Radio Stations Are Playing Fewer Songs Than Ever Before…

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Major radio station are playing less music than ever before, according to playlist data now surfacing.  And the reason is simple: fewer, more familiar songs keep more people listening more often, which means higher ratings and more advertising revenue.

Which also means that there are few winners, though the songs that are played are blown into the stratosphere.


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And the importance of crusty ol’ radio has never been greater: according to just-released data from Nielsen, terrestrial radio remains the largest, most-heavily consumed format for music.  That includes younger demographics, with a penetration level that surpasses 90% of all breathing Americans over the age of 12.  In fact, every age bracket is dialing in on some level.

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Meanwhile, the number of Top 40 stations is growing: according to Mediabase, 70 Top 40 were started in 2013, with niche-oriented stations focusing on rock or jazz disappearing.

And internet radio isn’t exactly picking up the slack.  According to data recently released by NPD Group, Pandora and iHeart Radio are absolutely dominating internet streaming.  At the time of its IPO, Pandora reported a playlist of about 800,000 songs from 80,000 artists, while iHeartRadio often retransmits broadcast radio streams.

12 Responses

  1. Casey

    Most niche formats in the markets I have been watching over the years are being moved from FM to AM, an HD subchannel, or simply discontinued. No matter which happens, the format is basically killed. The listener base of AM continues to decline and the HD Radio listener base never existed.

    Radio has become extremely cut-throat. Mainstream contemporary music sells better and is less risky. It’s also extremely easy to syndicate nationally with celebrity hosts.

  2. TuneHunter

    It will only get worse.
    Conventional music revenues have shrank from 40 to little over $17B in last 15 years.
    Live concert revenues are top priority so labels are in cahoots with radio to maintain at all cost limited number of mega stars.
    This is why you might hear Cher new junk 15x during your office hours.

    Very funny times in so fertile and misused environment.

    • TuneHunter

      Then, if you convert all Radio to discovery based music stores we will double the business in 24 months.
      Shazam and other ID services in tandem with Radio can save themselves and the industry.

      I hope 13 years of life support will stop. Old investors have to kick them in proper spot and new ones avoid them or demand sanity.

      • FarePlay

        Right on. Terrestrial radio is missing out on a huge opportunity that would benefit their listener numbers by getting more involved with music and more involved with local talent.

        The late, great radio station’formats can be revived by hiring great PDs. And they’re looking for work in every city.

        • TuneHunter

          Thank you.
          Do you have access to Bono or Oprah? Personas like that have enough connections to burn this circus.

  3. Me

    Is this news to anybody? Funny how this trend coincides with a drop in album sales. People won’t buy something if they don’t know it exists.

  4. Anon

    “Live concert revenues are top priority so labels are in cahoots with radio to maintain at all cost limited number of mega stars.”

    This statement make exactly zero sense. Short playlists benefit the labels in exactly no ways.

    • TuneHunter

      They are in DEEP cahoots!
      Big Machine, Warner (those with more common sense) always make own deals with Radio.
      …and have above average live revenues.

  5. 40 Year Radio Vet

    Fewer songs = a more stable listener base. Truth. Truth – we still listen to terrestrial radio. Truth – radio fails when it tries to be all things to all people. Truth – in any hour of programming you cannot get in much more than about 12-13 songs – and that’s if you eradicate most of the advertising – otherwise you are only going to get 10-11 songs in an hour.

    I used to be one of those “we can play it all” kinda programmers. I failed. More than once. I learned to listen to the listener research. In 1990, we kept no more than 750 song titles in rotation – and that was considered A LOT!. Today, I consult some small market stations that have over 7500 titles in rotation, but that play far fewer new titles.

    TOP 40 has always been a mainstay of American radio. Also called CHR radio, it is less about any kind of sweeping cross genre style, and more about appealing to an urban/suburban based audience. Consequently we get country music that is less country than city, and sounds of music that appeal easily to women who may have children ages 10-14 in the car in the morning and on the way home.

    HOT rotation stations with few songs are built for cume. It’s the walk in and walk out traffic – the “drive by” traffic they look for .. not the sustained TSL (time spent listening). If you’re sweeping the dial in the car, you’re looking for your “favorite song.” When that ends, you move to the next station until you find what you’re looking for. To win that battle you decrease the number of songs you spin.

    IMO anyway. And I’ve been at this since the 70s.

    • TuneHunter

      Is there a good reason to play Cher one year old new dog barking 20x per day?

  6. Nashvillekat

    I’m speaking as a music fan and as someone who came of age during the Golden Age of FM Rock and Country. You’re killing radio with the narrow little playlists and focus groups. You’ve taught listeners to be hyperactive station hoppers by playing the same songs over and over. I can rarely stand to listen more than the time it takes to check on traffic. I’m spending more and more time on radio websites like the Deep End with Nick Michaels and other sites where the DJ really knows music and plays a wide variety of hits, album cuts and nearly forgetten rarities. At one time, people could enjoy listening to a station ALL day. You’ve made radio BORING!

  7. soniquarium muzika

    They play the same garbage over and over, wast of time. Who cares anyway. Plenty of other way’s to get your music heard.