audience for about 7 minutes per occasion. Make it count by showing all corners of your playlist every time they tune in.

#4: We’re Stuck With 24 Hours, but…


You have learned that bad logs start with turnover problems (Law #1). The number of hours doesn’t change, but you may not schedule music in all of those hours.

You can’t do anything about being limited to 24 hours a day, but you can control the number of songs in a category and the number of times that category is scheduled in a clock and a day.

Uniform category calls and slot counts contribute to perfect turnovers, but if you play category A three times per hour but don’t play any of those songs in one hour, all of your math will be wrong.

Clocks and turnover times work together. The easiest solution is to schedule music in every hour, whether it’s played or not. A more complicated fix is to carefully calculate the math for a 24-hour period based on the actual number of song slots you play.

#5: Incomplete Data Costs You Time


The fastest way to screw up a music log is to neglect music coding or code it inconsistently. If some songs don’t have a tempo code assigned, how can the auto-scheduler provide results based on tempo rules?

Here’s a pro tip: code everything.

Even if you only need rules to protect specific gender segues, code every gender. This way, you can know the percentages of attributes in the data and apply rules thoughtfully. It also helps to have that data later if you add more control to the scheduler.

There are countless examples of incomplete song profiles causing scheduling issues or preventing a programmer from applying a rule that works.



More basic rules should be followed to get the most from your music software, but start with these. Master and perfect these five laws of music scheduling, and you’ll be on your way to better-sounding logs.

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Tracy Johnson is a talent coach and programming consultant. He’s the President/CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group. His book Morning Radio has been described as The Bible of Personality Radio and has been used by personalities worldwide.

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