Who decides what songs are played on oldies stations?


By now the role of "independent promoters" in funneling record company money to radio stations in exchange for a coveted spot on their extremely limited play lists is pretty well known. But what's the deal with all these oldies stations that also only play the same 15 or 20 songs over and over, as if all of music history can be put on one album? Is Warner Brothers paying somebody to make us listen to "Moondance" 10 times a day?

--Roger Morrison, the Net

You'll be begging for "Moondance" when they switch to "Mandy." Anyway, we dialed up Huckleberry Spin, Team Matthew Alice's link with the aggravating world of pop-music radio. He claims "Moondance" is our own fault. Nobody's been paid to play it. No back-room deals to get some 25-year-old slice of vinyl on the air. We told them to play it! Of course we didn't say, "And pleeeeez play it ten times a day," but if a little is good, too much is better.

The play lists for oldies stations are determined by research with random bodies recruited from the target demographic, 25- to 54-year-olds. Round up some willing folks; play a bunch of oldies that bored us on Top 40 radio back when they were new; and then get the willing folks to rate them. From the ratings, you assemble a pool of listenable tunes. From the pool, you assemble your programming. Just another aspect of American life run by focus groups. Because the people paying for the research own a gazillion oldies stations, the same research or program tapes go to all of them. If someone in San Diego is sick of "Moondance," they can't go to Akron to get away from it. So the endless tape loops keep slinging the same songs at you. If you listen all day, the effect is like sitting on a slow-moving train, watching the telephone poles go by.

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