Our friend Kurt Blumenau asked several questions in response to Friday’s post. The answers merited an entire post, so here it is.
“DJ protocol question: at what point is it acceptable to start talking over the big final chord [of ‘A Day in the Life’]?”
As a commenter on Friday’s post noted, it depends on the format. Album stations would let the chord go longer than Top 40 stations. At the classic-rock station 20 years ago, I’d let it go maybe five or 10 seconds after the big bong because enough is enough. Top 40 stations would likely have cut it shorter.
But as a jock, I might not have much of a choice. When stations played physical CDs, they often bought format-specific libraries from a syndicator, because there’s no need to pay for all of Sgt. Pepper (or Wheels of Fire or Houses of the Holy or whatever) when you’re only going to play one or two cuts. Therefore, a jock would be at the mercy of however the song was mastered onto the library disc. Since it was meant for radio play, it would be highly unlikely to include the whole 40 seconds of the chord. Today, it’s likely that what you are hearing on the air is a digital file, and it’s not going to have the whole chord on the end, either, for reasons explained more fully below.
“What does a DJ know about a record the first time (s)he spins it?”
You might get a memo with a bit of information about each week’s new songs, or the new titles might be written on the studio whiteboard. In days of yore, some stations had music meetings to make sure the staff was up-to-date on new releases, recommended album cuts to push, and so forth. But at some stations, new songs just showed up in the rotation. (When I was a music director, I added new songs and tweaked rotations and libraries on Fridays, with the goal of freshening the station’s sound for the weekend.)
“Will the label be marked to indicate a 15-second instrumental intro, a dead-stop ending, a false ending, a fade, etc? Does somebody at the station give the thing a first listen and clue everybody else in?”
Back when record companies shipped promotional 45s to radio stations, they often printed intro time/total time/ending info right on the label, like this:
If it wasn’t already on the record label, stations would sticker the label or the sleeve (or the tape cartridge) with the information, as well as notes about false endings, abrupt cold endings, and so on. Today, all of that usually appears on the label of the digital file that shows up on the studio computer screen. A digital readout counts down both the intro time and the total time, quite a luxury for those of us who once kept track by watching the second hand on the studio clock, or by feel.
It was once common for stations to hand-time singles. Phil Spector famously labeled “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” as 3:05 when he knew it was nearly four minutes, figuring that stations wouldn’t want to play a record that long, but by the time they figured out how long it really was, it would be a hit and they’d have to stay on it. But also, if record-company timing runs from the first note of the song until the last decibel of the fade, it’s not accurate. Stations don’t let records fade to nothing on the air. They want to know precisely how much usable audio is on the track.
Back in the day, the music director (or an intern) did the stickering and timing. The MD would have put the records in the appropriate bin for the different rotation categories, however a station classified them. Today, he or she does the computer manipulation necessary to prepare new songs for broadcast and to schedule them. The actual selection of songs—what to play and in what rotations—is usually done in conjunction with the program director, and it incorporates whatever research data the station uses. Years ago, the process relied heavily on the MD and PD’s ears, and what sounded like a hit. There’s more science than art involved today, but ears still matter. The best stations sound like an organic whole, and while data can help facilitate that, it can’t do it alone.
I am guessing some amongst the readership have more information to add, so please jump in.