Thomas Giger, source material: 123RF / Marian Vejcik

How To Make Your Station (Jingle Bell) Rock This Xmas

by Thomas Giger of

There are many Christmas songs, sometimes in many different versions. Which holiday titles will fit your strategy?

In an earlier article, we’ve shared holiday scheduling tips and Christmas format clocks, but how do you play the right songs for your brand and demographic? We’ll feature a complete Top 40 chart for a ‘Christmas station’, which could also serve as the musical ornament on your playlist tree. And if you’re not flipping to ‘100% seasonal’, or hardly play any Christmas songs, you’ll see how you can still reflect the holiday spirit with your unique Xmas profile.

‘Don’t go broad; rather go deep’

If your market already has a ‘Christmas station’, you can make a musical difference by focusing on a particular segment, reflecting the expectations of your radio brand, e.g. if you play a lot of Jammin’ Oldies, ‘Motown Christmas’ may fit your format (image: Thomas Giger)

If your market already has a ‘Christmas station’, you can make a musical difference by focusing on a particular segment, reflecting the expectations of your radio brand, e.g. if you play a lot of Jammin’ Oldies, ‘Motown Christmas’ may fit your format (image: Thomas Giger)

Build your playlist meticulously

Jingle Bell Rock is one of most popular Christmas songs of all time, but can you still play Bobby Helms on the radio today? If you’re programming an American station, the answer seems to be yes! According to P1 Media Group’s annual Christmas music test (in collaboration with Nielsen) among listeners in the 50 biggest radio markets of the United States, this 1957 classic is actually the best-testing holiday song of 2019 — and not just in 18-54 (82%), but also in 18-24 (80%).

In general, you want to be very careful with ‘spectrum border songs’ as I like to call them, such as a familiar yet old-sounding standard (when you run a contemporary brand), a modern-sounding yet unfamiliar track (when you program a classics-based format), or a familiar yet polarizing song. An example of the latter is Madonna’s Santa Baby, which has a relatively high irritation factor according to last year’s edition of the same study (11% of 25-54 year-olds disliked it).

Plan your holiday strategy

This is where science (identifying popular songs and rotating those frequently) and art (creating variety impression and achieving great flow) famously meet! You want to feature seasonal music in the right context, first on a macro level. Is there already a ‘Christmas station’ in your market? If so, how can you be different? Does ‘100% Christmas’ fit your programming strategy and brand perception? If not, which Christmas songs could you occasionally play?

On a micro level, you want to ask yourself questions as well. Do you have enough power titles and newer songs, so you can embed ‘riskier’ tracks in between ‘safer’ ones or package ‘old-sounding’ standards with ‘contemporary-sounding’ tracks? Are your Power & Secondary category rotations staying out of sync for sufficient time? That’s especially relevant when you schedule your powers and secondaries 1:1 and side-by-side, as our Christmas format clocks  are designed to do.

Define your Christmas cluster

You can use holidays to position your brand — even if you play 0% Christmas! If you’re an Active Rock station, you may use clips in format explainers (“Heard enough Jingle Bell Rock? 99X. Real rock… all year long”). In Top 40, you can play a few Xmas hits occasionally; just be selective. Even if 80% of 18-24 year-olds apparently like the Bobby Helms classic ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, do they expect (and want) to hear it on your station? Probably not — but may might like Ariana Grande’s ‘Santa Tell Me’.

‘100% Christmas’ sounds tempting for a short-term ratings win, but does it serve your long-time brand strategy, if you’re, let’s say, a Rhythmic AC? In such a case, my two cents would be: don’t go broad; rather go deep; choose a cluster to distinguish your sound. If you’re a ‘Jammin’ Oldies’ AC with a playlist including Motown songs, featuring Motown Christmas music can certainly serve your tactics and strategy. Just test enough titles to play more than Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

‘Benefit from appointment listening’

Instead of simply playing Christmas songs like you usually do, you can feature your strongest songs in a different, original way to create additional excitement and drive appointment listening, like a Christmas Top 40 with the holiday season’s greatest hits (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Decca Records, RCA, Columbia)

Instead of simply playing Christmas songs like you usually do, you can feature your strongest songs in a different, original way to create additional excitement and drive appointment listening, like a Christmas Top 40 with the holiday season’s greatest hits (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Decca Records, RCA, Columbia)

Increase your tune-in occasions

If you are a broad family station with a 18-54 audience, then you can play a broader mix of music for that demo. Yes, also Jingle Bell Rock from 1957 (and even White Christmas from 1942) when carefully scheduled and dayparted. Depending, again, on your station image and format strategy, you might focus on modern & uptempo songs during drive time and work hours, and go slightly more nostalgic and downtempo during winter evenings when (Baby) It’s Cold Outside.

You can benefit from appointment listening when you play your top hits in a certain context. It can be as simple as a Christmas Top 40 where you take your 40 best-besting holiday songs, and re-organize them. Like a chronological chart from 1947 till today with cool facts about key songs (or lifetime memories of your audience, including well-produced listener audio), starting with Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and ending with Katy Perry’s Cozy Little Christmas (2018).

Optimize your music flow

Another way is to schedule songs in a meticulous order, serving a broad listenership by offering lots of music variety. Make a serious effort to separate similar sounds (and recurring artists & titles), as a well-scheduled log means a good listening experience — the human touch that makes us different from Spotify and other audio streaming services. Using 40 of 57 songs on P1 Media’s 2019 list of best-testing holiday songs, we’ve made a Christmas Top 40 for a Classic Hits format.

To stimulate TSL, we’ve assigned test rank 1-20 to Power, and 21-40 to Secondary, so we could place Powers (76-82% passion score in the entire 18-54 year-old research population) in order of increasing popularity to build excitement throughout the chart, and place secondaries (71-75% passion) around these Power slots as a balancing element to achieve good variety of things like era, texture, tempo and gender. This has led to the following Top 40, with Power songs in bold:

Download our Christmas Top 40 as an Excel or Numbers spreadsheet including song categories, test ranks, release dates, sound codes, and YouTube & Wikipedia links for every title and artist.

40 — Jingle Bell Rock — Hall & Oates
39 — Ring Christmas Bells — Ray Conniff & The Ray Conniff Singers
38 — It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas — Michael Bublé
37 — Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town — The Jackson 5
36 — Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) — Darlene Love
35 — Sleigh Ride — Leroy Anderson
34 — Winter Wonderland — Amy Grant
33 — Last Christmas — Wham!
32 — Baby It’s Cold Outside — Dean Martin
31 — Feliz Navidad — José Feliciano

30 — Last Christmas — Taylor Swift
29 — Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town — Frank Sinatra
28 — Happy Xmas (War Is Over) — John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band
27 — You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch — Thurl Ravenscroft
26 — Santa Baby — Eartha Kitt
25 — The Christmas Song — Nat King Cole
24 — Do You Hear What I Hear? — Andy Williams
23 — Linus And Lucy — Vince Guaraldi
22 — Please Come Home For Christmas — The Eagles
21 — It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas — Bing Crosby

20 — Underneath The Tree — Kelly Clarkson
19 — Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer — Gene Autry
18 — Silver Bells — Andy Williams
17 — Sleigh Ride — The Ronettes
16 — Run Rudolph Run — Chuck Berry
15 — A Holly Jolly Christmas — Burl Ives
14 — There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays — The Carpenters
13 — Jingle Bells — Frank Sinatra
12 — Frosty The Snowman — Jimmy Durante
11 — Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas — Michael Bublé

10 — Happy Holiday / The Holiday Season — Andy Williams
09 — All I Want For Christmas Is You — Mariah Carey
08 — Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! — Dean Martin
07 — Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer — Burl Ives
06 — Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) — Gene Autry
05 — Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree — Brenda Lee
04 — Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town — Bruce Springsteen
03 — It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year — Andy Williams
02 — It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas — Johnny Mathis
01 — Jingle Bell Rock — Bobby Helms

Create your own version

I’ve created this chart to give you a head start, as I’ve been a busy music director myself. In many English-speaking and European markets, you could play this list from 40 to 1. However, only you really know your market and its local greatest hits, being embedded in your musical culture. You also know, like no-one else, what listeners expect from your brand, based on experience and research. I would therefore suggest to use this as a base, but make it your own.

If you’re more ‘Modern AC’ than ‘Classic Hits’, then many 40’s, 50’s and 60’s standards are too far from your music core. Even though it’s a holiday context — an excuse to explore your format borders — always stay true to your brand and format. You could take out 10 or 20 songs; creating a Top 30 or 20 instead, and/or replace old-feeling titles by new-sounding ones (in bold) from the 17 other good-testing songs (71-61% passion among 18-54 year-olds), which are the following:

41 — Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24 — Trans-Siberian Orchestra (instrumental)
42 — Winter Wonderland — Eurythmics
43 — Little Saint Nick — Beach Boys
44 — I’ll Be Home For Christmas — Bring Crosby
45 — Wonderful Christmastime — Paul McCartney
46 — Christmas Time Is Here — Vince Guaraldi (instrumental)
47 — Do They Know It’s Christmas? — Band Aid
48 — White Christmas — Bing Crosby
49 — Christmas Canon — Trans-Siberian Orchestra (instrumental)
50 — Hallelujah — Pentatonix

51 — Santa Tell Me — Ariana Grande
52 — What Christmas Means To Me — John Legend
53 — Blue Christmas — Elvis Presley
54 — Winter Wonderland — Darlene Love
55 — White Christmas — The Drifters
56 — Mistletoe — Justin Bieber
57 — Cozy Little Christmas — Katie Perry

Happy programming and happy holidays!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

Thomas Giger, source material: 123RF / scanrail


by Thomas Giger of

You can program Classic Hits (or similar music formats) using classic category setups based on music library decades — or do something different and distinguish your sound.

Playing power songs for your entire demo, yet focusing your efforts on your core target is what we covered in Part 1 of this series for Gold-oriented music stations. The example formats shown were audience-category based, instead of using plain decades or eras, but there are even more ways to build smart categories and rotate them effectively. In this article, we’ll discuss a different method to create a music format.

‘The smaller categories are, the broader you want them themed’

For a Classic Hits station playing a few hundred best-testing songs, Pop, Rock & Dance, split into Power & Secondary rotation where necessary, may be sufficient (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Sire / Warner Bros., Blue Sky Records, EMI / Scotti Brothers)

For a Classic Hits station playing a few hundred best-testing songs, Pop, Rock & Dance, split into Power & Secondary rotation where necessary, may be sufficient (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Sire / Warner Bros., Blue Sky Records, EMI / Scotti Brothers)

Define your library segments

“I don’t like using decades as categories. But what are the alternatives?”, a Classic Hits program director recently emailed me. As other music programmers may have the same relevant question, we’ll dedicate this post to it. While decade-based definitions can absolutely work, you could, for starters, consider using era-or demographic-based folders instead, as explained previously.

However, these are still time-oriented categories. So what’s a truly different way to schedule your songs? Indeed, music genres! But how you do it makes a real difference. The basics are as usual; you first analyze your playlist for common music genres. When you spin Classic Hits for 35-54 (hits from late 70s to mid 90s), your basic genres may be Pop, Rock and Dance.

Code your individual songs

To make that easy, define every genre using core genre songs. You can use those as reference tracks whenever you (re)code your songs. It helps to code every song based on ‘dominant genre feel’. The following classifications are obviously arbitrary, but that’s cool as long as 1 person codes all songs (ideally in 1 session), and does it consistently:

Pop: anything without a dance beat and without strong guitars (the safe middle of your playlist)

example: Madonna — Borderline

Rock: everything with a dominant guitar

example: Survivor — Eye Of The Tiger

Dance: everything with a powerful beat

example: Dan Hartman — Relight My Fire

Build your genre categories

In competitive markets, you may have a very focused playlist of a few hundred songs, and a small number of categories with each a broad theme — so rather have one ‘Dance’ category for all rhythmic genres (Soul, Disco, Funk, R&B, etc.) as opposed to sub categories for each. The smaller categories are in terms of number of songs, the broader you want them themed to avoid rotation problems (like extremely high turnovers compared to other, equal categories).

If you’re a broad Gold format (like Classic Hits), Pop, Rock & Dance categories – split into Power & Secondary rotation level where necessary – may be all you need. If you’re a segmented format (like Classic Rock), consider a limited amount of sub genres as music category themes. Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is may go into Rock Ballads (or ‘Soft’), The Doobie Brothers’ Listen To The Music into Pop-Rock (or ‘Medium’), and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck into Pure Rock (or ‘Hard’).

‘Segueing from song to song, sometimes you’re lucky’

You could, for example, align the last note of Can’t Fight This Feeling with the first beat of Africa (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Epic, Columbia)

You could, for example, align the last note of Can’t Fight This Feeling with the first beat of Africa (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Epic, Columbia)

Determine your category exposure

Part 1 showed how to create a music flow with your desired category ratio, a concept we can expand to genre-based categories. If you’re a Classic Hits, and your mapping study shows a big fan base for mainstream Pop, and smaller ones for Pop-Rock and Pop-Dance, then you may play 2 Pop : 1 Pop-Rock : 1 Pop-Dance. You could work with Power & Secondary rotations for Pop, but may want to play only Power for the ‘riskier’ categories; Pop-Rock and Pop-Dance. The three genre categories we have here, combine very well, which matters a lot.

Playing popular music for your format target demo (and scheduling it well for a great on-air flow) is just one aspect. Having a clear proposition, delivered constantly for a consistent experience, is another. It’s important to have compatible genres in your music format. When you’re (known for) playing 80s & 90s Pop-Rock, and your music research indicates that your target demo also likes Daft Punk’s One More Time, does it fit in a format cluster based on David Bowie, Queen and The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Too much variety affects your audience expectations and brand image.

Create your jingle grid

Once you have your genre categories, you spread them out over each hour, and this is where an alternative method for scheduling comes in. You can use your station imaging as your format clock base, positioning your categories around a grid of jingles! Depending on how many jingles you have, you can put individual jingles on fixed positions, or (better) create categories for certain jingles and rotate those on fixed positions. If you’re a Classic Hits playing Pop, Rock & Dance, your imaging package should reflect those styles, so you can schedule jingles accordingly.

If you’re segueing from a Pop into a Rock song, 3 options for ‘jingling’ in between are (1) a classic, Pop-to-Rock transition jingle, which would be more complex to automatically schedule, (2) a Rock jingle, or (3) a Pop jingle! Option 3 is less common, but may actually create the best flow, because the jingle is in the style of the song that the listener has just heard, and therefore it feels like part of the song – or a ‘branded outro’. As long as that jingle has a relatively neutral ending (not too much of any genre, and with medium tempo vocals), you can start almost ‘any’ song after it.

Use your sweepers alternately

Segueing from song to song, sometimes you’re lucky to, for example, align the last note of REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling with the first beat of Toto’s Africa, letting the first song’s musical ending run through the second one’s clean intro. When you make sure that song keys match or are compatible, and that song textures sound right together, you can even mix the musical outro of Can’t Fight This Feeling with a musical intro, like that of Reamonn’s Supergirl. To identify your station over such segues, you may use a sweeper or a jingle acapella in the right key. Apart from that, you may wish to alternate sung jingles and voice-over based sweepers in general.

Attaching jingle categories to fixed clock positions will help you control your flow of music genres precisely, as you can exactly choose sort of jingle should be adjacent to which sort of song. Code your jingles like you code your songs, so you can define rules, like that (in case of Option 3 above) a fast-tempo ‘Hard’ song should be followed by a jingle that (starts) in the same way. Make every hour sound slightly different by creating various clocks (by turning your ‘clock wheel’ one or more positions each time), and scheduling all clocks a smart ‘clock grid’, so that for at least 9 days (for which you need 9 clocks), for mathematical reasons, each day starts with a different format clock.

‘A music format for a Classic Hits station in a PPM radio market’

This format has a genre ratio of 2 Pop : 1 Pop-Rock : 1 Pop-Dance (image: Thomas Giger)

This format has a genre ratio of 2 Pop : 1 Pop-Rock : 1 Pop-Dance (image: Thomas Giger)

Optimise your station flow

Here’s a music format for a Classic Hits station in a PPM radio market, featuring 2 stopsets an hour, containing 15 minutes of spots. There’s a genre ratio of 2 Pop : 1 Pop-Rock : 1 Pop-Dance, and we can match music genre categories with jingle genre categories, according to Option 3 above. Apart from a main jingle category, there are Top of Hour (TOH) and Out of Break (OOB) jingle categories including 3 genre versions (Pop, Pop-Rock and Pop-Dance) in each, so every TOH / OOB can be matched with the following song (as, in this PPM format for daytime shows with full spot loads, all Top of Hours and Out of Breaks are preceded by ads; not by music).

Jingle TOH // Pop

  1. Pop Power


  1. Pop Secondary


  1. Rock Power

Jingle // Rock

  1. Pop Power


  1. Pop Secondary


COMMERCIAL BREAK xx.20 (5 minutes)

Jingle OOB // Dance

  1. Dance Power


  1. Pop Power


  1. Pop Secondary

Jingle // Pop

  1. Rock Power


  1. Pop Power


  1. Pop Secondary

Jingle // Pop

  1. Dance Power

Sweeper (may be dropped)

  1. Pop Power (may be dropped)

Jingle // Pop (may be dropped)

  1. Pop Secondary (may be dropped)


COMMERCIAL BREAK xx.50 (10 minutes)

Design your clock variants

An example of creating various alternative clocks based on this master clock, you may imagine turning your ‘clock wheel’ one or more positions to the left or right, so you will create variety while maintaining stationarity by consistent category ratios and format flow. Just slightly change song orders to continue your overall format. Moving our master clock two positions clockwise will give us the following clock variant:

Jingle TOH // Rock

  1. Rock Power


  1. Pop Power


  1. Pop Secondary

Jingle // Pop

  1. Dance Power


  1. Pop Power


COMMERCIAL BREAK xx.20 (5 minutes)

Jingle OOB // Pop

  1. Pop Secondary


  1. Rock Power


  1. Pop Power

Jingle // Pop

  1. Pop Secondary


  1. Dance Power


  1. Pop Power

Jingle // Pop

  1. Pop Secondary

Sweeper (may be dropped)

  1. Rock Power (may be dropped)

Jingle // Rock (may be dropped)

  1. Pop Power (may be dropped)


COMMERCIAL BREAK xx.50 (10 minutes)

Based on an average duration of 3.5 to 4 minutes per song, there’s a chance that #13 and #14 won’t play. If those are powers (like in the example above), it may feel a waste, and it might be tempting to always schedule two Secondary Pop songs at the very end. However, does your station sound consistently strong enough if they do play? In your music scheduling software, songs that didn’t play can be marked as ‘unplayed’, so they don’t end up at the ‘bottom of the stack’ but can be rescheduled again soon. It helps you to maximize your library and preserve rotation patterns. Happy programming!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.


How To Make Your Gold-Based Format Shine (Part 1)

by Thomas Giger of

Spinning lots of Gold? This programming approach for your Classic Hits station (or similar music format) may make your station shine.

Following our earlier series on CHR formats, some of you asked to receive ideas for Classic Hits stations as well. So this is part 1 of a new series on Gold-based formats. We’re starting with ideas to set up categories to support your strategy for ratings and revenue, and creating a flow to serve your full demo while focusing your effort on your core.

‘Think of format core in terms of audience and taste’

Eurodance, Grunge and other styles that mark the 90s music era may make it challenging to find suitable songs for today’s Classic Hits (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Byte, DGC)

Eurodance, Grunge and other styles that mark the 90s music era may make it challenging to find suitable songs for today’s Classic Hits (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Byte, DGC)

Serve your entire demographic

The mother of all music formats is based on decade categories, such as one category for songs from the 1960s, another one for 1970s, and so on. I used to do the same in my early radio years, being really precise (close to autistic) with it. A song that was a hit in 1979, went into my ‘70s’; a song that charted (mainly) in 1980, went into my ‘80s’ category.

I then created a category flow to spread decades out for broad audience appeal. If two classic hits went back to back, a 1960s song would play next to an 80s (not a 70s), and a 70s track next to a 90s (not an 80s), engaging every segment of our total listener demo (and having music variety as a nice additional benefit). This was around 2000. The station I programmed, aimed at 25-54.

Consider your music cycles

Sometimes, during specialty shows, there would be instances where a 70s classic would play next to an 80s song, or an 80s hit would be adjacent to a 90s track. That would sometimes create a challenge, as many works from 1978 and ’79 sounded like those from ’80 and ’81 (as there were many Disco songs in the charts in those years), so we looked beyond the usual category borders.

We introduced era categories based on music cycles, a natural way to separate songs with a similar sound. Our (former) 70s category now went until 1982, and our (former) 80s category, which now started in 1983, now went till 1992 (because of a Dance wave, around 1990). It helped us to naturally ‘pre-separate’ music genres by category, before separating them by sound codes.

Define your era periods

The concept of (rounded-up) era-based categories can be taken further by looking at a larger period. In 2020, a station aimed at 35-54 will probably play mostly music from between 1976 (when a 54-year-old was 10, and was getting involved in pop culture) and 1995 (when a 35-year old was 10), so with a middle around 1985 / 1986, where we could split it into 2 subcategories.

Although we now could simply balance Old Classics (1976-1985) and Young Classics (1986-1995) in our clocks, we also want to think of format core in terms of audience and taste. In this case, we would ask questions like: is our core audience 35-44, 45-54, or in the middle with 40-49? And: can we find enough great-testing songs from the extreme 90s with their Eurodance and Grunge?

‘Precise control over song rotation can only be gained through separate categories’

Combining demographic-based main categories and popularity-based sub categories allows us to create category sequences such as this one (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Warner Bros., Atlantic)

Combining demographic-based main categories and popularity-based sub categories allows us to create category sequences such as this one (image: Thomas Giger, source material: Warner Bros., Atlantic)

Establish your era categories

Let’s assume that we’ve done our research (so we know which songs appeal most to our entire 35-54 year-old target audience), and we’ve divided our library in 3 categories for 3 subgroups:

Young Classics: attractive for the younger end of our listenership (35-39, music: (first half of) 90s)

Core Classics: aimed at the main core of our desired audience (40-49, music: full period of 80s)

Old Classics: relating to the older end of our demographic (50-54, music: second half of 70s)

and let’s assume that we aim for the main core and the younger end (which has a potential of becoming our future main core, and is sexy for advertisers), then we can move to the next step.

Build your category sequence

As we’ll play mostly 80s and first-half 90s music with a bit of second-half 70s music, we can create a category sequence based on correct ratios for desired exposure, in this case:

3 Core Classics : 2 Young Classics : 1 Old Classic

resulting in a basic format sequence that goes like this:

Core — Young — Core — Young — Core — Old — (repeat pattern)

As Young Classics would be frequently exposed, we would need enough good-testing songs from a short 1990-1995 period (compared to a way larger 1980-1989 library). The solution could be to extend Young Classics with great 1996-2000 songs, or to redefine Core Classics as songs from 1980-1987 and Young Classics as songs from 1988-1995, thus including 8 music years in each.

Play your powers frequently

There are several approaches to playing ‘top-testers’ frequently. We can tell our music scheduling software to, after airplay, put a song intended as Secondary all the way back into the stack, so it will take its time to show up again, and place a song feeling like a Power not that far back, so it’ll repeat sooner. (As it was done manually, in the old days, using index cards for song rotations.)

However, precise control over song rotation can only be gained through separate categories, for example: splitting ‘Core’ into ‘Core Power’ and ‘Core Secondary’ (and so on). That allows you to create a rotation based on demographic subgroups and song popularity, thus a sequence with mainly ‘Power’ popularity songs and mostly ‘Core’ or ‘Young’ demography songs, like this:

  1. Core Power
  2. Young Power
  1. Core Secondary
  2. Young Power
  1. Core Power
  2. Old Secondary
  1. Core Power
  2. Young Secondary
  1. Core Power
  2. Young Power
  1. Core Secondary
  2. Old Power
  1. Core Power
  2. Young Secondary
  1. Core Power

Of course, all of the above is still based on music eras, while there are other ways to structure the music flow on your station. The upcoming part 2 will showcase another way of music scheduling for Classic Hits (alike) formats, one that actually may surprise you as it’s working from a completely different angle. Stay tuned!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.



by Thomas Giger of

How do you prevent listener tune out when you introduce new music to your station playlist? Here are 10 ideas to pick, position & package unfamiliar songs better.

One of the trickiest moments in the hour is when you play a new song that your audience doesn’t know (yet). On the other hand, new releases in your playlist keep your station sounding fresh.  It’s a matter of selecting, scheduling & selling new music so that listeners stay tuned as often as possible.



Unless your format is Alternative (where breaking new music meets your listener expectations), you’ll want to introduce unfamiliar songs carefully. Even if you’re a CHR, positioning yourself as, for example, the #1 Hit Music Station which implies that you’re playing current hits, many Top 40 stations are actually trend followers, creating a progressive perception through branding & marketing.


Unless it’s a highly-anticipated song by a very established artist (think Taylor Swift star power) or unless you’re programming a publicly-funded station, you can let other platforms such as YouTube introduce certain songs. Once a critical mass of popularity has been reached, the (now more familiar) track begins its radio hit cycle. While you can (and should) take calculated risks to keep radio relevant, a thoughtful approach does make sense when stakes are high.


Especially when your format is relatively conservative – like the average AC or even Hot AC – it’s good to have a clear policy and list of criteria for introducing new music on your station. It goes beyond which titles will be chosen in that week’s music meeting, as there’s an art to scheduling novelty songs, and an art to imaging new releases. Let’s look at 10 ideas to help you choose, program & package new music!


A song criteria checklist for playlist additions is a very useful tool for weekly music meetings (image: 123RF / aleksanderdn)

A song criteria checklist for playlist additions is a very useful tool for weekly music meetings (image: 123RF / aleksanderdn)


Always ask yourself: ‘what does this song really mean to my target audience right now?’ and ‘If I don’t play it now, will my listeners feel like they’re missing it?’ To answer those questions, you need an exact picture of your target listener, and detailed knowledge about their music taste (that you may have learned from your cluster research and mapping studies in recent years).


You can make a checklist of arguments to add a song, and review your criteria before every addition. Questions may include anything from ‘Does this song fit our music format and station image?’ and ‘Does it have a great hook or gimmick?’ to ‘Is it hot on social media?’ and ‘Is it featured in a TV show, commercial or movie that is popular among our target audience right now?’ Or, if none of the above: ‘Is it a REALLY great song that feels like a hit and NEEDS to played?’ The more checkmarks, the more reasons to add it.


You can make a checklist of arguments to add a song, and review your criteria before every addition. Questions may include anything from ‘Does this song fit our music format and station image?’ and ‘Does it have a great hook or gimmick?’ to ‘Is it hot on social media?’ and ‘Is it featured in a TV show, commercial or movie that is popular among our target audience right now?’ Or, if none of the above: ‘Is it a REALLY great song that feels like a hit and NEEDS to played?’ The more checkmarks, the more reasons to add it.


Music directors could use 4 different current music playlist rotations to categorise an upcoming hit song like Blow by Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars – from its introduction and adoption to its popularity and declination (image: Asylum Records, Atlantic Records)

Music directors could use 4 different current music playlist rotations to categorise an upcoming hit song like Blow by Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars – from its introduction and adoption to its popularity and declination (image: Asylum Records, Atlantic Records)


It’s obvious to schedule an unfamiliar song between two familiar ones, but make sure that at least one of the two familiar songs has a high popularity and a low burn (so your listeners are not tired of it). For this reason, you could set up the following ‘music cycle based’ categories:

N – New – unfamiliar songs

C 2 – Secondary Currents – hits on the way up (growing popularity, low burn)

C 1 – Power Currents – today’s top-testing hits (high popularity, still low burn)

C 3 – Tertiary Currents – hits on the way down (high familiarity, increasing burn)

This is useful when you have a current music-based format like CHR, so you can, for example, schedule a new N in between a popular C 1 and a familiar C 3 or a Recurrent.


You could use a fixed song amount for current music categories. Example: when each hour includes four Power and four Secondary slots, you may always want five Power and 13 Secondary hits in the respective categories. It ensures a balanced rotation and consistent flow week by week, and evokes a quality playlist — taking one song out to put another one in now requires really strong arguments. The downside is that you might not always have five true Powers, in which case you could switch to an alternate set of clocks, optimizing category exposure to category content.


An unfamiliar song should always be pre-sold (over the intro). The most common way is to let presenters announce new music with real excitement. Also, give people a reason to stay tuned or come back soon, by mentioning which (incentive) will follow after. “Coming up: Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello, but first a great new track by Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars and a man who wrote 170 songs, including six number-1 hits – Chris Stapleton! From Ed Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project comes a new single called Blow, and that’s new music for you — from WXYZ.”


When new songs don’t have a jock talk in front of them, a power intro can be used instead (photo: Flickr / Vincent L)

When new songs don’t have a jock talk in front of them, a power intro can be used instead (photo: Flickr / Vincent L)


PPM data shows that virtually every second, listeners tune out and others tune in. Those who join you while you’re spinning an unfamiliar song many not have heard you announce it. To stay with our example: if there’s no talk scheduled after Blow, there should be one after Shawn Mendes to identify and ‘own’ the unfamiliar (but possibly soon to be very popular) composition. “Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello on WXYZ, and before that, new music by Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars and Country star Chris Stapleton, it’s called Blow. To see all music we play, go to — keyword ’playlist’ — or download the free WXYZ app in the App Store or Google Play.”


To accelerate the adoption of new music, you can create format-explaining hook promos where you’ll follow techniques of music scheduling, embedding new songs in between familiar ones. “WXYZ plays the hottest hits…” (hook of C 1 song) “… tomorrow’s hits…” (hook of C 2 song) “… and the best new music…” (hook of N song) “… Today’s Best Music is on WXYZ”. If you have a secondary station voice, you can let him or her announce the corresponding artist names and song titles, and include these in your music promo as well. It will help you to further claim the popular artists and upcoming songs as your discovery.


Power Intros (or Power Outros) are another great way to let your station voice introduce (or backsell) playlist adds, especially at new music positions without jock talks before or after. Also for non-stop or music-driven hours, it’s very convenient to produce your new songs in a Power Intro & Outro version. A proven intro concept is a quick ‘sneak preview’ where you can pre-sell unfamiliar songs with a hook at the beginning. Again, the song’s artist & title can be identified by your secondary station voice; your main station VO can do the lead part.


Even though it’s important to presell & backsell new songs well, your core music playlist and your main station positioning should be communicated first & foremost; your listeners have to remember what you mainly stand for (image: 123RF / Dan Grytsku)

Even though it’s important to presell & backsell new songs well, your core music playlist and your main station positioning should be communicated first & foremost; your listeners have to remember what you mainly stand for (image: 123RF / Dan Grytsku)


If properly marketed, playing new music can be a competitive advantage. Classic Hits CBS-FM in New York City once played two currents an hour, branded as ‘Future Gold.’ If your main format is not new music, don’t emphasise these exceptions – otherwise they’ll weaken your listener expectations and station image in the long run. Keep your key proposition top of mind. If you want a progressive CHR image (and emphasize that you play the best current hits, and discover the best new songs), you can use a generic positioner like Today’s Best Music instead of Today’s Best Hits. Always fulfill your format promise.

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.



by Thomas Giger of

Looking for ways to get your target audience to tune in more often and listen longer? Give them a better sense of your station’s sound.

Our ‘Format X-Ray’ of an AC station might give you ideas to optimize your music. Thoughtful category setups and smart format designs can greatly improve your logs and further enhance your flow to then increase your tune-in occasions and expand your Time Spent Listening. So, let’s have a look at rotations & clocks!


AC is trend following; not trend setting in terms of playlist adds (image: Island Records)

AC is trend following; not trend setting in terms of playlist adds (image: Island Records)


Before we can analyze this station in terms of music category sequence, we have to know which songs are in which category. We can get an idea of tracks rotating frequently (and therefore currents or recurrents) by counting how often a song appears in a day. There are several airplay monitor tools out there, but we did this exercise manually. Apart from taking notes from a three-hour recording, we relied on the station’s website, which allows users to enter a certain time to see which songs played around that time.

The site didn’t show which songs (if any) were played between midnight and 4 a.m., and also the final half hour of that day (between 11:30 and midnight) wasn’t available for this analysis. But we do have a nice 19.5 hours of music data available, which is sufficient to analyze song rotations within high-rotating categories on a basic level. If you don’t have an airplay monitor service (or would like to check its accuracy), you can apply this method to track competing stations on a regular basis, which is relatively easy if the website shows you the full playback history.


The following downloadable spreadsheets (in PDF format) will show you all songs played during these 19.5 hours, sorted in different ways for different purposes, so we can easily identify the most-frequently played songs on the station:


The ‘Possible categories 2 overview’ includes 12 songs that played four or five times during the 19.5 monitored hours. Even if this is a limited sample, it’s likely that they were rotating at least three and possibly up to 12 (although that seems like a lot) Power Currents at the time. It’s indicated by three titles scheduled five times, and nine titles scheduled four times. Some of these nine tracks might have been scheduled one more time (during the 4.5-hour ‘blind spot’). The songs that were played two or three times during those 19.5 hours can, for now, be classified as Secondary Currents or New Songs, depending on their release date.

Obviously, AC stations usually play the hits; not make the hits. Adult Contemporary formats will often add currents later (and often play them longer) than the average CHR or Hot AC would do. An example is I Took a Pill in Ibiza by Mike Posner, which came out in July 2015, but still aired at least four times that day – therefore an apparent Power Current for this AC station, even if it was over a year old when we made this aircheck (Nov. 2016). So, we can now categorize songs that played two or three times a day like this:

New Songs: released during Sept., Oct., & Nov. of 2016 Secondary Currents: released in 2016 or in the second half of 2015

Power Recurrents: released in 2014 or in the first half of 2015

Power Golds: released in 2013 or earlier


This category order & ratio could be more consistent (image: Thomas Giger)

This category order & ratio could be more consistent (image: Thomas Giger)


As you see in the ‘Possible categories (sorted by release)’ tab, focusing on tracks from 2013 or earlier, five songs that would usually be a Power Gold are getting the same amount of plays as four songs that would normally be a Power Recurrent. Even if Sportfreunde Stiller’s Applaus, Applaus (German hit song) and Bastille’s Pompeii, both from the first half of 2013, would still be running as Power Recurrents, you’d expect both Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and the two Sunrise Avenue songs on the list — especially their Fairytale Gone Bad from 2006 — to be Power Golds, right?

That Fairytale Gone Bad was played at least twice that day — as much as, for example, Ed Sheeran’s Photograph from 2015 — which could indicate that this station (temporarily) brought back some Power Gold songs as Power Recurrent titles to automatically increase their rotation. Maybe they couldn’t find enough Power Recurrents based on research, and therefore added top-testing Power Golds to the Power Recurrent category? It’s a nice idea, but it diffuses the desired clarity of ‘one theme per category’ and the listener’s (subconscious) natural distinction between songs that are just a few years old and (that therefore play more often than) songs that are older.


Of course, it could be a coincidence. The music director may have used the extra Viva la Vida, Fairytale Gone Bad and Hollywood Hills tracks to manually replace other titles on the music log for a certain reason, and may have missed or disregarded that these songs were already scheduled elsewhere on that day. Or the scheduling software may have done it for some reason, like bypassing a ‘breakable’ rule?

In any case, we now have a global picture of which songs are likely to be Power Currents, Secondary Currents / New Songs, Power Recurrents, and Power Golds / Power Recurrents, which enables us to analyze this AC station’s music format on a basic level. Getting back to our three-hour aircheck, we can now assign possible music categories to every song played. Again, as we have monitored a single broadcast day, based on 19.5 hours of data, and as we don’t exactly know if these songs are actually in those categories, it’s an indication. But we’ll still get a pretty good insight into this station’s music exposure:


It looks like each of these hours is built in a different way. While it’s okay to have some variety, making a format less predictable, you always want to follow balanced patterns that reflect your entire music format. In other words, while the category order may be slightly different from hour to hour, the category ratio should be basically equal from clock to clock. An improvement could be a better balance of older & newer songs, which now seems off with five versus six versus seven Golds played an hour.

Power Currents and Secondary Recurrents are balanced pretty well, but while Hour 1 and Hour 3 include as much as two Secondary Currents, there are none of those in Hour 2. That hour features a New Current, while the other two hours don’t include one (although it’s perfectly fine for an AC station to schedule an ‘unfamiliar song’ category every other hour; not every hour). Finally, there’s no Power Recurrent in Hour 3 versus Hour 1 and Hour 2. The category order can be better, too, as we see several older (or several newer) songs scheduled back to back on multiple occasions. So there’s a need for more balance and more consistency. Here’s one way to achieve it:


This format could be a good base for this AC station (format & image: Thomas Giger)

This format could be a good base for this AC station (format & image: Thomas Giger)


The above format example includes what I call a RhythmicRatio™. In this case, older vs. newer songs (classic, contemporary — classic, contemporary) to communicate to listeners the essence of the format, like ‘the best mix of yesterday and today’ or ‘yesterday’s hits and today’s favourites’ (to quote frequently used format positioners). Even though recurrents may be up to a few years old, they’re included on the ‘contemporary’ side of the RhythmicRatio™ flow, as it creates a distinctive contrast with the ‘classic’ part of the music library.

By including only two Power Currents an hour (but with fewer songs in that category than we found in the analysis) and two Secondary Currents an hour (with more songs in that category), there should be an greater feeling of passion for the hottest currents thanks to greater distinction with other currents. The same solution has been applied to each hour’s Power Recurrent slot and Secondary Recurrent slot. New Current is placed in the middle of the hour as it’s now embedded in familiar songs — in this case, two Golds (of which at least one should be a Power Gold).


Note that in one of the hours, one Secondary Current has been replaced by a New Current. Hours 1 & 2 are now based on one basic clock; hours 3 & 4 on another basic clock (where positions of Power Currents and Power Recurrents have been switched). It will help ensure songs from high-rotating categories don’t end up in the same slots within the hour, which would make logs too predictable over time.

A great way to increase this ‘shuffle effect’ is rotating your music clocks across the days of a week or ideally multiple weeks, as explained in previous articles on using format clock grids to rotate hot clocks. I hope this post will give you good ideas to further tweak the music format of your own (Adult Contemporary) station. We’ll do more Format X-Rays in the future. Let us know which format you’d love to have examined next!

(In this straightforward exposure of strengths & weaknesses, the station, show & presenter names, as well as the air check recordings, are not included for respectful discretion towards the radio professionals involved.)

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.



by Thomas Giger of

Music genre, artist gender and tempo flow are all important factors in music scheduling. How could all of these influencers work together even better?

Every experienced music director knows that a great music log (and a successful music station) doesn’t depend on your playlist selection alone; it also matters in which order you play them! The right variety of genre, gender and tempo will help you to create music sweeps that will keep people tuned in. Here are a couple of thoughts, based on analyzing the midday logs (11 a.m. – 2 p.m.) of a major market German AC station.

Resources: Download aircheck notes in Microsoft Excel format (.xlsx)


A ‘completely perfect’ music flow as seen above eventually becomes ‘almost perfect’ as factors like song rotations and scheduling rules, come into play (image: Thomas Giger)


Before we dive into this music scheduling analysis, some general thoughts. Adult Contemporary is a mass-appeal format, and programming for a broad 20-49 year-old demo (like our case station does) means programming with a challenge. First of all, you want to reflect your entire format in any given 20-minute segment — or, as listening sessions get shorter, every 10 minutes.

‘Every time I tune in, they’ll play a great song, or they’ll play it soon’ is what you want your desired audience to (sub)consciously think! These positive listener expectations drive ratings by keeping loyal P1 listeners happy, and, over time, convert occasional P2 listeners into more regular ones as they keep sampling your station and liking your music. A way to go about this would be dividing your demographic target into smaller sub groups.


AC is also a ‘balance format’. You want to create a good mix of eras & genres, based on carefully defined ratios. One factor is obviously listener age. You can divide your music catalogue into Recent Classics versus Older Classics. Say your target audience is 20-49, then you may want to serve 20-34 and 35-49 equally (or, to sound a bit fresher, put a slight emphasis on 20-34). As people mostly connect to music during their teenage years, an AC station can (in terms of non- current music) attract 20-49 year-old people by playing classics between 10 and 40 years of age.

In 2019, your oldest songs may be originating from the late 70s. To achieve era balance, your Recurrents could cover 2018-2019, Recent Classics 2000-2018, and Older Classics 1979-1999 — but it depends on how you wish to separate (and expose) your era groups. Another way to define audience segments is by music taste. If your mapping study shows a large cluster of Pop fans, a medium cluster of Dance lovers, and a small cluster of Pop-Rock heads, then you might play a ratio of 3 Pop songs : 2 Pop-Dance songs : 1 Pop-Rock song.


Your desired genre ratio should be reflected in any random 20-minute (or ideally 10-minute) segment. If, for example, your #1 target audience music cluster is Pop, basically every second song you play should be Pop. If your #2 cluster is Pop-Dance and your #3 cluster is Pop-Rock, then you don’t want to play two Pop-Dance songs in a row; certainly not two Pop-Rock songs in a row (nor in close range from another). Hence, align your music scheduling rules with your music cluster strategy.

In our example, Pop, Pop-Dance; Pop, Pop-Rock; Pop, Pop-Dance (and then repeat from the beginning) could be the perfect music flow. Of course, that’s theory! In daily practice, many more factors come into play. A major one is song rotation, which is influenced by category load (how many songs are in each category) and category exposure (how many times does each category appear in your clocks), as well as separation rules (such as song, title & artist separations, plus tempo, gender & mood separations). The more rules you have… the more complex it becomes. The AC station that we’re looking at now, has an interesting song exposure and music rotation.



This station could improve its balance of artist gender and genre feel, and/or how songs are positioned, thus achieving a more consistent sound during the day (image: Thomas Giger)


Going over our aircheck notes column by column, what immediately stands out is a male artist dominance. Especially in the first hour, where 10 out of 12 songs are sung by males, and seven of those playing back-to-back! Of course, the ideal ‘male; female; male; female’ gender flow isn’t easy to realize. For example, if your station plays mainly current music, and your Current and Recurrent categories are mainly filled with male artists, you’ll get many songs with male lead vocals in your music log.

That should not be a problem for this AC station, as it’s playing a mix of current and non-current music. Plus, it’s easy to avoid gender sameness when you use content from other categories to compensate a temporary (gender) imbalance in some categories. If your Currents are mainly male songs, you can rely more on the female parts of your Recurrent and Classic categories (as long as they’re available). There’s no excuse for playing seven males in a row. Even if, for some reason, you can really only play two or three female artists an hour, you could (use a gender rule like ‘maximum four male singers in a row’ to) position a female title after/around every fourth male one.


Adult Contemporary formats can reach many listeners during work hours, as their mass-appeal format often makes them ‘the station that everyone in the office can agree on’. Therefore, for daytime hours like we’re analysing here, it’s essential to check prescheduled logs and repair scheduling inconsistencies. Swapping an equally-categorized ‘male’ and ‘female’ song within the same hour twice would have been a quick & easy fix here.

Gold songs are awesome for this purpose, so you can avoid affecting rotation patterns of higher- repeating Recurrents (and even faster-reappearing Currents). I’d first try to replace two Secondary Gold songs (or two Power Gold songs) with another to maintain format consistency throughout the hour as much as possible. Should that not work, you can simply take a male song out, and insert a compatible female song in its place — as long as it doesn’t heavily affect the rotation patterns of those songs. Again, preferably do this with songs from low-rotation categories.


The next column in our aircheck notes is called ‘genre feel’. Feel, because many of today’s songs include many musical influences (like a Pop song with a touch of Rock and some Dance beats). Even this subjective classification may give you a clear impression of the genre exposure on this station. You’ll see that Hour 1 not only has an imbalance of artist gender, but also regarding genre feel (with six Pop songs, versus only one and three in the two following hours). And that there’s a Pop- Dance spike in Hour 2, which could be forgiven because it’s (branded as) a ‘request’ hour, so people may expect that it’s different from regular hours. Outside specialty programming, you want to maintain a consistently sounding station from hour to hour.

If this AC would usually play up to six Pop songs an hour, Hour 1 would not be so extraordinary as it seems. Considering the four Pop songs playing right after another during the first half of that hour, the music director could do an even better job regarding how and where songs are scheduled. Over the course of three hours, there is actually a very nice balance between Pop, Pop-Rock and Pop-Dance, it’s just that most listeners won’t stay tuned for three hours in a row! The fact that the station just plays a few Pop-Urban songs is understandable, as it’s an AC format where many HipHop and Rap tracks quickly become borderline cases. But our case station could position its Urban tracks a bit better throughout the day.



A good tempo balance from hour to hour matters as well — in this case, it could be better, as we compare Hour 2 with other hours (image: Thomas Giger)


This German station doesn’t seem to play much national product. Over the course of three hours, we’ve found five German productions (1 Pop-Dance; 2 Pop-Rock; 2 Pop-Urban). Just two of those are in German; the other three are in English. For music variety, you want to (use music scheduling rules to) separate similar songs from another. In Hour 2, the station plays 3 German products, with two German artists going back-to-back. That could have been better scheduled. Luckily, the latter songs are both sung in English, and many listeners may not know or care about the fact that both Mark Forster and Reamonn are German acts. Lyrics are more relevant.

To separate foreign language records; songs in a language, dialect or accent that is different from the one heard in the majority of your playlist, you may want to use a language code, and set a rule for it (like ‘keep a minimum of 35 minutes between two German-language songs’). If a certain language, dialect or accent is a minority within your music universe, you could make that rule ‘unbreakable’. This station may have set a German-language separation already, as those records performed in German are already positioned apart from each other well.


You’ll notice two covers, both from 80s songs, going back to back in Hour 1: Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Fast Car. For an Adult Contemporary station, where many listeners know the original versions of cover songs, it’s good to separate covers with a generic ‘Cover’ code & rule, and/or to use specific ‘80s’ code & rule (when your playlist not only features many 80s hits, but also many modern interpretations of those. Used this way, an ‘80s’ code & rule can also prevent that 80s covers are being surrounded by actual (80s) Gold songs, which is luckily not the case here.

The ‘Cover’ code & rule can also be applied when only a recognizable part of a work, such as a vocal sample or melody line, is included in the newer song. An alternative to applying the ‘Cover’ codes & rules is using Secondary Artist name fields in your music database. In terms of playing the exact same song (like two versions of Fast Car, by Tracy Chapman and Jonas Blue) back to back, your Title Separation rule — set lower than your Power Current repetition time in order to avoid scheduling conflicts — should do its work.


Finally, let’s have a look at tempo feel. Again, this is a very personal impression. Jonas Blue’s interpretation of Fast Car does include some uptempo parts, but overall it feels more mid-tempo. Looking at totals over three analyzed hours, we see only three slow titles (nicely divided; one each hour), and an almost equal ratio of mid-tempo versus up-tempo songs. However, you can notice the significant difference between individual hours. Hour 3 is excellent and Hour 1 is reasonable, but Hour 2 could have been way better scheduled in terms of tempo flow. It includes four times as much up-tempo as mid-tempo songs!

Looking at individual segues, we see three mid-tempo titles going back-to-back in Hour 1 and Hour 3, and six up-tempo titles following each other in Hour 2! A few tempo rules can make it easy to achieve more variety and better flow. A secret of great music sweeps is to gradually increase your tempo (like slow; mid; up, and repeat), instead of decreasing it (like up; mid; slow, and repeat), as the first option creates growing excitement and forward momentum. The exception is when you come out of a break, and kick off a new music sweep — then you often want to schedule an up-tempo (or at least a mid-tempo) song to inject a musical steroid.

In the next part of this AC Format X-Ray, we’ll look at rotations & clocks!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

Header image: 123RF / Le Moal Olivier

5 Music Scheduling Tips 4 Station Image Building

by Thomas Giger of

Does your music format reflect your station’s USP, turning listeners into brand devotees by consistently meeting positive expectations?

The essence of radio programming might be ‘saying what you do’ while ‘doing what you say’; each & every time someone tunes in. The more stations in your market, the more essential your distinction (and the more segmented your approach). Some inspiration to give your brand an exclusive music image — and to be consistent in doing so!

‘All (power) songs in every batch should receive enough exposure before going inactive’


It’s an important aspect of platooning parts of your music library (image: 123RF / Cougarsan )

1.  Differentiate your library deliberately

If you have a direct (or close) competitor in terms of music format and/or audience demographic, create a distinct sound profile, also through music scheduling; starting with your playlist. When conducting your mapping studies, auditorium music tests and callout music research, you’ll likely identify songs that your competition also spins. Play all power songs for your target demo that fit your format core, but test — and, if eligible, play — some (secondary) songs that your rivals are leaving out, and leave out some (secondary) songs that your opponents do play.

When your format includes currents, it’s even easier to create a distinct music profile, because of the higher rotation (more exposure) compared to recurrents & classics. How quickly your station adds new music compared to other stations can position you as an early adopter / trend setting / more progressive vs. a late adopter / trend following / more conservative brand. So when your format competitor has a slightly ‘older’ image, you may benefit by positioning yourself as a bit ‘younger’ station by (spinning a bit more current music and/or) adding new songs a bit sooner, conveying a greater sense of being up to date.

2.  Separate your categories clearly

Speaking of new music; keeping these unfamiliar songs apart from familiar currents, recurrents & classics can help you achieve your desired familiarity level in every program hour. Power Current and Secondary Current categories should never include brand new releases. That would create format diffusion and familiarity imbalance, as some of your logs would include a smaller amount of familiar music compared to others. Fresh tracks belong into a New Music category, and its position within your clocks should be kept apart from your Power & Secondary Current slots, allowing you to reach a consistent ratio of new vs. established music for your station.

You also want consistent popularity (‘power’) ratios in any given hour. Something like a Stay Current category (for songs that are in between their current vs. recurrent cycles) requires proper maintenance, or it can quickly deteriorate your music logs. Check on a frequent and regular basis which songs still qualify to be played now, and eventually which songs should be moved to your Power Recurrent or Secondary Recurrent list or should be (temporarily or permanently) switched to ‘inactive’. Remove any song that doesn’t qualify any longer to keep playing nothing but strong music for your audience. Start cleaning up your highest-rotating; most-exposed categories.

3.  Platoon your playlist equally

An image of ‘sounding fresh’ doesn’t only depend on playing a decent amount of current music; it can also come from regularly platooning a certain part of your playlist; switching a batch of active songs to ‘temporarily inactive’ (while switching an equal batch of inactive songs back to ‘active’), which is usually done with back catalogues of recurrents & classics. Platooning is a fantastic tool to achieve a sense of “wow… I haven’t heard that song in a long time!”. Which categories and which percentage of those you’ll platoon with which frequency depends on several factors, like your overall format and individual rotations.

Within a current-based format, your New Music, Secondary Current, Power Current and Stay Current cycle will be dynamic enough, so you could platoon 1/3rd of your (Power Recurrent and) Secondary Recurrent list every 2-4 weeks. Slower-rotating categories, such as (Power Gold and) Secondary Gold, could be platooned every 2-4 months. All (power) songs in every batch should receive enough exposure before going inactive. Also, rather platoon similar groups of songs within each category (e.g. not a huge group of up-tempo songs in one batch, and then a large collective of slow-tempo songs in another batch) to maintain your music images.

‘Include rules that differentiate your format from others’


Any music genres associated with your competition should be scheduled carefully (image: 123RF / Alexander Bedrin)

4.  Code your songs consistently

You can also achieve clear music positions through consistent sound codes. Think of audience expectations (based on listening experience and brand image) of your station and of your rivals. Ask yourself (and do research to find out) which music genres and sound types are expected from you, and which ones are attributed to others — when building your database as well as coding all titles. Any sounds that are more attributed to competitors should be left out or (when they test well, and are compatible with the rest of your format’s music cluster) should be considered as ‘extremes’ within your playlist and therefore spread out, using code-based separation rules.

Let single person code your entire library to be consistent, and code songs one by one; one aspect at a time to stay focused. Example: first code the genre of every song; then the tempo of every song; etc., rather than all aspects of one song; then all aspects of another song. Never use existing sound codes from external music libraries; always recode it for your local situation. Also recode your library every 6-12 months or every 3-6 months when you’re contemporary-based, as music tastes, song perceptions and market situations are changing all the time! For example, a song that may feel like ‘extreme’ now, might be accepted as ‘mainstream’ in a year from now.

5.  Implement your rules strategically

Use scheduling rules that differentiate your format from others. When your competition has a strong position for Soft Pop, while you have a strong image for Mainstream Pop, then any Soft Pop work on your playlist is a deviation from your format core and should be scheduled carefully. You want to avoid two Soft Pop titles being scheduled back to back, and let a Soft Pop song be followed by two or three Mainstream Pop tracks— ideally also covering multiple (sub) genres of Mainstream Pop for music variety along the way. In this example, you may also deliberately add most of your Soft Pop songs to your secondary rotations (instead of to your power categories).

While you want to offer your audience variety in tempo, gender, energy, texture, and what not, you may need to focus on a couple of criteria that are essential and/or that are dierentiating for your format, positioning your station against others by building your music image. Communicate your core format clearly, every time a listener tunes in, and deliver your music promise all the time.

When you’re a CHR, you want variety; not sound like an Urban-driven Rhythmic CHR during one half hour, and then like a Pop/Rock-intensive Hot AC during another half hour. Take the 10-minute test to see how your station is servicing the average PPM panelist or diary keeper with consistent balance of all genres within your format, or if you can still tweak your scheduling rules a bit.

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.



by Thomas Giger of

As radio audiences listen in fragments, we as programmers rethink our strategy. Does your format clock pass the 10-minute test?

PPM research shows that across all radio formats & markets in the US, the average listening occasion is 9-10 minutes. This indicates that the often-used 20-minute rule for music scheduling is up for a redefinition. You therefore might want to reflect your entire music format during every 10 minutes; not 20. Here are some ideas to get you started.



Fixed positions in your format clock for general segments of your music library let you alternately rotate category sublevels for recognisable exposure of your entire format (image: Flickr / Jon Candy)


Considering people usually listen for only 10 minutes per tune-in occasion, we can re-write the traditional radio programming playbook, while keeping in mind that this idea is based on US data, so it doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere. In Europe, the average Time Spent Listening is much higher. Then again, ratings in many European markets are based upon dairy, and Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing — all driven by recall and influenced by ’top of mindness’ — so the perceived (long) listening time may be different from the actual (shorter) listening time.


Even though you always base your programming strategy on custom research data for your unique market, it’s a universal fact that people listen in shorter increments than we assumed in the pre-PPM age. People will flip a lot between stations that they have top of mind (so branding still matters in PPM, as you wish to maintain or improve that position). Knowing that average TSL and attention spans are relatively short, no matter what the market, makes it even more important to fulfil listener expectations — every single time people tune in.


We can now apply this principle to music scheduling. For example, when your music format sequence includes 8 different categories, you can let similar categories alternately appear on the same basic position in the format clock. It’s like a soccer team where each type of player has a fixed position. If the coach substitutes individual players for others, the team construction and game strategy remain the same. Now, we can take the classic 20-minute rule — reflecting your entire music format in any 20-minute segment — to what I’ll call the 10-minute rule.



Basic music categories that listeners will perceive, are ‘older songs’ versus ‘newer songs’, so you could create your music format based on those category groups (image: Thomas Giger)


If you’re programming a Modern AC aimed at 20-40 year-olds, you’ll probably want your music library to go back no further than 30 years ago (when a 40-year old person was 10 years young), and sound fresh by focusing on the newer segment that goes back no further than 20 years from today (when a now 30-year old person, who might be your defined core target listener, was 10). Another (or an additional) way to create a young image is playing at least 50% currents & recurrents, and no more than 50% classics. Here’s an example of a possible category setup:

Current (e.g. 2019)

C 1 – Power: the most popular current songs right now C 2 – Secondary: current songs on their way up or down

(You may wish to split songs on their way up vs. down, and also add a category for new music, which we’ll both demonstrate in our second example. For this first case, we’ll stick to the above two levels, in order to keep it simple.)

Recurrent (e.g. 2018-2019) R 1 – Power

R 2 – Secondary

Classic Recent (e.g. 2004-2017) A 1 – Power

A 2 – Secondary

Classic Older (e.g. 1990-2003) B 1 – Power

B 2 – Secondary


Having 8 active and equally appearing music categories like these seems like way too much to cover the entire format in a 20-minute sweep, because 8 x 3.5 minutes per average song = 28 minutes. If we would edit our songs down to 3 minutes each, that would still be 8 x 3 minutes = 24 minutes, and that’s without commercials! Luckily, there’s an easy solution. It all comes down to how your listeners perceive the songs on your station – so when you determine which song categories are essential, just look at your format from an audience perspective.


What listeners will distinguish the most, are currents & recurrents vs. recent & older classics. Therefore, we basically only need 2 main positions in our Modern AC format clock – even if it’s actually filled by no less than 8 different music categories:

  1. ‘Older songs’ – alternately A (1, 2) and B (1, 2)
  2. ‘Newer songs’ – alternately C (1, 2) and R (1, 2)

These 2 basic positions easily fit into the average 10-minute listening occasion, as 2 x 3.5 minutes per average song = 7 minutes. Now, let’s build a format clock based on that!



A Modern AC music format including currents, recurrents and classics, with a format clock for music-intensive hours consisting of 16 songs and 2 short breaks (format & image: Thomas Giger)


Let’s assume that our Modern AC format should be a 50/50 mix of older and current music, and that we’re in a very competitive market where we wish to play at least 66% (best-testing) power songs (so every secondary record is followed by two power songs), then one of the format clocks of our ‘station on steroids’ could look like this:

B 1 – Power Classic Older

C 2 – Secondary Current

A 1 – Power Classic Recent

R 1 – Power Recurrent

B 2 – Secondary Classic Older

C 1 – Power Current

A 1 – Power Classic Recent

R 2 – Secondary Recurrent

B 1 – Power Classic Older

C 1 – Power Current

A 2 – Secondary Classic Recent

R 1 – Power Recurrent

B 1 – Power Classic Older C 2 – Secondary Current A 1 – Power Classic Recent R 1 – Power Recurrent


Let’s look at one more case. What if you have a CHR format, which is based on current hits and some new songs, plus and a back catalogue of recurrents? You can split non-Power Currents into 2 subcategories: Secondary for songs on their way up vs. Tertiary for songs on their way down, according to music research (like call-outs). And when we decide to, say, play songs that are maximum 2 years old with a focus on songs that are less than 1 year old, we could split our recurrents into more recent vs. less recent. Based on this, our music categories could be:


N – New (unfamiliar songs, even though the artist might be familiar)


C 1 – Power: the most popular hits

C 2 – Secondary: hits on the way up (increasing popularity, but low burn)

C 3 – Tertiary: hits on the way down (very familiar, but increasing burn)


R 1 – Power Recent (less than 1 year old)

R 2 – Secondary Recent (less than 1 year old) R 3 – Power Older (1-2 years old)

R 4 – Secondary Older (1-2 years old)


Why don’t we simply include new (N) songs in our tertiary currents (C 3) category? Because even within Top 40, playing unfamiliar music is a bit of a risk. We want to schedule an unfamiliar song in between two familiar ones, and put a (relatively) burned song in between two popular ones. It therefore makes sense to differentiate secondary and tertiary currents; separate currents that are in their adoption vs. their decline phase.



CHR music format, consisting of currents, recurrents and new music, with a program clock for a music-driven show that has room for 16 songs and 2 short (news & service and/or commercial) stopsets (format & image: Thomas Giger)


A Contemporary Hit Radio audience will often be able to distinguish (unfamiliar) new music from (familiar) chart hits, and current categories from (even more familiar) older songs. Based on this, we could work with 3 main positions in our CHR format clock:

  1. ‘New songs’ – N
  2. ‘Hit songs’ – alternately C 1, 2 & 3
  3. ‘Older songs’ – alternately R 1, 2, 3 & 4

These 3 basic positions almost fit into the average 10-minute listening occasion, as 3 x 3.5 minute per average song = 10.5 minutes. Even if a listener would tune-in for only 9 consecutive minutes, chances are that he or she will hear at least one entire song and a good portion of the two adjacent songs (unless you’re in commercials during that time). Now… how could this CHR  format clock look like?


If you claim to be [Market]’s #1 Hit Music Station, or something along those lines, you’ll want to make sure that every second song is either a current hit or a recent hit. Ideally, 50% (or more) of your log should feature best-testing songs. Let’s assume we’re the only CHR in the market and there’s not a crossover station (like Hot AC) that’s bothering us, so that this minimum percentage is usually sufficient, then one of the format clocks could look like this:

R 1 – Power Recurrent Recent

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

C 1 – Power Current

C 2 – Secondary Current

R 3 – Power Recurrent Older

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

C 1 – Power Current

C 2 – Secondary Current

R 2 – Secondary Recurrent Recent

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New


I hope these cases of a Modern AC and CHR format have inspired you to increase your audience loyalty with every tune-in occasion by creating and consistently fulfilling listener expectations. A 10-minute basic category sequence that meets the duration of the average listening occasion of 9-10 minutes will support your image, build your cume, and may even convert some of your P2 listeners into new P1 fans, as their love for your station grows once they’ll like what they’re hearing and get what they expect (every time, whenever they tune in).

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.


The Ebb & Flow of Music Scheduling: Structure Tempo To Increase TSL

by Thomas Giger of

A great flow in music scheduling captures the feeling of every daypart. How to oer a better listener experience by creating a mood-based tempo cycle?

While you can apply these concept to other aspects, like genre, energy, mood and texture, the following ideas are solely based on music tempo for ‘flow dynamics’. Three examples of ‘tempo tides’ to give your brand a competitive edge — even if you and your rival would play the exact same 500 songs. ‘Cause a better flow could result in a higher TSL and a winning share!

1.    Relaxed feeling in easy dayparts


Think ‘feel’, not ‘numbers’

Think ‘feel’, not ‘numbers’

Depending on your format strategy and brand imaging, you may wish to sound lighter during certain slots compared to your average music ‘excitement level’. Think of late nights in traditional AC with ‘easy listening’ through softer music, such as love songs with listener dedications. Such hours usually contain mostly slow-tempo songs (let’s call these level 1), some medium-tempo records (level 2), and hardly any up-tempo tracks (level 3).

You could certainly work with five tempo levels — level 1 (slow), 2 (medium slow), 3 (medium), 4 (medium fast), 5 (fast) — for more refined flow formats, but for the sake of this article, I’ll stick to slow, medium & fast. You may want to keep in mind that a 105 BPM track isn’t automatically a ‘medium’ one, as it may have an up-tempo feel (which is what listeners will perceive; no one is counting beats). So, which format is suitable for relaxing hours with lower excitement?

Use unbreakable rules carefully

After you have coded your library this way, you can create a tempo sequence where, in this case, a short ‘peak’ is followed by a longer ‘valley’. The speed pattern could therefore decrease lineally (level 3 — level 2 — level 1) or decrease gradually, and then stay on a low average tempo for some time, such as: level 3 — level 2 — level 1, followed by level 2 — level 1 — level 2 (before returning to level 3). Now, how to implement all of this in your music scheduling software?

Use smart tempo grids to achieve perfect flow, while avoiding scheduling conflicts and rotation inconsistencies. You may wish to combine an unbreakable rule (for example: every ‘level 3’ song has to be followed by a certain amount of songs that are either ‘level 2’ or ‘level 1’ before returning to another ‘level 3’) with a breakable rule (for example: every ‘level 2’ should ideally be followed by a ‘level 1’ (or ‘level 3’) to achieve tempo variety, while supporting song rotations.

2.  Consistent mood in average dayparts

Control your tempo patterns

Control your tempo patterns

In most dayparts, like office hours, you may wish to balance every up-tempo track (and every slow-tempo work) with a medium-tempo record, using ‘level 2’ songs as a connecting bridge (3 — 2 — 1 — 2, repeat) for natural transitions. Doing so during mornings would start people’s day not too slow and not too fast. However, if you’re a contemporary format with high excitement, like a (dynamic morning show on a) hit music station, you could switch to a higher gear (see further).

Zooming out to a larger scale, you can apply this principle from show to show. To control your flow from daypart to daypart, use medium-excitement hours to build a bridge (between high- energy shows and easy-listening segments). Without necessarily adjusting your format clocks, you can now segue from a powerful afternoon to a relaxed evening to a romantic night show, simply by stepping down your overall tempo.

Check your library content

There’s another major factor to schedule every position and ensure perfect rotations, which is your music library. Include enough songs of each tempo level in every music category that appears in your clocks, so your music scheduling software can always find a match. That’s easier with larger (‘library’) categories than with smaller (‘current’) categories, as your ‘current song’ playlist follows today’s music cycle.

You can tailor format clocks to fit your daypart flow. For example: program a smaller amount of current songs in easy-listening evening hours, where you’ll need many ‘level 1’ songs. Because otherwise, in weeks where you don’t have enough ‘level 1’ content in your ‘current’ categories, scheduling those hours would become rather challenging. Just make sure to pre-check if (and how) adjusting these clocks may affect your day-to-day ‘current song’ rotations.

3.  High momentum in active dayparts

Glue different songs together

Glue different songs together

Your station will sound exciting when you increase your music tempo throughout several different songs; then drop the tempo suddenly to start building it again. Basically: 1 — 2 — 3 (and repeat), ideally kicking off music sweeps (coming out of your Top of Hour, a commercial break, or a long talk) with a ‘level 3’ or ‘level 2’. You can create variants, depending on how many ‘level 3’ peaks you want. For example, 1 — 2 — 2 — 3 (and repeat) could work for slightly less energetic hours.

Instead of playing ‘level 1’ and ‘level 3’ songs (and vice versa) back to back in cold segues, you may wish to smoothen transitions with connective elements like station imaging or jock talks. Listeners, as we all know, dislike sudden changes (like jumping from a really slow to a super fast song), unless a perfect segue is integrating everything. It could be your reason to reinstall good- old transition jingles, and to use tempo-matching BPM sweepers.

Simplify your scheduling system

Instead of using tempo rules to create flow, there’s also another possibility — which means a different view on format clocks and music categories. You could, theoretically, attach tempo levels to song categories. Say your Gold category is called G, then you could split this category into G1, G2 and G3, for slow-, medium- and fast-paced classics. It allows you to create different clocks for different dayparts (like including, in terms of oldies, only G1s and G2s from 10pm to midnight).

However, it would also split this category’s rotations, as ‘G songs’ would no longer rotate through all G slots in your clocks, resulting in three different rotation patterns. And how would you make

sure that your ‘best testers’ come around often enough? You could add PG1, PG2, and PG3 (for ‘Power Gold’), but that would mean 6 sub-categories for Gold alone — and create a need for several clock variants to avoid that the same songs appear at the same position too often.

A beautiful dance of art and science

Define your tempo ratio

Define your tempo ratio

Music scheduling is a balancing act; a beautiful dance of art and science; a perfect combination of flow and rotation. I believe in format clocks with easy structures, so songs rotate naturally with the right exposure. At the same time, I love wonderful patterns of music flow; perfect segues for a great experience for your audience. How to use the best of both worlds; combine ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’; logic and creativity? The answer might be surprisingly simple.

First, assign tempo ratios to certain hours. For example: you may want your afternoon drive show to include about 20% slow-tempo songs, 40% medium-tempo records, and 40% up-tempo tracks, which is a 1 : 2 : 2 ratio. Tempo grids (as explained earlier) allow you to define tempo-sequences like 1 — 2 — 3 — 2 — 3 (and repeat), if all categories (currents, recurrents, golds, etc.) contain enough songs of each level. But it all comes down to using the right (combination of) scheduling rules.

Make your scheduler’s day

Minimise (or zero) your number of unbreakable rules, because even a rule that there should be four ‘level 2’ or ‘level 3’ songs in between two ‘level 1’ songs could conflict with ‘forced’ scheduling of your power currents; your fastest-repeating category that (depending on your format and market) may include very few titles. Or, instruct your software to schedule along these (still breakable) rules only after your highest-spinning songs have been placed on their math-based positions.

Also, you can allow your software to schedule slow-spinning categories(like secondary golds, secondary recurrents, and maybe even secondary currents) more loosely, so the program doesn’t necessarily have to pick the first song that’s up next based on its rotation, but that it can ‘dig a few song cards deeper’ instead if necessary. This, along with the post-scheduling art of manual log editing, may help you to get (close to) your desired tempo flow pattern for every daypart!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.


Super Song Segues: Creating & Maintaining ‘Forward Flow’ In Music Logs

by Thomas Giger of

Great music radio has great music flow. How do you sound both amazing and increase TSL? That’s where super song segues come into play!

A segue — from the Italian segue [se:ɡwe], which means ‘follows’ — is what Wikipedia calls ‘a smooth transition from one topic or section to the next’. Segues are obviously important in a PPM world, where you want to keep things flowing and avoid sudden changes or perceived breaks (plus consider attention spans; presell what’s coming, go there quickly, and make it worthwhile). Some ideas to optimise music scheduling for more forward momentum and longer Time Spent Listening on your music radio station.

Pleasing the majority of your audience most of the time

Hitting a home run every second song will keep your music core hooked (image: Thomas Giger)

Consider your music clusters

Before covering gender, tempo, energy & mood in music transitions, let’s look at the all-important genre factor, as music flow is partly achieved through music variety. One of the benefits of radio, compared to music collections and streaming services, is the surprise factor, leading to curiosity and anticipation (contributing to forward momentum). Variety is also key to satisfy every music cluster (taste group) of your target audience within any given segment of 10 minutes; the average listening occasion time in many markets. In any case, you want to reflect your station’s entire music format in less than any random 20 minutes (again, 10 is ideal), keeping in mind that longer commercial breaks will be like pushing a reset button. After a long stopset, you basically start all over with a mostly new batch of listeners.

Assist your scheduling software

If you’re an AC station, and a mapping study tells you that one half of your target audience is into Pop, and that the second half consists of equal amounts of Rock and Dance fans (for the sake of an easy example), then you’ll probably build a music library based on 50% Pop, 25% Pop-Rock, and 25% Pop-Dance. You’ll probably avoid heavy Rock or extreme Dance songs, keeping your Pop music core happy with mainly Pop-leaning Rock and Dance, while giving Rock and Dance fans some of what they want as well. However, building a library where you not only include the right (good-testing) songs, but also have the right genre percentage in each song category (also based on how many slots for each category you have in your format clocks) is one thing. Scheduling those songs in the right order is another.

Improve your genre sequence

When your music strategy is playing 50% Pop, 25% Pop-Rock and 25% Pop-Dance, you may not only want to hear that 2:1:1 ratio in each hour as a whole and, as explained, in a given 10-minute segment — or, in this case, a given 15-minute music segment as you need 4 songs (of about 3.5 minutes each) to reflect a complete 2:1:1 format. You also want to play those 4 titles in a certain sequence, pleasing the majority of your audience most of the time. Instead of:

PopPop — Pop-Rock — Pop-Dance

you obviously want a strategic music genre flow like:

Pop — Pop-Rock — Pop — Pop-Dance

to please your music core at least every second song, no matter when they tune in, keeping that essential part of your audience hooked for as long as possible to boost your Time Spent Listening and (with frequent tune-in appointments) grow your ratings. But there’s a paradox.

Unbreakable rules are perfect to separate music genres that do not appeal to the majority of your audience.

Especially a mass-appeal format needs music variety and music balance (image: Thomas Giger)

Streamline your station sound

While variety creates flow, it also contradicts flow. Especially when you program a broad, mainstream format such as AC or Top 40, you’ll sometimes have to play two less compatible records back to back, like transitioning from a soft & slow ending Pop song to a powerful & uptempo starting Rock or Dance track. Unless you have a jock talk (or other break) in between two very different songs, you can use (PPM-friendly) station imaging to make good segues. I’m not talking about classic transition jingles (long sung themes with a break in the middle, where they’re morphing from like Rock to Dance, and/or from like slow to fast) necessarily. It is possible, when these jingles are well produced (and correctly used), but if you want to use sung imaging to connect two songs, you’re usually better off with short versions like Shotgun IDs, or (partly sung) power intros a.k.a. branded intros. Non-musical elements, like sweepers, are great as well.

Match your songs & imaging

You can produce multiple versions of every sweeper, using a Beats per Minute grid (such as a click track in Pro Tools) to put your voiceover parts rhythmically on the beat before adding impacts & whooshes to glue everything together (and muting your click track before rending your audio file). Once you’ve added your sweepers to a Sweeper category in your music scheduling database, and tagged both your sweepers and your songs with a BPM number, you can define rules in your music scheduling software to mix & match songs and sweepers. Add your jingles to a Jingle category, treating them like songs (as jingles are musical elements) with codes for genre and tempo. Define these codes for both the intro and outro of your jingles, so you can create perfect transitions. When you’ve conscientiously entered song and imaging intro & outro times in your scheduling software — and carefully entered start & end cues for all songs and imaging in your automation software — you can, after some testing and fine-tuning, enjoy a great song-to-imaging-to-music flow.

Code your database efficiently

Before you start (re)coding your songs, ideally done by one and the same person for consistency reasons, you want decide which sound definitions really matter to you(r audience). For most music formats, relevant sound codes are:

  • Genre: defined by music style (Pop, Rock, Dance, etc.)
  • Gender: defined by lead vocals (male, female, or mixed)
  • Energy: defined on a scale (e.g. level 1 is very low, level 5 is very high)
  • Tempo: defined on a scale (e.g. level 1 is very slow, level 5 is very fast)
  • Mood: defined on a scale (e.g. level 1 is very sad, level 5 is very happy)
  • Daypart: defined in a calendar (showing days & hours where it can play)

Your music scheduling rules (based on chosen sound codes) could be set to ‘breakable’ first, maybe except for your (usually unbreakable) Daypart rule, and then switched to ‘unbreakable’ one by one (for rules that make a difference). Unbreakable rules are perfect to separate music genres that not appeal to the majority of your audience. If you’re an AC station with a Pop core, you may want to avoid two Rock or Dance songs back to back, or more than two level-1 or level-5 songs in a row (or a sudden jump from a level-1 to a level-5 song without a level-3 song in between). But it would be acceptable (yet not perfect) to play two Pop songs, or two level-3 songs, after another. You can tweak your sound code matrix by scheduling test logs, and making necessary adjustments.

This station’s energy, tempo & mood sounds pretty good

However, many level 2 or level 3 songs could have been better spread across the hour, considering the fact that some of them have been scheduled close to each other, while there are many level 4 or level 5 songs in a row (image: Thomas Giger)

Rethink your scheduling rules

Above, you see a random hour on a major-market AC station, so we have a nice case to analyse song segues from a sound code perspective. Therefore, I have left rotation-based categories such as Currents, Recurrents and Golds, as well as station imaging, out of this analysis. Looking at the ‘Genre’ column above, the station’s main music clusters seem to be Pop and Dance in a ratio of almost 2:1 (9 songs versus 5 songs). Seems like there’re no real Rock or Urban on the playlist; no surprise for Adult Contemporary formats. But considering how these Pop and Dance songs are positioned, this station could define rules to achieve an even better genre flow throughout the hour, as we not only see 3 Dance-alike songs back to back, but also 6 Pop-based songs in a row! Even if Pop is likely the station’s music core, and even if there are many sub genres within Pop (as we see in the third column) to create variety, an even better music flow could be:

PopPop — Dance — PopPop — Dance

which you could theoretically achieve by defining a rule like ‘maximum 2 Pop’ and ‘maximum 1 Dance’ in a row, adding a rule that Dance has to be followed by Pop. If that would cause scheduling conflicts or affect song rotations, you could set it to ‘maximum 3 Pop’ in a row, and, as a last resort, accept ‘maximum 2 Dance’ in a row (as an unbreakable rule).

Balance your (re)current songs

Of course, as Currents and Recurrents have higher turnovers than Golds (especially when they’re powers), they have to play at certain positions to maintain excellent rotation patterns, but you can use your secondary Recurrents and Golds to balance your genre exposure. The side effect is automatic ‘platooning’ of your back catalogue if your front catalogue is influenced by music trends. If today’s music cycle is Pop, many of your Currents & Recurrents will be Pop-based, thus you’ll rely more on Dance- and Rock-sounding songs in your Gold categories, causing your Pop-sounding Golds to play less often. Solution? Leave your Power Gold category as it is, so you’re still playing the best-testing Golds. Rebuild your Secondary Gold library by testing some Dance- and Rock-feeling classics to qualify for your Secondary Gold segment, making that category appear a few times an hour (close to your Power Currents and Power Recurrents). Important is that your Power Golds are still playing as often as they should.

Tweak your music gradually

Four females and four males back to back (see ‘Gender’ column) can be solved by tightening your gender separation rule. First, make small, step-by-step adjustments, like taking it from ‘maximum 4’ to ‘maximum 3’ males or females in a row. Run a couple of test logs. If it works, you can try ‘maximum 2’, as long as your rotation patterns remain intact. The music mix is powerful, upbeat and positive (with average levels of 3.9, 3.6 and 3.6, so basically 4, 4 and 4). Within this context, it does feel a bit off to start with a ‘3-3-2’ song after the Top of the Hour. The ‘Mood’ rules could be adjusted, so that lower-level songs are more embedded within higher-level songs (of which we’ve seen eight in a row in that hour). A good rule is to always follow a low-level (1 or 2) song with a higher-level (3 or 4) song, like this station seems to be doing well. Music scheduling is also ‘mood management’. All of these factors combined could give you a better sound, and a longer TSL. Have fun optimising your music flow, and creating super song segues!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.