Following on Monday’s post, friend of the blog HERC has some radio questions. Answers follow, to the best of my knowledge.
Back in the day, when new vinyl showed up at a station, was it the music director’s job to listen to it, pick what was gonna get played and given the (imagined) sheer volume of albums (and 45s?) coming in, was said listening session merely a skip the needle around to the beginning, middle, and end of a song type thing?
If a music director wanted to be first with the hits, he’d have a pile of new music to listen to each week. Some of that was listening certainly of the skipping-around variety, but not all. Different people did it different ways. Reader CalRadioPD talks about his music-director experience in a comment here.
When I was a music director, my ears were not the first thing I relied upon. I used the national airplay reports in Radio and Records and The Gavin Report to decide what to play. (I had no local research data.) In the vast majority of cases, I’d be adding new songs when they reached a certain level, regardless of how I felt about them. I’d sometimes make brand-new artists rise higher on the charts before I’d give them a precious playlist spot, and some records I personally disliked were occasionally made to wait a little, too.
Some stations got good service from the major labels (which had the songs and artists most people wanted to hear), but some did not, especially in very small towns. One place I worked got little from the majors but lots from tiny mom-and-pop labels, songs that were going nowhere by artists no one had ever heard of. But because you had to make do with what you got, some of these songs got on the air while others, by famous stars on major labels, didn’t, because the station simply didn’t have copies to play.
Given the relentless barrage of incoming records, the usual wear and tear of playback and the finite space to shelve those records, what were some of the ways a station would thin the vinyl library?
The stuff that was getting played, either as a current hit or an oldie, would be kept in the studio. If a record was no longer getting airplay, it might be stashed away in a closet, an attic, or a basement. Records that were scratchy or damaged were sometimes simply junked, although sometimes they’d end up going home with a staffer. Same for the never-were-hits that a station received. (Again, I refer you to CalRadioPD’s comment.)
Reducing the risk of wear and tear is one of the reasons why lots of stations put their current hits, or their entire on-air library, on tape cartridges. Record companies could be stingy with was called “reservice,” especially to small-market stations. If somebody scratched your copy of a current hit single, you might be able to get another one sent to you for free. If somebody damaged your copy of something older, you’d almost certainly have to buy a replacement.
Given the inherent competition between stations or even formats in some markets, how did you maintain awareness of what other stations were playing?
We listened to ’em. Stations would sometimes log the competition to find out what they were playing, and if possible, to discern what kind of rotations they were using. (One of the things interns were for.) Today, certain data for individual stations is available from a service called Mediabase, but I’m not all that familiar with precisely how it works.
What was coolest station promo or giveaway you ever participated in?
One of my stations ran a contest in which people sent in their household bills, we’d read their names on the air, and if they called back within 10 minutes we’d pay the bill for them. I once made somebody’s $996 house payment. At another station, I gave away $1000 to caller #106. I was at a station event one night when a listener asked that question, and I was topped by a colleague who once gave away an all-expenses-paid trip to Dublin for a U2 concert.
Many thanks to CalRadioPD for more interesting answers than mine. If anyone else has anything to add, please jump in. And if you have additional questions of your own, send them along.