Lund Music Focus: Play The Hits!

How many times have you heard this phrase from programmers?  When “Play the Hits” was first coined, there was no music scheduling software like Selector, Music Master, or Power Gold.  Rotating music was simply a “hot clock” and stacks of 45’s.

Three radio programmers helped shape how radio sounds today.

Bill Stewart invented the Top 50 format early in the 1950s for Todd Storz’s KOWH in Omaha and later at Gordon McLendon’s KLIF in Dallas.

Bill Drake honed the Top 50 to the Top 40 in 1965 with the launch of Boss Radio at KHJ in Los Angeles and four other RKO General stations in the US, including CKLW Windsor-Detroit.

In the 1970s, programming icon Mike Joseph developed the “Hot Hits” format of rotating the top five songs every 45 minutes.  He restricted the playlist to the top 30 hits with no Recurrents and no Gold.  Mike brought his Hot Hits format to the FM band throughout the 1980s.  “Play The Hits” became a reality.


Listeners Want Favorite Songs

In countless perceptual research projects, the #1 reason core listeners listen to a station is to hear their favorite songs.  This is more important than hearing a variety of songs with a large playlist.  Stations that program a tight, well-researched list of hits win the most listeners.

It’s strange that many radio stations set rules preventing the listeners’ favorite songs from being played.  Research has shown listeners are not turned off by the repetition of their favorite songs; in fact, they want them.  The repetition of songs that are not their favorites drives them away.  Also, the longer the playlist, the longer one must wait to hear a favorite song.

Watch Software “Rules”

Today’s programmers utilize “Rules,” which the music scheduling software provides to guide rotations.  But these Rules actually make it difficult for the listeners to hear their favorite songs.  When Rules prevent a favorite song from being scheduled, it shows up as an unscheduled position requiring manual scheduling.

Programmers tend to reduce the number of unscheduled positions by adding more songs, which further dilutes the exposure of the listeners’ favorite songs. For example, the artist separation rule prevents the playing of the listeners’ favorite songs by a core artist in recurrent and gold categories when the core artist has a song in power rotation.

Program What Listeners Want

It’s easy to prove the premise that Rules prevent the scheduling of the listeners’ favorite songs.  Perform a Most Played analysis of your past music scheduling history.  If it shows “one hit” wonders and secondary songs receiving more airplay than power rotation hits by core artists, you have rules preventing the proper exposure of the listeners’ favorite songs.

Next, perform an analysis of the unscheduled positions.  Find out what rules are preventing the scheduling of the songs and then either “relax” the rules or make them “breakable.”  The goal is programming to the audience and ensuring they always hear their favorite songs (hits).

In summary…

Playing the hits is extremely important in radio programming because it helps attract and retain listeners. The hits are popular songs that are known and loved by a large audience, so playing them ensures that the station will appeal to a broad range of listeners.  By playing the hits, radio stations can keep their audience engaged and satisfied, leading to higher ratings and advertising revenue.  Whether the format is Top 40, Hit Country, or Classic Hits, playing the hits can help establish a station’s identity and build brand loyalty among listeners.

John Lund is President of the Lund Media Group, a radio programming, broadcast consulting, and research firm with specialists in all mainstream radio formats. 

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