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When the radio station playlist is exposed as being a bit of a farce.

By Art Grainger
Posted 13 November 2015, 2.27pm est
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God bless Sandi Thom. It was a highly emotional rant made by a pregnant woman whose hormones are all over the place right now, which is probably a reason why she may have let her professional guard slip.

However, her video on YouTube has generated NEGATIVE publicity for two radio groups in particular and given the public something to talk about, if the social media comments are anything to go by.

Now, I've titled this thread because her song "Earthquake" has actually been getting playlisted on some smaller commercial radio stations in the UK and many more radio stations in Ireland. Even more strangely, the song that has been dismissed for radio airplay at BBC HQ in LONDON is actually on the playlist of BBC Radio Scotland and has also been played on Radio Ulster. So it can't be that crap, surely?

How can that be?

How can some radio stations that are aimed at the very same demographics that Sandi's song would appeal to decide that it is not to get played, whilst other radio stations (sometimes owned by the same company or organisation) do play it, despite aiming for the same demographic?

We keep getting told about those wonderful audience "tests" that help to determine the playlists of radio stations. However, with increased centralisation, the pile of songs that are intended to be played on a network of radio stations are ultimately decided by a person. So I wonder how these "tests" are REALLY conducted - and if they are conducted, do the results actually mean much?

For example, in my DJ-ing days, I could fill dance-floors with Celtic Rock records that are real chanters up here in Scotland - but would any of Bauer's Scottish stations play Runrig these days? Do those people in the Deep Sarf of Englandshire even recognise what Celtic Rock is or even who those bands are?

In the 1980's Radio Clyde championed and supported Wet Wet Wet, simply because they were local and their songs were playlist worthy. If Wet Wet Wet had arrived on the scene now, would they have even made the playlist, which is ultimately dictated by someone in charge of it - who happens to be in another country?

I have also exposed the farce of playlisting with some songs that were played by one station aimed primarily at over 55's, yet the other station in the same market (Glasgow) that is also aimed at over 55's (but is owned by a different company) did not playlist those very songs, even though the sound of the songs were better suited for that radio station. How can the "test" results be so different?

I have playlisted stations - purely on merits of songs, whilst also using my DJ-ing instinct. I'm glad to say that I've seldomly been wrong. However, I also pay close attention to the charts (and radio station playlists) of other countries, which is how I've even determined trends. I played songs long before they were released in the UK, purely on the basis of their sound and how well they were doing elsewhere. Uptown Funk was in the Top 20 World Singles Chart three weeks before receiving ANY airplay on UK radio and long before its scheduled release in the UK (bear in mind that its release was brought forward by 6 weeks, after it was sung by one of Simon Cowell's karaoke contestants on the X Factor).

How was the "test" conducted for, say, Cheyenne by Jason Derulo, which did receive quite a lot of radio airplay - but the great British public have not made it chart in the Top 40?

As for Sandi's song, it's mediocre - just like a lot of songs that do make it on radio station playlists. At best it would be a small hit - but in my mind her emotional outpouring (some people have dismissed it as a publicity stunt) has brought a subject that I have spoken about I the past to a wider audience. She's probably hit a nerve.

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Comments

1 year, 10 months ago

I've got a wee bit more to say about this. Here's a glaringly obvious example of how the UK's Heads of Music throughout Britain's radio industry probably got things so wrong.

As you can see from my link, I Follow Rivers by Sweden's Lykke Li was enormously successful across Europe (take a note of how many countries put it at No.1), including IRELAND - yet it was almost totally ignored by the UK's radio industry (I recall that only BBC 6 Music, BBC Radio Scotland and a few leftfield student and community stations played it) - and it also failed to chart in the UK.

1 year, 10 months ago

Art, Differing playlists even existed during the good old wireless era. A long ago example was The Rubettes group with their number one chart topper Sugar Baby Love. When the single was released, the old Radio Luxembourg English service played it as its weekly Power Play while BBC Radio 1 and the fledgling ILR services more or less ''blanked it'' until the song started to zoom up the charts!

Even the Top 20/30 pop charts differed during the wireless era with the BBC adopting the Record Mirror compilation while Radio Luxembourg (I think) adopted the New Musical Express version.
I don't think Fabulous 208 magazine sampled record shop sales back in the 1960s/early 70s for use as a reference for old 208 Luxy!

We have tolerated differing playlists and single charts to date without it being a major issue!

1 year, 10 months ago

Willie, the main difference is that there is so much centralised playlisting now, that if your song is not picked up for play listing by BBC, Global and Bauer, then you can basically kiss your chart chances good-bye. Back in the era you refer to, each individual station decided its own playlist, and yes, you got occasions when most stations would not playlist something immediately but it would later arrive on playlists if it topped the charts, or hit the top 10 fairly quickly.

Centralised playlisting has really damaged radio as a medium, and the very music industry that it is supposed to support. Formats have damaged both radio and the music industry. These days, new artists trying to get some traction, and smaller record companies trying to build their brand, are constantly limited by the fact that most commercial stations now, won't touch them with a barge-pole, and local artists can't build any popularity by submitting their local commercial stations, because the playlists are all done centrally. The only way local artists can build popularity in an area, is by constant touring and gigging and it's a difficult model to make it successfully. Getting local artists played on local stations would help, but unless they fit the format, that's not likely either. Local music scenes are way more diverse than any of the local radio stations and it's not a great thing.

I've listened to Sandy's song, and it's a good song, it's just depressive, when commercial radio is so much about feel good music, and BBC seems to be following that basic idea too. Do I think that's a bad thing? No, but good quality music should always be played.

1 year, 10 months ago

You say that but ILR remains obsessed with Adele, and everything she writes makes me want to kill myself. ;-)

The days of getting exposure via the radio have surely gone? Social Media is a much, much bigger way of doing this now than it was even five years ago and certainly ten (the Arctic Monkeys being an early example) - anyone can get a song released nowadays. That's the beauty of digital.

However, nobody has a right to be on any playlist.

PRO1 year, 10 months ago

Social Media is a much, much bigger way of doing this now than it was even five years ago and certainly ten (the Arctic Monkeys being an early example) - anyone can get a song released nowadays. That's the beauty of digital.

Absolutely. MySpace was ahead when it relaunched as a music site, but the others have caught up and anyone can share music using the mainstream social media outlets.

Radio still has a place with BBC Introducing and community radio, but the reach of Facebook and Twitter, along with music centric Soundcloud and Mixcloud can target a group of like minded people more effectively than wallpaper radio.

Spotify and Amazon Prime Music are another great way of discovering music, without the confines of playlisted radio formats.

PRO1 year, 10 months ago

Sandi's rant did highlight one interesting thing - she said (and I paraphrase slightly) - "Three men have made the decision that millions of people won't hear my song". That's certainly the case. And that does rather highlight that there's an unhealthy concentration of power with these three people.

Here's the song, by the way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toeUUnMxic4

1 year, 10 months ago

James Martin said

"However, nobody has a right to be on any playlist."

I agree. However I remember watching an episode of The Voice, from back in the days when it was on the BBC and long before the X-Factorless gets dumped to be replaced by it. One of the spinny chair judges revealed to the nation that he had a team of pluggers who would go into radio stations and ensure his band's songs got played.

Meanwhile, last Friday night it seemed that there was a very special arrangement made between the BBC and Adelle's record company and PR, She got her own show for 100 minutes on primetime telly, with chat and music performances, which just happened to coincide with the very day that her new album was released, making me wonder if there was a commercial incentive and just exactly how did that constitute as public service broadcasting.

So it would seem that some bands and artists get an automatic right to be on the playlist, regardless of the quality of songs, including Take That's latest effort.

1 year, 10 months ago

James Martin;

You say that but ILR remains obsessed with Adele, and everything she writes makes me want to kill myself. ;-)

Actually, good point. Yeah, some songs that commercial radio plays are definitely not feel good, but they are still pretty obsessed with the idea that they should be 'feel good' stations, and I'm not sure that is a good thing or a bad thing.

The days of getting exposure via the radio have surely gone? Social Media is a much, much bigger way of doing this now than it was even five years ago and certainly ten (the Arctic Monkeys being an early example) - anyone can get a song released nowadays. That's the beauty of digital.

I don't know that they're gone, especially with the work that community radio does in highlighting lesser known artists, both local and global. Also, BBC Introducing is a good way of getting artists known locally, but the programme being on Saturday evenings at 8pm is a little bit out of the way really. I don't think that's the best slot for it.

But, yes, anyone can get a song released, and that makes our job on community radio much more difficult. If you want to find the genuine good stuff, it means there's a lot more stuff to go through to find the genuine nuggets of great music.

James Cridland;

Sandi's rant did highlight one interesting thing - she said (and I paraphrase slightly) - "Three men have made the decision that millions of people won't hear my song". That's certainly the case. And that does rather highlight that there's an unhealthy concentration of power with these three people.

When GWR introduced centralised playlisting all those years ago, most of us who had vision could see this coming, but of course, nobody listened to us, cos we were going against the grain. The idea that of course, the stations that had shared ownership didn't need several or many people across the same company doing the same job, when one could do it, makes some sense, until you realise that at the end of that road, lies a lot of power to decide who gets in the chart, and who makes money, and the chart should be a thing that is decided by sales, not by airplay on radio stations, even to a small degree.

The fact that some record companies seem to do everything they can to skew the results in favour of them is very disappointing but hardly surprising. In retail, some of the big food product companies buy up shelf space to ensure their products have the prime display space, and not their competitors. Some even go further than that and offer shops their own display stands, fridges and freezers, in return for only stocking their own products in those stands.

As an industry, the music industry is like life. The top 1% get the most money out of it, and the rest pick up the left-overs. It's a pretty sad indictment really.

PRO1 year, 10 months ago

At my local Morrisons, at the entrance of the store, they have a customised '25' shelf for Adele's new album, which I'm sure the label or distributor has paid for such prominence as Ian mentions above.

Usually Morrisons album section is shunted to the back of the store, unloved among the books and cheap old DVD's that nobody buys because they can stream the same films on Netflix or Amazon as part of a subscription.

The second coming of HMV has helped physical media and Adele as her album has been sold not just on CD, but vinyl too as apparently she banned her album from those sites.

1 year, 10 months ago

Sounds like the sort of thing she would do.

It's not "three men" making the call though. No doubt the song was researched and, at least in Bauer's case, tested. Radio 2 at the least have a playlist committee. There's a very interesting bit in John Myers' book about play listing at Radio 2. Worth a read.

1 year, 10 months ago

James Martin;

It's not "three men" making the call though. No doubt the song was researched and, at least in Bauer's case, tested. Radio 2 at the least have a playlist committee.

Point taken on that, but I do have a question. How do you fairly test new songs? To give a personal example, the first time I heard Sam Smith's The Writing's On The Wall from Spectre, I wasn't that keen on it, but over time, the more I've heard it, the more it's grown on me, and actually have changed my opinion on it from a poor song, to at least a decent one. Things like that can only happen with time and airplay.

In Sandy's case, it's not going to be given a lot of airplay, so it won't get the chance to grow on people.

1 year, 10 months ago

Shame. She must have spent a couple of hundred quid on that video.

1 year, 10 months ago

I wish it was like the old days when a band could get airplay simply by flying PCs to a tropical island or giving out mugs, t-shirts and cocaine.

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