It’s no secret that some songs just get hammered on radio.
Did anyone manage to not hear Lorde’s inescapable ‘Royals’ in the last year? And hearing Pharrell Williams’ bouncy chart hit ‘Happy’ might not make you so cheery after you’ve heard it spun the umpteenth time in an hour.
So while spending any stretch of time tuned in to any commercial station will inevitably result in being forced to hear the same songs again and again. But the head programmer of Australia’s biggest commercial broadcasting network makes no apologies for the repetition, in fact there’s a method to the madness. And it’s working.
Craig Bruce, Souther Cross Austereo’s Head Of Content, is the man responsible for ensuring you hear some of the biggest songs as many as eight times a day on Top 40 radio, and while he admits to News Corp that “repetition is the Achilles heel of the format… It’s also the reason why stations like 2Day FM have the highest cumulative audiences,” he explains. “The idea behind this (repetition) is to quickly take a song from being unfamiliar to being liked and then loved.”
“Very rarely does a song become someone’s favourite after one or two listens. Familiarity is the first step to a song becoming liked,” Bruce continues. “The reason we have songs on high rotation is to ensure that every time you tune into stations like 2Day FM you’re never far away from the biggest hit of the moment.”
It’s also why a tune that’s fresh off the presses suddenly seems to be yesterday’s news; “our new songs also rotate on a two to three hour basis. The idea behind this is to quickly take a song from being unfamiliar to being liked and then loved.” (Or more likely, loathed).
So while listeners complain “all the time” about the repetition, says Bruce, they keep coming back for more Justice Crew, Jason DeRulo, and Ed Sheeran because “people come to us expecting to hear their favourite songs and our rotations mean we can deliver on their expectations.”
They’re not the only expectations being met. Major labels and record companies also influence commercial radio playlists, and therefore Top 40 charts, as the Southern Cross Austereo exec happily reveals.
“Record companies share their priorities with us every week. We then get together at least a couple of times a week to discuss these new songs. Through consensus, (if the content director and music director love the song and it fits the sound of the station) we then decide how often we should play it.” “Very rarely does a song become someone’s favourite after one or two listens. Familiarity is the first step to a song becoming liked.”
That inevitably leads charting songs that also “researching favourably” with the listenership to “rotate every couple of hours” or so, says Bruce.
That in turn means certain songs hog a lot of air time, how much? Well using the case of Birds Of Tokyo’s ‘Lanterns’ – the most played song on Aussie radio last year – as an example, it was 17,419 across the nation’s commercial airwaves (making the same 4 minutes was hear for 1166 hours/48 whole days straight).
Despite the presence of a Perth band at the top of the heap and 13 more Aussies in the rest of 2013’s 100 most highly-spun singles, it’s still international pop stars that take the lion’s share of commercial play time (as seen in AirCheck’s full list below).
In combination, with Southern Cross Austereo’s supposed dedication to playing those same artists over and over and over, to the delight of record companies, it’s a vicious cycle. But the best way to break it? Tune out.