Corporate radio sucks.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve really begun to hate commercial radio. Here’s why. In honor of my spouse’s engineering trade, let’s do some numbers.

If we’re going to pick a place to start, let’s pick 1963, the year that the Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me. It’s safe to assume that Billboard released a year-end Top 100 that year; they’ve been doing this sort of thing since way before ‘63, but we have to start somewhere.There’s an old cliché about the “three-minute pop song.” True, that’s how it began, but songs have gotten a little bit longer since then. So let’s settle on 3 minutes 30 seconds for a standard song length. (Or, 210 seconds per song.)

It’s currently the first month of 2002. That makes 38 years’ worth of songs. If we only take the top 100 from each year, that’s still 3,800 songs. That’s 798,000 seconds, or 13,300 minutes.

In radio, there are approximately 40-43 minutes per hour available for actual music; the rest is taken up by commercials or talk. (Even less time is available during traditional “morning” shifts, when deejays spend more time trying to awaken and entertain their audience.) Let’s be generous and say that this hypothetical radio station devotes 42 of every 60 minutes for music.

To cycle through that playlist, comprised of nothing but top 100 hits from the “rock” era, would take that radio station 316¾ hours. That, my friends, equates to just over thirteen DAYS’ worth of music.

That’s with no repeats whatsoever.

So, you say, there’s stuff that wouldn’t get played now? That’s fine; radio stations have formats, and I’m willing to respect that. Maybe they don’t want to play some of the heavy disco of the 1970s, or some of the r&b-flavored music of the 1990s. Let’s be generous and cut out fully one-third of the songs on the playlist.

That still leaves you with almost nine days of music. Playing twenty-four hours a day, with a full slate of commercials and no “morning show,” it would still take over a week to repeat a song.

Yeah. Over a week.

How many radio stations have you listened to that have claimed that they’d have a single day in which they would not repeat a single song? Trumpeted that fact like it was a big deal? As if they were making a special effort not to bore you for a change?

Recently, when I went to Illinois, I found myself hoping that I’d find more diversity in the Chicago radio market than I was finding in the Huntsville radio market (which, by the by, is awful, and the morning shows are worse). I spent a total of five hours driving to and from Chicago, and I distinctly remembered hearing Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” at least six separate times during the drive.

Before heading to Chicago, I had heard the song once or twice. By the time I got home, I knew every single word of the song. It was okay the first few times, but after that, I really wanted to strangle the program director and say, “Play something else…please!”

The increasing commercialization and homogenization of FM radio has meant that I’ve spent most of the past decade raiding my friends’ music collections. Through them, I’ve been introduced to artists like Spock’s Beard, Jeff Buckley, Jonatha Brooke, Tragically Hip, Ashley MacIsaac, Nick Cave, Underworld, and Ani DiFranco. Artists who will probably never get airplay on local radio stations, but whose music I thoroughly enjoy.

It’s a common joke among my friends that I’ll never find a radio station that plays an eclectic enough mix to keep me happy, but is it so much to ask that radio stations do something besides loop the six songs that the home office wants to promote this week?

When we were in a local music store this past week, Jeff and I noticed a “Top 20” list from one of the local radio stations. I pointed to the songs and said, “I wonder if they’ve played anything besides these twenty songs in the past week.”

Jeff shrugged and said, “Probably not.”

So, while moving stuff around in the kitchen today, I listened to Radio Paradise, a web-only, seriously eclectic radio station based out of California. I haven’t heard a single repeat all day, and I only heard one song—a U2 song—that I was familiar with.

Along the same lines, Jeff has become enamored of Wolf FM, an internet ‘station’ that plays a neat variety of music, geared in the same general direction (hair and art-ish rock) as Jeff’s musical tastes.

With the exception of NPR, I haven’t turned on the radio in quite some time. Given the current state of affairs, I have trouble believing that’s going to change, until the nature of radio changes.

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Thankfully, the stations are a little better here, and we have more of them. The morning shows are funnier, too. They're ballsy and cranky, not lame and reverent like some back home (I could never stant the Rocket's show). But I get a good variety during my 5 minute drive to the train station. :)

I agree with you about the sate of comercial radio, and given my music tastes (traditional folky stuff from the other side of the pond, mostly), I spend most of my time playing CDs from my own collection (or produced with my CD burner), but things aren't quite so bad here in St. Louis. In addition to NPR, we have a comunity radio station that with the exception of half an hour in the evening on weekdays and a rather talky show early on saturday morning, plays about 55 min (or more), of music per hour with breaks only for song annoucnements and PSA/Underwriting stuff. How do I know? I co-host a radio show on sunday morning (sounds waaay more impressing than it really is). We've joked that slogan for the station should be "None of the hits all of the time," and it's true. It's not all bad, just most of it...

That sounds like a fairly acurate description regarding airplay. Only thing is, you have to section off the seperate genre's and era's that any given radio station plays. If there was a radio station that played anything and everything from 1963 to current, then they could go without repeating a song. But if a station played nothing but say, 80's music or disco, then their track selection takes a hit. If you're really wanting to get good comercial free radio in your home or car, you might want to take a look at XM. It's the new satelite radio system. You have to pay a monthly service fee, but there are hundreds of stations to choose from.

Forgot the link!

I guess I should qualify one part of what I said; Jeff and I were discussing this in regards to a "classic rock" station. So in this particular instance, yeah, they should be able to take a pretty wide range of songs.

Well, there are two options in my truck: CD's or sports talk radio. I haven't listened to an FM radio station, other than NPR, in my own vehicle, in probably a year. That's just the way I am, dammit. Sports talk may be kitschy, and it may be annoying as hell [especially when the hosts have no idea about statistical evaluations of baseball players], but there's usually something new to talk about. And that's something you can't get on FM radio--freshness. I've looked into XM. I almost got an XM-ready receiver for the truck because of the long hauls I pull from time to time [and would love to do more of in the future]. The ability to have ESPN Radio no matter where I am in the country? PRICELESS--and then there's jazz channels and things like that, too. We need a good jazz station in this town. I know I'd listen.

I completely agree with your take on Huntsville music. It is great to have Rock after many years of WZYP. But the stations act like they only have greatest hits CDs or they overplay the same old songs. Part of this is thanks to ClearChannel taking over stations. The other reason is the lack of imagination in this community.