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

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

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 www.radioiloveit.com

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.


Clockin’ Around The Christmas Tree: Holiday Music Scheduling Tips

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas :-). Time to double-check your holiday library coding & categories, and fine-tune your Christmas format rotations & clocks.

If your station is like most, you’ll launch your holiday music format somewhere between (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Assuming you already know which songs you’re going to play, we’ll focus on how to give every Christmas song the right exposure, and share some ChristSTmas music format clocks which you may be able to use.


Uptempo songs on your Christmas music playlist help you balance your flow (image: Columbia Records)

Uptempo songs on your Christmas playlist can balance your music flow (image: Columbia Records)


You probably have coded your songs when you added them, but you may have done this a few months ago. It could be good to go over every song once again with fresh ears (and actually listen to it) so you can make sure that each and every title is perfectly coded according to essential criteria. These may include:

  • Gender: male, female or duet (in terms of lead vocals)
  • Sound: defined by genre (Contemporary, Traditional, Religious as well as Pop, Rock, Soul,
  • Mood: defined by level (like 1 for very sad, 5 for very happy)
  • Energy: defined by level (like 1 for very low, 5 for very high)
  • Tempo: defined by level (like 1 for very slow, 5 for very fast)
  • Daypart: defined by days & hours (when it can be played)

If you don’t play 100% Christmas music (yet), then your set of sound codes for Christmas music should be the same as the one for non-Christmas music, in order to make your scheduling rules work for every possible combination (e.g. a Christmas song followed by a non-Christmas song).


Essential sound codes are the ones you’ll use to separate similar-sounding songs apart from song, artist & title separation. Just make every scheduling rule match your song exposure and library content (or vice versa). For example: when you’re playing 100% Christmas music and 70% of your Christmas library includes songs with female lead vocals, you may want to make your gender separation rule breakable instead of unbreakable (or take off some female / add some male lead vocal songs).


Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You is obviously a contemporary-sounding song with (after the intro) pretty high mood, energy & tempo levels. Songs like these are great to include. They let you balance the character of the average Christmas song. You can play All I Want… anytime you want (maybe except from dinner time on Christmas Eve, when you might want to play background music, depending on your station format and image). White Christmas could be classified as a traditional song, and Drummer Boy as a religious song. A modern interpretation (like Justin Bieber’s cover) may be an exception. Bieber’s voice is very recognizable, and could give a traditional-religious standard a contemporary feel. After coding your songs with your rules in mind, analyze your Christmas playlist again. Does it include enough music variety for easy music scheduling? For example, does your library include enough songs from all genders, sounds, moods, energies, tempos and dayparts?


Playing modern interpretations of timeless classics can update your Christmas format (image: Island Records)

Playing modern interpretations of timeless classics can update your format (image: Island Records)


Especially when you have a broad target audience which will appeal to multiple listener generations, you may want to split your music library into a younger and older part. If your target demo is 20-49, you can address 20-34 and 35-49 year-olds equally by creating 2 categories:

  • X – Recent Christmas: songs from 1990-2016, mostly familiar to younger listeners
  • Y – Classic Christmas: songs from before 1990, mostly familiar to older listeners

Of course, holiday music is a unique category because many of the most-played songs are (or have their origin in) older works. Winter Wonderland was composed in 1934 but everyone knows it because it’s been re-recorded about 200 times (!) and because it’s being played year after year. But even if younger people will know many of the Christmas Classics, you can use the X and Y categories alternately to achieve a good era balance (when that is what you want).

Powergold Music Scheduling helps you manage Christmas music easily and quickly with Special Programming Tags. Learn more.


You already divide your Currents, Recurrents and Golds into power and secondary categories, so why not assign your Christmas songs to high-rotation and low-rotation categories as well? When you choose to separate Christmas Recent and Christmas Classics as seen above, you could then split those into 2 levels:

  • X1 – Recent Christmas Power: most popular recent Christmas songs from 1990-2016
  • X2 – Recent Christmas Secondary: additional recent Christmas songs from 1990-2016
  • Y1 – Classic Christmas Power: most popular classic Christmas songs from before 1990
  • Y2 – Classic Christmas Secondary: additional classic Christmas songs from before 1990

Check every category to make sure that you have enough songs in each one to create a good rotation pattern. And, in any case, you want to have more songs in your level 2 (secondary) categories than in your level 1 (power) categories, so even if you’ll position your level 1 and level 2 songs in your format clock equally, your most popular / best testing songs will appear more often.


When you choose to increase your holiday music percentage gradually (over the course of a couple of weeks leading up to Christmas Eve), the following 5 format clocks may give you inspiration for your holiday music scheduling. If you flip to a 100% Christmas format all at once, the final clock will be interesting for you. I’ve designed the clocks for a fictitious Modern AC station, serving a 20-49 audience (with an emphasis on 20-34) by playing a mix of Currents, Recurrents & Golds. (Talk & stopset positions are not included in order to focus on the songs.) The music categories are:

  • N = New
  • C = Current
  • R = Recurrent
  • G = Gold
  • X = Recent Christmas (level 1 for Power, level 2 for Secondary)
  • Y = Classic Christmas (level 1 for Power, level 2 for Secondary)

and this is how the main format clock looks like:

Music format clock for a Modern AC with the best mix of yesterday & today (format: Thomas Giger)

Music format clock for a Modern AC with the best mix of yesterday & today (format: Thomas Giger)

Powergold Music Scheduling offers you Clock Layers so you can change your base clock regularly rather than creating and managing multiple clocks, saving to tons of time. Learn more.


The above Modern AC format clock is built around a ‘Recurrent-Current-Gold-Current, Recurrent-Current-Gold-New’ category sequence. It could run on any day outside of holidays. This will be the master clock for the Christmas variants. You can replace Power/Secondary Gold positions by Power/Secondary Christmas slots, which is a nice fit, as most Christmas standards are basically Gold songs. It also keeps you sounding fresh as you’re still playing currents, recurrents and new music, thus maintaining your overall listener expectations for your station and format. You could introduce your holiday music subtlety, like 1 or 2 songs an hour. We’ve already moved a step ahead with the below clock, designed for 25% Christmas music = 1 out of 4 songs:

Music format clock for 25% Christmas / 4 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Christmas music format clock for 25% Christmas / 4 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)


A few weeks after introducing Christmas music, you may want to increase the hourly percentage of holiday music. We can achieve a level of 50% Christmas if we replace the Recurrent positions from the master clock by X slots, and turn the Christmas positions from the 25% clock into Y slots. To bring back 2 of the 4 lost Recurrent positions, we can replace the 2 positions for New songs from the 25% clock by Recurrent slots, based on 1) the fact that people generically prefer familiar music over unfamiliar music, and 2) the idea that holidays are inherently connected to honouring traditions and enjoying famil(iarit)y. And thanks to 6 positions for current songs, our Modern AC remains sounding contemporary:

Music format clock for 50% Christmas / 8 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Christmas music program clock for 50% Christmas / 8 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)


A few days before Christmas, you may want to play 75% holiday music, which calls for another format clock variant. You can now replace some of your Current positions by Christmas slots. Because most of your holiday songs will no longer be separated by normal songs, it becomes extra important to create a good category sequence in terms of Recent versus Classic Christmas. You may want to re-assign the X and Y categories, like in the example format clock below. You’ll notice that each hour includes 8 recent and only 4 classic Christmas songs (meeting listener expectations for a Modern AC station), plus 2 Currents and 2 Recurrents for additional freshness:

BP / Clock Music format clock for 75% Christmas / 12 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Christmas music hot clock for 75% Christmas / 12 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)


If you don’t flip your format to ‘all-Christmas’ as early as mid November, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are usually a good reason to play 100% holiday hits. Our format clock for all-Christmas music scheduling includes 8 recent as well as 8 classic songs, as holidays are celebrated in a family circle (so it makes sense to tailor our station towards a broad cume for top ratings). Adjust the ration according to your brand image, (usual) station format, target audience and market position. You also want the right balance in terms of Power vs. Secondary Christmas. The below format includes an equal amount of powers and secondaries, but because your power categories are smaller than your secondary categories, you can let your best songs turn around faster. Note that there’s a power song scheduled after the ‘top of hour’ and ‘top of half hour’ where, after a stopset, you may jingle back into the music:

Music format clock for 100% Christmas / 16 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Holiday music format clock for 100% Christmas / 16 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)


When you want to keep your music format recognisable without using the same clock endlessly, you can rotate your format clock 1 or 2 positions to the right (or left), and voilà… you’ve just created another version of this week’s format clock. When you have 5 of these sub clocks, you can rotate them through a 24-hour day. Beginning each day at midnight with another clock from the day before, it will take until day #6 in your week grid until the exact same clock appears in the exact same hour. The 100% Christmas format clock above would only allow for 4 variants, as it includes only 4 different music categories (X1, X2, Y1, Y2), but 4 clocks will do the trick as well. Simply skipping the first clock that would normally appear at midnight will achieve the same.

Merry Christmas & Happy Programming to you!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.


Music Research: Format Studies For Music Clusters Explained

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

When you’re mapping your market with a format study, hoping to find a competitive gap, considering these principles may help you succeed.

Our guest author Stephen Ryan is managing director of Ryan Research, a UK-based radio programming & research consultancy. Here, in the latest in a series of articles on music research, he talks about conducting a format study for your radio market. This first parts looks at how to approach a format study effectively.

Developing the music proposition

This differentiates a focused format study from a broader market study (image: Ryan Research)

This differentiates a focused format study from a broader market study (image: Ryan Research)

In a developing radio market, the initial entrants will have an open field to play with. These trailblazers tend to focus on broader appeal formats such as CHR and AC. If the range of competition remains limited for a reasonable period of time, it allows these early entrants to create a strong heritage and loyalty.

A new station needs to decide whether it is strategically possible to go head to head with heritage players or whether it should provide a different or unique proposition. If this new entrant has access to sufficient funds to market heavily, and has the benefit of a greater strategic sophistication using research to fine-tune the proposition, then it may be able to take the heritage player or players head on, and win. However, given time as the market develops, the main players tend to become more sophisticated in strategically developing their format and proposition.

Map your market strategically

For anyone considering to enter a more developed and competitive market, it may be more and more difficult to find a so-called ‘hole in the market’. Unless you have the resources and finances to attack the heritage players, you need to identify a gap where you can effectively launch a new station. This is where a format study (sometimes named ‘mapping study’) comes into play.

The terms ‘format study’ and ‘market study’ are sometimes used interchangeably. While there are similarities, format studies tend to focus on developing the music proposition for a station. Market studies tend to have a broader remit; looking not just at music, but also at other key elements of your proposition such as personalities, morning shows, features and promotions. For this set of articles, we focus on music testing, thus speaking about a ‘format study’.

Understand your format clusters

While the more mainstream formats have the advantage of attracting a large range of listenership, the ability provides both a strength and a weakness. Their strength is the broad appeal, but at the same time, their broadness means that they have more difficulty protecting and maintaining ownership of all sub-genres that make up their product or format. The use of a format study can help identify the appeal of the sub-genres, and whether the ownership of the genres with sufficient appeal is strong or weak for the existing players.

A format study is not the exclusive preserve of the new entrant. It is also a strategic tool for existing players in the market. Stations may wish to broaden or tighten their formats, or indeed totally flip a format. As we will see, a format study doesn’t just highlight the strength or weakness of individual music styles and genre types, but also how compatible each genre is with all the other genres tested. This allows you to see how the various music styles fit with each other.

Keep your target focus tight

When you’re launching a new station against an established competitor with a broad target (e.g. females 20-49), you could focus on a certain segment (e.g. females 35-44), when your research indicates it’s a market gap with good potential (image: Thomas Giger, 123RF / Sergey Nivens)

When you’re launching a new station against an established competitor with a broad target (e.g. females 20-49), you could focus on a certain segment (e.g. females 35-44), when your research indicates it’s a market gap with good potential (image: Thomas Giger, 123RF / Sergey Nivens)

Broaden your format research

The approach to the format study depends on your strategic aims. If you wish to investigate the market as a whole (as you have don’t have a predisposition to a particular format type), then you would need to test enough music styles to have a total representation of all the main station formats available to listeners in the existing market. You may also want to include music styles that are not currently heard in the market, but that you feel may prove to have a sufficient appeal. This approach will give you the broadest insight into the existing market.

However, it can prove to be an expensive piece of research. The survey may take 20 minutes or more per respondent, hence the fieldwork costs will be high. If you are using a consultant, the fee will also be higher due to the complexity of analysing and cross-comparing a large number of styles. A wide age spread will also be required, which means that a large sample will need to be recruited.

Meet your competition focused

Depending on how deep you will want to go in the analysis, every gender- and age-based cross tab will need to have a minimum of 30 people in it. As we have shown in previous articles, the bigger the sample; the more expensive the fieldwork. Ideally, each sub-age group in the sample should have a 5-year span (e.g. 15-19, 20-24, and so on).

However, if you are conducting a study on the full market (like 15-54), and if cost is a concern, then each sub-age group could be broadened to a 10-year spread. Before making that decision, keep in mind that when you’re launching a new radio station against strong existing competition, you should keep your target focus tight. You can consider widening your approach after you have established yourself.

Limit your session duration

If you wish to develop your music format based on a set of sub-genres of an existing broader format, then you can potentially reduce the number of styles to test. You can also focus the sample required to concentrate on those potential listeners the format would most appeal to. For example, if an existing Soft AC in the market has a broad genre mix from the 70’s through to today, there may be an opportunity to focus in on a narrower set of eras and drive it solely through females. The first key step is choosing the song hooks that will represent each of the styles to be tested.

Normally, each music style comprises 3 song hooks that are each 7-9 seconds long. You could include 4 hooks, but keep in mind that this will impact the duration of each music style, making the survey longer (thus more expensive). If we have an average hook length of 8 seconds, each music style takes 24 seconds. If you are testing 18 music styles, that’s already 7.5 minutes of audio. Using 4 hooks will add another 2 minutes, so you might want to keep it to 3 hooks per style.

You conduct what is basically a mini-AMT

You can either define your market’s key music styles yourself, or let your target audience cluster them for you through some kind of (auditorium) music test (image: Ryan Research)

You can either define your market’s key music styles yourself, or let your target audience cluster them for you through some kind of (auditorium) music test (image: Ryan Research)

Select your hooks carefully

There are two main approaches to deciding what music styles to test and which song hooks to use. The first is based on your (or your consultant’s) music programming experience. Here you need to monitor the existing stations in the market and identify the key music styles that listeners are exposed to on a regular basis. Once you have a list of the key music styles, you then need to identify the song hooks you are going to use to demonstrate each of them.

Selecting the hooks is always a delicate balance. You want to choose familiar & popular songs, which can be based on the amount of airplay and the number of record sales/downloads. If a song has been played a lot in the market, it can be assumed it has had an enduring appeal. You may also want to review current Top 40 charts, or legitimate past charts.

Increase your research reliability

Avoid mixing mega hits with weaker songs, as that one hit may skew the result. Remember, the respondent is being asked to rate a style; not the individual songs. You will also want to have an A and B version of each music style, where 50% of the sample will hear version A and the other 50% will hear version B. This dilutes the chance of a particular song skewing the results for an individual style. For example, once you have put together the 3 song hooks for ‘music style 1’, that becomes the A version. You then identify 3 more song hooks that can represent the same ‘music style 1’ that becomes version B.

The other method for selecting songs for each style is more scientific, and requires an additional piece of research prior to the format study being conducted. This involves a cluster study. There are mixed views amongst consultants about the efficiency and benefit of conducting a cluster study. It is, of course, an additional expense. You can use them in certain circumstances, where they can prove their worth. There is an example of this later in the article.

Define your clusters carefully

How we as radio programmers split music styles into separate music genres may not necessarily be how our listeners perceive or understand them. A cluster study allows your audience to choose how music genres are defined. In this type of study, you conduct what is basically a mini-AMT (auditorium music test) with a list of 70 to 80 songs, representing the various music styles heard in the market. The difference here is that each of the songs in the list is rated individually by the respondent, rather than styles.

The analysis conducted after the fieldwork is completed, is quite sophisticated, so you may require the services of a consultant. Clustering techniques such as the Euclidean method are used to take the ratings for each song, and then cross-reference them to all the other songs. The result is the formation of clusters, where the songs contained therein fit the closest together. The clusters are then labelled as the music styles to be tested in the format study.

Combining music styles should be approached with extreme care

Some music styles work better for you as a stand-alone music style, illustrated by a huge diversity of 90s Pop: from power ballads & teen pop to techno/house & modern rock (image: Thomas Giger)

Some music styles work better for you as a stand-alone music style, illustrated by a huge diversity of 90s Pop: from power ballads & teen pop to techno/house & modern rock (image: Thomas Giger)

Discover your station’s USP

A cluster study has the benefit of showing you how the listener views the music heard in the market. Let’s say you wish to decide what music styles to test, and you’re in a market where, as well as international hits, there are local versions of the various styles produced by indigenous artists. Looking at 90s Pop, do you have to have a 90s International Pop style and a 90s Local Pop style, or can you combine both into one? If 90s International Pop songs cluster well with 90s Local Pop, you could consider combining them. (As far as the listener is concerned, they’ll fit under the same umbrella.)

However, combining music styles should be approached with extreme care. You could accidentally remove or dilute a key music style, which should have been left as a standalone style. By doing so, an opportunity to find an elusive gap in the market may be missed. If you are using music styles that were defined by using a cluster study, you do not need A & B versions. In the next part, we’ll look at the analysis side of a format study, and what you should be looking for from the results depending on your strategic goals.

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

music-scheduling-category-rotation-using-kick-function-number-of-slots-and-number-of-songs-01 (2)


by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

How many songs per category create perfect song rotations? The mind-boggling formulas behind ratings-increasing turnovers (with category rotation visuals).

Thank you for your positive response to our first music scheduling Q&A, which led to a follow-up question: how many songs create perfect song rotations and ideal category turnovers? Ideas & insights to determine the right number of songs for a certain amount of slots per hour, including practical examples to see which combinations work best.


Flexible categories, based on reliable mathematics, may be the way to go (image: Thomas Giger)

We’re gonna start this music scheduling Q&A with a question from Dieter via email:

Hey Thomas!

I came across a couple of your articles where you mention splitting your secondary category into two — Secondary Up and Secondary Down. How many songs do you have in each of those categories? Just curious, as I currently run one secondary category.


Thanks for your question! First a recap on why to use two ‘secondary current’ groups. Separating your ‘less familiar, but fresh’ currents (growing in popularity) from ‘more familiar, but tired’ currents (decreasing in popularity) lets you balance your current music exposure. For a consistent on-air product, you do not want one hour with mainly ‘hits on their way up’ followed by another hour full of ‘hits on their way down’; rather an equal ratio of both, since your highest-rotating categories (your power & secondary currents) create a big part of your music images and listener expectations.

Splitting secondary currents makes scheduling specialist shows like ‘new music hours’, for which you may only utilise Current Secondary Up and New Music (leaving out your Current Secondary Down and Current Power) categories, easy. However, that will affect the rotation patterns for categories that are now more often (and for categories that are now less often) exposed than normal. For perfect song rotations, use the same category ratios in each and every hour, or program your new music show every day — using a consistent music format clock for it.


Furthermore, defining secondary currents as ‘ups’ versus ‘downs’ helps you improve your category segues. For a current-based format, which sequence feels better? Current Secondary Down; Recurrent Secondary; Current Power, or Current Secondary Up; Recurrent Secondary; Current Power? The first option schedules two ‘tired’ songs back to back, because a Current Secondary Down is an early Recurrent (even if it may not actually make it to Recurrents after its current hit cycle), while the second one juxtaposes a more ‘fresh’ song in front of a relatively ‘tired’ song.

You can’t always avoid that a Current Secondary Down is followed by a Recurrent; you may have to make a compromise when designing your format clocks, like I did when creating 12 CHR Music Format Clocks You Can Adjust & Apply Today. But you can often control what kind of a Recurrent it is. As you’ll see in the example clock, there’s one position per hour where a Current Secondary Down is positioned next to a Recurrent, but it’s a Recurrent Power — not a Secondary — so there’s a good chance your audience loves hearing this ‘popular hit from a while ago’ again.


How many songs should be in Current Secondary Up vs. Down depends on your category policy. One approach is a numerus fixus (like always having an X number of power currents in rotation) with a downside: rotation patterns will never change, and you may not always find X really strong songs). Another method is a flexible volume per category, which has a downside as well: your ‘hit factor’ per hour may vary. One week you’ll play X; another week Y currents an hour (as you adjust your format clocks to your number of songs/category and matching number of slots/hour).

Therefore, I believe in the best of both worlds: combining flexible categories with reliable mathematics. Because the rotation pattern for fast-repeating categories like current hits could quickly become predictable for (thus potentially more repetitive to) your P1 core audience, you should be free to make weekly changes to current music categories by adding and (re)moving titles, without being stuck to a fixed number of songs per category, but also without being random. We’ll therefore share ground rules for ‘category calculating’ based on the following practical examples:


  • Download song rotation examples from this article (Apple Numbers, original)
  • Download song rotation examples from this article (Microsoft Excel)
  • Download song rotation examples from this article (PDF)

(available soon)


To fix week-to-week rotation pattern repetition, you can use the ‘kick trick’ (image: Thomas Giger)

This example is based on a question from Armando in an article comment:


I really enjoyed your article on CHR format clocks. The bulk of my work experience has been in the Urban AC and Urban (Hip Hop) format in the USA. I wanted to know how many songs do you suggest in the other categories outside of Power Current for which you recommended 7.

  • Current New
  • Current Secondary Up
  • Current Power
  • Current Secondary Down
  • Current Stay
  • Recurrent Power
  • Recurrent Secondary


Thank you for your question! A solid answer needs a strong foundation, starting with the ‘even-odd rule’. An odd number of slots per hour usually calls for an even number of songs per category (and vice versa) for a desireable rotation pattern. When you have 5 Power Current (‘A’) slots an hour, 6 ‘A’ titles in rotation would let each one ‘jump’ 1 slot ahead, every time it’s being played, cycling each track through all other ‘A’ slots before it appears at the same play location in your format clock. Unfortunately, this happens in every 6th hour — a caveat, as we’ll see in a minute.

When your number of slots per hour and your number of songs per category are both even or both odd, it will often lead to inefficient scheduling. For example, if you would have 4 ‘A’ slots an hour (like one per quarter) in your format clock and 6 titles in ‘A’ rotation, then, for starters, each title would only touch 2 out of 4 play positions. But 4 ‘A’ slots an hour with only 5 ‘A’ songs in rotation lets you achieve an efficient song spread where each song plays in every other slot before returning to the same position (in every 5th hour — perfect, as we’ll see). But the even-odd rule is not everything.


The turnover of your (fast-repeating) categories should NOT be multipliable to the number of hours a day, because while rotations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours (or certain multiplications of those, such as 3 x 12 = 36 hours) are beautiful round numbers, they can lead to repetitive rotation patterns. Category turnovers of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours cause every song to play in the exact same slots, at the exact same times, day after day (until you replace those songs). Multiplications exceeding 24 hours are a bit less predictable, but will still cause inefficient song placement.

You therefore want to make sure that your category turnover times are uneven numbers that cannot be multiplied to 24. So what are the first options that come to mind? They are, indeed, 5 and 7 hours (the first ones fitting in between the ‘non-ideal rotation’ list of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours). If you need a shorter rotation than 5 or 7 hours, like when you program a current-based music format, you can divide those numbers by a factor 2. For example: 5 / 2 = 2.5 hours, and even 2.5 / 2 = 1.25 hours (because 24 / 2.5 = 9.6 hours, and 24 / 1.25 = 19.2 hours).


Not only your day-to-day rotation is essential; also your week-to-week repetition matters. When you rotate 7 ‘A’ songs through 5 ‘A’ slots per hour, you get a perfect pattern where all songs are amazingly spread out, playing in every slot of every day. However, this happens after precisely 7 days, causing this complete song placement pattern to repeat week after week, in other words: every song would constantly play on the exact same location as during the week before! Luckily, there are several different, easy-to-apply solutions.

Refreshing (a part of) your ‘A’ list every week is not enough. You should use the ‘kick’ function (in your music scheduling software) to, for example, ignore the ‘A’ song that would be scheduled in the first ‘A’ slot right after midnight (night from Sunday to Monday) starting with the second ‘A’ song in line instead. Another option is to use a different grid for your format clocks from week to week, as shown in the article about CHR format clocks. When you apply both methods together, make sure they don’t work against each other; check your rotation patterns.


In the next Music Scheduling Q&A, we’ll share additional principles, and a complete category setup for:

  • Current New
  • Current Secondary Up
  • Current Power
  • Current Secondary Down
  • Current Stay
  • Recurrent Power
  • Recurrent Secondary

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas 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 www.radioiloveit.com

An adult music format playing unfamiliar classics and breaking new songs; even taking currents off after they became hits. Does that work?

Seems like it does for BBC Radio 2, looking at their reach of 15 million. Where some Adult Contemporary stations only add a record after it’s peaked in Top 40, chances are that Radio 2 has dropped it weeks before to replace it by another highlight. At Radiodays Europe 2017, Head of Music Jeff Smith shared how they curate the playlist. And why they sometimes play a forgotten song from the past. “There are a lot of things that are part of the secret sauce.”


BBC Radio 2 supported UK Country artists like The Shires and Ward Thomas, partly because there was a lack of suitable mainstream Pop for the station (images: Anthony D’Angio, Sony Music)


The playlist is an important programming tool for BBC Radio 2, which has certain music quota attached to its broadcast license. The station is required to include 20% new music. According to Smith, they deliver about 26%. He specifies that 76% of that comes from UK artists, indicating it is “another big thing for the BBC” to adhere to. Radio 2 plays about 2 to 3; sometimes 4 currents an hour, which he thinks fits the station. “Our audience is far from dead; we’ve got an average age around 52.” As a Full Service with a broad range, they play some crossover songs that fit the format. “That Katy Perryrecord is a fantastic record”, he says, pointing to the single cover of Chained To The Rhythm“It will stand the test in 20 years time. They want to hear that to be relevant to their kids.”


The door of BBC Radio 2’s music team seems to be very open for everyone. “Producers of playlist-using programs and specialist programs come and visit us from time to time, and advise us about music.” While the station receives a great deal of material every week, only a fraction makes it to the BBC Radio 2 playlist: “We have a choice of between 50 and 100 records, of which 5 go on.” To decide which are the happy few, they have a playlist committee of about 12 to 15 people, chaired by him as the station’s Head of Music. During the 1.5 hour music meeting, they only listen to a handful of songs. “I expect them to have heard the music beforehand, and select the songs they want to champion; to really pound the table that they want this record on the playlist.”


Former lead acts of BBC Radio 1, such as Robbie Williams, have become core artists of Radio 2 over the years, while others, like Ed Sheeran or Emeli Sandé, are played by both. “But”, he adds, “we’ve got distinct, individual things we’ve made by ourselves. There was not a lot of music coming to us a few years ago which was dedicated for Radio 2, other than very soft; very mellow ‘super AC’. We needed to find a new dimension in Pop. That’s part of the reason why we have embraced UK Country. The Shires and Ward Thomas are great stories about UK artists breaking through due to Radio 2’s core support.”


BBC Radio 2 is not doing research nor following charts to determine which singles or album tracks they’re removing from or adding to their playlist (images: Asylum Records, Atlantic Records)


Gavin James is one of the station’s Pop artists of today. Jeff Smith calls I Don’t Know Why (an A lister in March 2017) as “an incredible accessible Pop song” that “sounds contemporary” and is “one of those great radio records”. A “current core” act for BBC Radio 2 is James Blunt (“a smart guy, who reinvents himself all the time”), and in the Country realm, Maren Moris is in power rotation with My Church. “What I like to do, particularly when they get to an A list status, is have a discussion with the label about where the music is going. I’ve never seen the point of supporting an artist for one track, like I’ve never seen the point of playing a record once. When you get behind an artist, you get behind an artist.” The station has therefore played a few different Maren Moris songs so far.


It looks like BBC Radio 2 chooses to play some unusual artists, if their songs fit the format. Adding Something Just Like This was something he didn’t see coming, even though it’s featuring Coldplay. “We have never played The Chainsmokersbeforehand — but I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t, because songs like Paris will come through to be something like a Radio 2 record in the future.” A surprising name on that week’s B list (of current records) is Deep Purple, which celebrates it 50th anniversary in 2018. He thinks that the band’s recent album is a particularly good one. “One of the areas [where] we do get quite rightly criticised on a little bit at the moment is Rock.” It was one of their reasons to represent the “iconic” Rock of the British band. “It works within the mix.”


At the moment of the session, Shape Of You is already a big hit for Ed Sheeran, but he’s not on BBC Radio 2’s current A list. Instead, they went with Galway Girl for the B list. “We’re on and off, and faster than anybody else”, the music director says about how they’re dealing with current songs; a refreshing approach for an Adult Contemporary centred radio station. “There’s always another good record coming along for us, because we don’t test [songs]. Because we’re not waiting for records to burn, we got rid of Castle On The Hill and Shape Of You two or three weeks ago.” He considers ÷ to be a “very strong” album, and therefore likes to play all great songs from an album that fit the format, rather than just a few. “Galway Girl clearly is working for the audience. It’s a really good, contemporary Radio 2 record.”


BBC Radio 2 plays upbeat music in The Chris Evans Breakfast Show (image: Radiodays Europe)


The BBC Radio 2 playlist is completed by a C category of low-rotation currents, which will get about 3 to 5 plays a week. “Father John Misty is an interesting experiment for us”, Smith says. While comparing the album Pure Comedy, from which they play the Ballad Of The Dying Man to Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connectionhe does realise that you will usually want to avoid playing a ballad on high rotation, unless it’s a huge record. “We think it will really work for our audience, but it’s quite a slow record; hard to play an awful lot.” The C list also reflects the musical breadth & depth of the station (as we’ve seen in part 1 of this article), with London Grammar’s Big Picture right next to Sailing by Vera Lynn, who then just recently celebrated her 100th birthday.


Speaking of tempo, how important is it to play mostly upbeat songs during morning hours, especially because BBC Radio 2 morning host Chris Evans has an energetic style of presenting? “It’s one of the discussions we’ve had with Chris when he started the Breakfast Show; he wanted to play that kind of music. We were saying that within Radio 2, we want to play a broad mix. But even for people who love laid-back music, this time of day is the most challenging to do that. There is an excuse with Pause For Thought at 9.15 every morning, where we sometimes can come out with a slow record. But on the whole, it’s important to have that uplifting vibe for the show.”


Certain songs will also be played for certain occasions, like Skee-Lo’s I Wish and Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle on a day when the show got a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters. Other songs, such as C+C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat, are there from the idea to bring back 90s songs that people haven’t heard on the station for some time, hoping to attract a 30+ demographic. The music director is happy to work with presenters who love music, and who are able to introduce unfamiliar songs in an engaging way, enhancing the station’s music profile. Here’s how morning personality Chris Evans creates excitement and attention for Tracies’ The House That Jack Built, a ‘forgotten 45’ from the 1980s, using a certain theme as an excuse.


BBC Radio 2 is giving specialist shows a greater chance to be heard now (image: Thomas Giger)


Session host Nik Goodman notes that you wouldn’t expect the biggest radio station in the UK to play such an obscure song at 7:40 the morning, asking with a smile if that is part of BBC Radio 2’s secret sauce. “I think there are a lot of things that are part of the secret sauce; I’m still discovering it myself as I go through it”, Jeff Smith replies. He once heard former colleagues describe rarities like these as ‘once-a-year songs’. “Tracie is like that; you want to play it once a year. When you have the uniqueness of Chris, his love for pop hits from the past, and a theme, it’s a perfect opportunity. If you look at those hours, though, I see my Recurrents; I see the two playlist records; I see the hour openers… that’s all there.”


Radio 2 offers a lot of specialist shows during evenings and weekends, once of them hosted by singer/songwriter and pianist Jamie Cullum, who did an excellent interview series with Bill Joel for his Jazz program. After Smith was appointed as Head of Music, in March 2007, a lot of specialist shows that were programmed in the late evening, were moved to the early evening. “We put them at 7 PM now, so they are getting half a million listeners per day straight off the back of Simon Mayo Drivetime, and he links into them. He’ll chat with the presenters, and play a tune into them as well, so there is that push through from our daytime into our specialist program.” Apart from specialist evening shows, Radio 2 offers thematic playlists at night.


The station also has musicians coming in for interviews and live sessions. “I’ve never been the biggest fan of live music in daytime; I think it can get in the way of lots and lots of things. But if it’s great, and if it’s unique, and if you can extend the content into visualisation; another aspect of what we do in radio nowadays, I think that is a good reason.” Speaking of live, BBC Radio 2 does outdoor events as well; “immersing the audience in the brand” as marketing people would name it. He recalls doing this for the first time during his earlier days as music director of Radio 1, with an event that would evolve into today’s annual Big Weekend. “It’s a way of getting exclusive live content, but also — most importantly — representing our station to the audience in person.”

“55.000 PEOPLE”

That’s said to be the number of visitors of the Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park 2016 festival (images: BBC)


One of their live music benchmarks is the Radio 2 In Concert series, featuring artists that can be heard on the station; from Robbie Williams and A-Ha to Noel Gallagher and Van Morrison. But the station’s main image event is probably the annual one-day Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park festival with a line-up including some of the biggest UK and international acts that fit the station’s music playlist and/or brand feel. According to a BBC Music video, Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park 2016 was attended by “55.000 people”. The production is on a tight schedule. “I’ll start working on the next year as soon as this one’s over.” While Jeff Smith can’t reveal this year’s line-up yet, he hints that it will be a special edition, as BBC Radio 2 celebrates its 50th birthday on September 30, 2017.

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas 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 www.radioiloveit.com

Pushing boundaries of programming fundamentals, and having success since many years. How does BBC Radio 2 make the ‘impossible’ possible?

At Radiodays Europe 2017, BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music’s Head of Music, Jeff Smith, shared unconventional ways to develop a music image. About 15 million listeners with hardly any research, genre breadth and library depth instead of tight rotations and small playlists, and controlled anarchy instead of music direc(dicta)torship. “Radio 2 can play anything.”



BBC Radio 2 offers more library breadth than most other radio stations (image: Radiodays Europe)


With 15 million listeners a week (28% total reach, 17% market share) according to RAJAR (Q4 2016), BBC Radio 2 is the number 1 station in the UK. It has an annual budget of £45m ($58m), and offers a Full Service format. It is home to highly regarded radio personalities, from Chris Evans and Steve Wright to Johnnie Walker and Tony Blackburn, and has a music policy that Smith describes as a combination of many formats: “ACTriple A; Soft CHR… A Little Bit Country; A Little Bit Rock and Roll, as Donny & Marie might say.”

Radio 2 demonstrates that a station can be successful by going broad, but especially by being different. “We go through about 600 different songs per week in daytime. I think that’s four times what an average commercial station would deliver.” Here’s a random sample of BBC Radio 2 music logs in early 2017.


The format covers many eras, but does have a common denominator; it’s based on “timeless, melodic” works. The music director expects that current hits from Katy Perry or Ed Sheeran from the above collage can still be played in two decades. With a playlist going back as far as Judy Garland’s Get Happy from 1950, the format clocks are based on eras, so all periods can be exposed in the right proportions. They focus on a 35+ audience. “50-year olds had their teenage years in the seventies and eighties, and 35-year-olds in the nineties. We’ve got to move our music all the time.”

BBC Radio 2 has between 1.500 and 2.000 songs in active rotation at any given time. “I’ve got a core database of 15.000, so I’ve got to move things around a lot”, he says in reference to platooning (taking certain songs out, while putting other songs in that have been resting for a while, often on an ongoing and regular basis to maintain a feeling of freshness). He goes through all categories every couple of weeks. “Recently, we’ve seen that within our ‘35’ audience, we’re not doing as well as we could do, so we’ll pop in some interesting nineties records that you haven’t heard for a while on the station.”


Apart from many eras, they also cover many genres. Instead of variety, a classic radio term, Smith talks about breadth. “We need to show, as a public service station, that we are encapsulating all of this.” The station also challenges another established radio programming law; that of choosing one format and running it 24/7. “We have a tremendous range of specialist programming. Country, Folk, Blues, Jazz; we can represent that. Not all of those have great popular hits off the back of that, but we try and play those, and mix them with new artists in those directions. So, the flow is driven out of those eras we talked about, and this range of music.”

“Controlled anarchy” is how he calls Radio 2’s music policy. “The perception from the audience is like it used to be; that the deejays choose all the tunes. That’s how, I think, we make them feel. In the end of it, we do it between us. A big word that I use in this is trust; between the management and the presenters and producers. They will play the playlist records; they will play particularly strong songs in particular parts of the hour.” As 51% of their output is speech-based, he finds it important to play a strong song when going back into the music. A benefit of personality radio is that you can play a wide range of genres more easily. Many songs will be separated by a longer jock talk, so they won’t play back to back.



Jeff Smith believes that radio stations can be great curators, especially when programmers are also trusting their gut feeling besides music research while adding songs (image: Radiodays Europe)


A good question from session host Nik Goodman is whether radio programmers are sometimes too obsessed with decreasing variety and tightening rotations when competing for ratings. “I totally get why people would work from a smaller repertoire of music, and a tighter sort of format”, Jeff Smith says from his CHR background. During the nineties, he was music director for BBC Radio 1, and before that for Capital FM and Napster. He thinks that BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music need a different approach, although “it’s quite challenging to kind of let go“.

“I was the first to bring music research into Radio 1 in 1997; we brought in Selector into Radio 1 in 1995. We did all those things that commercial radio subsequently does, or did, or has done. But what you have to do is horses for courses; you have to develop a format and a way of managing programming according to the situation you find yourself in.” They now schedule with Powergold. A multi-user license allows all producers to access the software, and to make changes to the prescheduled log. The producers & presenters and music editors will then together sign off on the final music log.


From musical breadth to musical depth. Airplay data show that recently, in one month, the station played 19 different ABBA songs. Most of them once; a few twice. Conventional music directors would play less songs on a higher rotation (like only the 5 best-testing ABBA songs, 5 times a month). “Part of it is: we don’t research the tracks. We’re not gonna sit there, thinking: ‘What’s the best ELO track? Mr. Blue Sky. So we’re gonna play Mr. Blue Sky all the time’. Although we do play Mr. Blue Sky.” Every couple years, they will do music taste research to find people’s favourite genres. But that’s about as far as their music research currently goes. “I like data, but I’ve always believed in the educated gut.”

Smith is using Radio Monitor to see what other stations (who often do research) are playing, assuming that every song they schedule is testing well. But he mostly relies on the experience of his music team (consisting of 4 people, including him) along with the station’s producers & presenters to discover new songs, and to develop the gold repertoire together. His advice for fellow radio programmers and music directors is to give unfamiliar songs, which may not immediately test well (as listeners haven’t had a chance to form an option about those songs yet), some time. “That will come around, if you believe in that record”, he says while touching his belly.


As a public broadcasting organisation, they are required to be distinct. He admits: “If we were commercial, we might not necessarily do that, but because we’re not so bound up by our numbers, we’re able to dig deeper.” In his experience, BBC Radio 2 listeners actually expect this musical breadth & depth. “With our average age being 51; 52 years, a lot of them know this repertoire, so [even margin records] feel like hits to them anyway.” While realising he’s in a different position than most MDs of commercial stations will be, he feels like radio can be “a little bit braver” in terms of curation.

“Radio is gonna’ be going through a new Golden Age, and whether it’s disintermediated into the whole podcasting or streaming or playlist thing, one of the great things we can do is show off the range of music, and surprise people.” Jeff Smith thinks that today, music programmers get away with it easier than they used to. “There’s a demand for something different out there on the radio; something a little bit more challenging.” Being an established brand helps as well. “I think Radio 2 can play anything, as long as we bring [listeners] back to a timeless, melodic, broad range record.”

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas 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 www.radioiloveit.com

Instead of ‘always the same songs and lots of repetition’, how to make your listeners think ‘always a nice song and lots of variety’ about your music?

When you have a focused playlist of best-testing titles, creating (an impression of) diversity may sound like a challenge. Luckily, you can increase your variety, without widening your library, by improving your rotations. Some ideas to achieve a great song exposure on your station, no matter how small your playlist may be, by spreading your songs even better over the course of several days & weeks.



Music rotations have pros and cons. A benefit is that you can build an image by defining your format. That format is, among other things, based on what you are playing (and not playing), on which moment you’re adding it (soon after its release vs. long after its peak), and how often you’re playing it. The turnover time of (current) music categories obviously also depends on your music format, and on your station’s total listening time, as well as average listening occasion time (which tends to be shorter for most Top 40 stations, and longer for more AC stations). A disadvantage of music rotations is that you could get a potentially negative image by overexposing certain songs (if they’re not people’s favourites). Apart from playing overall better music in that regard, you can improve your overall song exposure (while still playing your top-testing songs enough).


Before talking about making your music logs less predictable, let’s refresh some basics on what determines music rotations. Apart from how many songs you have in a music category, it’s about how many positions you assign to this category in your format clocks (and how consistent those are in terms of category exposure). However, these factors determine your natural song rotation, which is often modified by all kinds of scheduling rules: daypart restrictions, artist separations, sound codes, etc. Only make rules that are necessary, and only make really essential rules ‘unbreakable’, keeping less essential rules ‘breakable’ to avoid unnecessary scheduling conflicts. With this in mind, let’s explore ideas to make your music logs a bit less predictable (and your variety a bit more prominent) for heavy listeners of your station by optimising your song rotations with a focus on fast-repeating categories, like for current hits.


The obvious way to keep music logs interesting is refreshing your source material by adding songs, moving songs to other categories, or removing songs from active rotation. Sometimes permanently; often temporarily, like when you’re resting a Current for a few weeks before bringing it back as a Recurrent, or when you’re platooning some titles (parking them for a while, while bringing back an equal number of previously inactive titles). This especially works well for larger categories such as Recurrent and Gold (‘Wow, I haven’t heard that in a long time!’). But besides changing your category content, you can adjust your category size to shuffle your rotations. In one week, you might play 5 Power Currents; in another week you might play 7, depending on how many songs qualify for your A list. The downside is that regular (P1) listeners might feel your difference in ‘passion’ for these songs from week to week, a side effect that will be less strong with larger categories (like rotating 14 Secondary Currents in one week, and 12 in another week).



A great way to naturally rotate music categories, is using the even-odd rule. When your format clocks all include 2 Power Current slots an hour, or when you’re playing say 50 of these a day (as your number of Power Currents an hour may vary, depending on the daypart), then you want to have 3, 5 or 7 songs within your Power Current category (as 9 songs could be too much to make them stand out as hits) so they’ll be scheduled across several different slots within multiple hours. A category of 3 Power Currents lets each of them repeat once every 1.5 hours (which may be only suitable for a Top 40 station in a highly competitive market). Should you end up with 4, 6 or 8 songs in your Power Current category after all, most music scheduling tools allow you to skip one song, once a day. You may skip the first Power Current that would normally be scheduled right after midnight, and schedule the next Power Current in line instead; creating a different rotation pattern for this category from day to day. The number of category slots per day divided by the number of included songs in that category should result in an uneven number (e.g. 48 slots / 5 songs = 9.6 plays per song).


Drawing a comparison with playing cards, you’ll shuffle a card deck before every game. In a similar way, you can do this with your song cards. This can be useful for larger music categories, such as Recurrents and Golds. As mentioned before, the number of songs in (and the number of slots for) each music category will determine that category’s natural rotation pattern, which is then affected by scheduling rules. But there’s another factor that influences a song’s rotation: it is how deep you allow your music scheduler to dig within a particular stack of cards (category of songs) before it needs to make a choice, sometimes combined with how far you allow your scheduling software to put that song card back into the stack after the song has been scheduled. Titles that should turn up more often, you might want to put back somewhere in the middle of the stack, instead of all the way back. As you modify these individual song parameters (like when you have new music research data available), you will automatically influence the rotation of some of your songs. It’s a way to refine your song rotations, besides assigning them to Power Recurrent, Secondary Gold, etc.


As your collective of music scheduling rules (for artist, gender, tempo, etc.) affects your rotations, you can try and see what happens when you loosen (or tighten) certain rules. First, run an analysis of your rotation patterns for categories as well as songs. Are any songs playing more (or less) often than they should? And is it likely to be caused by rules? Then you might want to adjust those. What you can do, is switching off all rules, turn one single rule ‘on’, and run a test playlist to see what happens. Do this for all rules that you have. You can also build it step by step by switching one more rule ‘on’ every time you run a test log. You are then likely to find rules that are causing trouble, so you can fine-tune them, and run another test log to see the difference. The more (diverse) songs you have in a category, the more (consistency) rules you usually need. Just find a good balance between necessary scheduling rules and natural song rotations; between consistent flow and desired exposure. This is where science & art of music scheduling meet.



Last, but not least, you can improve your song rotations by optimising your format clocks, and using them strategically. You might already have several different clock variants (based on one default music clock) available. A set of 5 or 7 music clocks will allow you to rotate several different music formats throughout different days & dayparts. Make sure that the number of clocks you are actively using cannot be multiplied to 24 (hours). Therefore, 4, 6 or 8 clocks would be less suitable. Unless, of course, you’re ‘kicking’ one clock manually by starting your clock grid with, for example, Clock 1 on Monday, Clock 2 on Tuesday, etc. (basically doing the same as ‘kicking’ a song at midnight, as explained earlier). When creating your clock variants, mind your format consistency, letting every program hour reflect your overall format. An easy way is turning your master clock one or more positions to the left or right, automatically creating variety in each hour while maintaining music flow and category balance.


To achieve specific daypart goals, such as playing more current hits and/or more power songs during morning drive, you can create daypart-specific master clocks and alternate clocks. Doing this only for essential hours lets you maintain your station-wide format consistency, thus building a recognisable music brand based on clear listener expectations. A positive side effect of using some daypart-specific clocks is that they could automatically shuffle your rotation patterns for those music categories that are a getting a different exposure compared to their exposure in your non-dayparted clocks. It may contribute to less predictable placements of songs from those categories. When you are rotating 5 or 7 main clocks, then you also want 5 or 7 additional clocks for every daypart where you need specific clocks (like your morning hours), so you can create a consistent grid of format clocks.


While format consistency and listener expectations are important, you also want to achieve (an impression of) freshness and variety. That includes introducing new format clocks every now and then, as you don’t want to use the same category order forever and ever. So why not do the same as you do with certain groups of songs — and platoon your clocks? You could build an ‘A set’ and a ‘B set’ of clocks that you can then swap every once in a while. It will make your category order and therefore your song rotation come across as new and different, without having to re-invent the (clock) wheel. You just park one set, and activate another one. Having the exact same amount of clocks in every clock set will make it easier to adjust your clock grid. However, for even more variety, you could have one set of 5 clocks and one set of 7 clocks, which will shuffle your category turnarounds even more. Have fun reloading your rotations!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas 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 www.radioiloveit.com

As you prepare your playlist for February, 14th, here are 14 Valentine’s Day songs (and a Valentine’s Day Top 140) that your audience might love to hear.

When your station has a female-friendly / AC-oriented music format, you could add a love song countdown to your Valentine’s Day promotion on the 14th of February. Here are 14 songs with lyrics about ‘Cupid Day’ that you might be able to include, and a complete Valentine’s Day Top 140 playlist.


Valentine from Train’s 2017 album could be a nice Valentine’s Day song (image: Columbia Records)


Being last on the track list of Bruce Springsteen’s eighth studio album Tunnel Of Love, Valentine’s Day is a more obscure song from The Boss, who recorded most of this 1987 album without his E Street Band. Popular culture magazine Rolling Stone ranked Tunnel Of Love #25 on their list of 100 Best Albums of the Eighties. Even though the only lines referring to the song’s title are “So hold me close honey say you’re forever mine… and tell me you’ll be my lonely valentine” at the very end of the song, we think Valentine’s Day is worthwhile to play on the 14th of February.


Created specifically for Elton John’s (1996 North-American version of the) album Love Songs, No Valentines is a ‘once-in-a-year’ radio track, but a pretty nice one. The compilation includes many hit songs that could be scheduled on Valentine’s Day as well, including Can You Feel The Love Tonight, Your Song and Blue Eyes, and Candle In The Wind, True Love and Nikitaon the 1995 European release. No Valentines, written by Elton John and his lifelong musical partner Bernie Taupin, might be a nice addition to your radio station’s Valentine’s Day music playlist.


“I’m never gonna say goodbye, cause, baby, you’re my valentine”. Maybe not as poetic as Bernie Taupin’s masterpieces for Elton John, but good enough for a nice Valentine’s Day song. We’re talking about Valentine from Train’s tenth studio album A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat, released in 2017 with Play That Song as lead single — another Top 10 smash for the pop & rock band that acquired a star status with Drops Of Jupiter and Hey, Soul Sister. Our advice about Valentine, co-written by lead singer Patrick Monahan, is: ‘play that song’ on Valentine’s Day.



YouTube was Kina Grannis’ launch platform to worldwide fame (image: YouTube / Kina Grannis)


This British band is one of the less-known performers in this list, but we believe they belong in here because of the beautiful ‘dreamy’ sounds of St. Valentine’s Day. It’s a track from their third and final album A Different Kind Of Weather,produced by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and released in 1990. He also co-produced the band’s debut album in ’85 of which the single Life In A Northern Town reached a #15 chart position in the UK, and #7 in the US. A Different Kind Of Weather also includes a cover of Love, which was written (and first released in 1970) by John Lennon.


If you were born somehere in between the late 1970s and early ’80s, you know what ‘NKOTB’ stands for. Beginning their career with modest success, the American boy band had an incredible rise to fame during the late 1980s and early ‘90s with world hits like You Got It (The Right Stuff), I’ll Be Loving You (Forever), and, of course… Step By Step. The B-side of the American version of that 1990 best selling single was Valentine Girl. Especially if females 35-49 are part of your target demo, consider adding this New Kids track to your Valentine’s Day playlist.


American singer-songwriter and YouTube star Kina Kasuya Grannis is a great example of a web-born artist. After creating a YouTube account in November 2007, where she posted her own songs and videos, ‘100 million’ television viewers saw her perform her self-written song Message From Your Heart after she won Dorito’s Crash The Super Bowl contest of 2008, which included a record label deal as well. Her 2010 album Stairwells mainly consisted of her songs that were earlier released on her YouTube channel, one of them being Valentine.


Valentine’s Day comes from Solange Knowles’ second album (image: Geffen Records, Music World)


One of the most renown people in country music — with 25 number one hits in music charts — is Willie Nelson, who began his music career back in 1956. International hits include a cover of Always On My Mind, previously a huge success for Elvis Presley, and his duet with Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before. From his 44th, 1993 album Across The Borderline, with songs written by himself and by Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett and Paul Simon, originates the beautiful country ballad Valentine.


As you can see in this list of Valentine’s Day songs, there are quite some songs named Valentine. Another one is from the hand of singer-songwriter Nils Lofgren, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band who got The Boss to appear on the recording (for additional vocals) as well as in its music video. Released in 1991, Valentine was featured on Lofgren’s album Silver Lining. The American musician, who is also known for his 1979 single Shine Silently, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the E Street Band in 2014.


Solange Knowles, younger sister of Beyoncé Knowles, released her first album Solo Star in 2002, when she was 16. She acted in movies and wrote music for both her sister and for other ex-Destiny’s Child group members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, before working on her second album Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams that came out in 2008. It was strongly influenced by the Motown girl group sound from the 1960s and ‘70s, and became a Top 10 hit in the Billboard 200 chart. One of the songs on that album is the upbeat & soulful Valentine’s Day.


Keith Sweat is also known for ballads like My Valentine from his 2011 album (image: KDS, E1 Music)


Sir James Paul McCartney has written countless of world hits — it’s said that more than 2,200 artists have covered his Beatles song Yesterday alone. But his 15th solo studio album Kisses On The Bottom includes just two compositions by his hand, one of them being My Valentine, featuring Eric Clapton on guitar. The other tracks are covers of traditional pop and jazz songs, two music styles of which My Valentine seems to be a nice combination. The 2012 album got to #5 on the US Billboard 200, and to #3 on the UK Albums Chart.


Another ‘February, 14th’ themed song was released by James Taylor in 1988 on this twelfth studio album, Never Die Young. The title track ended up becoming the only single, getting only as far as #80 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the album, which includes Valentine’s Day, reached #25 on the Billboard 200. The five-time Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has sold 100 million records worldwide, from self-written songs like his breakthrough single Fire and Rain to magnificent covers, like his version of Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend.


I Want Her, Make You Sweat, I’ll Give All My Love To You, Keep It Comin, Twisted and Nobody. Those were all #1 songs on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for Keith Seat, who is seen as a major contributor to the ‘new jack swing’ genre. My Valentine is part of his eleventh album ‘Til the Morning from 2011, and features vocals by Cheryl ‘Coko’ Clemons, lead singer of the American R&B vocal trio Sisters With Voices. SWV became famous in 1992 with Teddy Riley’s remix of Right Here, based on a sample from Michael Jackson’s ’83 hit single Human Nature.


From the many My Funny Valentine covers, Chaka Khan’s is great (image: Dan & Corina Lecca)


When you’re looking to play feel good Valentine’s Day music, consider this song, co-written and performed by Jim Brickman on piano with Martina McBride as vocalist. Valentine was released in 1997, first on Brickman’s album Picture This, and then on McBride’s album Evolution. The ballad got halfway through Billboard’s Hot 100, but hit #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was also a very successful time for McBride as a solo artist, thanks to huge Country chart hits with A Broken Wing (’97), Happy Girl (’98), and Wrong Again and Whatever You Say (‘99).


The most famous Valentine’s Day song in the world is probably the theme of Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart’s musical Babes in Arms from 1937. Over 600 covers and over 1,200 album features make My Funny Valentine a real jazz standard. Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald are among the artists who have covered it. We think that Chaka Khan’s interpretation is one of the best modern variants. The Queen of Funk released her version in 1996 on the soundtrack album of the movie Waiting To Exhale to which Whitney Houston contributed both as an actress and singer.


There are more songs related to ‘February, 14th’ than the above — from T’pau’s Valentine and John Waite’s Valentine to Steve Earle’s Valentine’s Day and Tim Buckley’s Valentine Melody. More alternative sounding are Valentine’s Day by David Bowie, Valentine’s Day by Linkin Park and Secret Valentine by We The Kings. These progressive tracks are not included in the list above as it’s a Top 14 of Valentine’s Day songs for mainstream formats, but they might be suitable for certain music format. And now… here’s something you might enjoy as well:


These 140 love songs for Valentine’s Day can be used as a countdown as well (image: Thomas Giger)


If you’re planning to schedule a Valentine’s Day music special, here’s a list of 140 popular love songs (including the above 14 songs talking about Valentine’s Day) which you could use as a basis for your music playlist or music countdown. Our Top 140 includes current & recurrents, as well as many classics, and it’s based on a male/female voice balance and (as far as possibile within the love song category) also tempo, energy & genre variety. It might be especially suitable for AC formats. I hope you’ll find nice ideas for your Valentine’s Day music scheduling here, and I wish you a Lovely Day :-).

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 www.radioiloveit.com

Burn could be (mainly) caused by your Disloyal Cume — not your P1 audience. It’s worth including cross tab checks in your callout research analysis.

Following part 1 (about recruiting panels) and part 2 (about conducting surveys) of our specialist series on callout research, here’s the final instalment about this proven method for music testing of currents & recurrents. This part 3 explains how to interpret results of callout research to play the right music for your target audience. Over to guest author and radio researcher Stephen Ryan!



There’s a high number of streams vs. a small amount of sales & downloads (image: Ryan Research)


In previous articles in this series, we discussed how callout research is used to get an ongoing trend indicator for the lifecycle of a song, from its initial exposure to its peak rating and then its eventual decline in popularity rating (normally through ‘burn’ where listeners are getting tired of it). The trends help you decide on your category allocations based on the hierarchy of songs tested, from the highest to the lowest rating.


Before we look at the subject of analysis, there is one question that crops up on a regular basis. Clients will often enquire why the results of callout research may differ from those of streaming statistics and local charts. The results in callout for certain top streamed songs may not indicate the same level of interest. It is important to remember that listeners consume radio in a very different way to streaming. More importantly, the methodology used to calculate those results is considerably different.


The Official Charts Company in the UK includes sales, digital downloads and streaming statistics. While sales and digital downloads involve some effort on behalf of the consumer, an audio stream only has to be played for 30 seconds in order to be included. While 150 streams now count as the equivalent of 1 ‘sale’ of a song, when streams are counted in the millions there is in fact a chance that what is actually a light interest in a song by a reasonably large number of consumers can affect what we see in a chart (even if only 10 plays are counted per individual user, per day).



Find the slightly better songs in similar rated cluster (image: Thomas Giger, 123RF / ruslanshug)


On radio, we want to ensure that listeners return and remain loyal, and that we maintain a good Time Spent Listening. We are looking for songs that will retain people’s interest and attention for a lot longer than 30 seconds. Proprietary callout research provides a greater insight into what your listeners really want to hear. Downloads and streams can be good indicators, but that interest needs to be qualified within your own environment: your songs; your listeners.


In part 1, we’ve seen how the increasing cost of participant recruitment for CATI-based research has driven a tendency to move from a traditional 44 waves to 26 waves of callout research per year, so with results received on alternative weeks. If your format leans on current and recurrent songs, such as CHR or Hot AC, you need to have a high enough and very regular frequency of waves for desired trend consistency. If you can only afford to do a wave every few months, then the movements in song ratings may be highly erratic, and the benefit of doing callout in the first place will be diluted. Reliable callout trends require regular waves and data updates.


In part 2, we’ve shown how to use a Popularity and Potential Index to provide a single metric to identify a hit or potential hit. Using a single index score also helps you spread out the differences in the song ratings. Here, if there is a cluster of similar ratings for songs, the index can help to discover the slightly better songs. On a 200 index, a score or potential score of over 110 identifies the strongest songs. To analyse the results, you need to sort order the list of tested songs from the highest to the lowest popularity. However, you also need to look at the trends for each individual song to ensure the results are not a one off spike or a trough (excessive bouncing in the results).



Compare all other cross tabs to that your Music Core ‘anchor’ cross tab (image: Ryan Research)


If you have acquired a sample with the specific quotas of 100% Cume (your station), built from 50% Music Core (your P1 listeners) vs. 50% Competitor(s) Music Core (your competition’s P1 listeners, also known as your Disloyal Cume), then you need to run cross tabs for each, and cross compare. That allows you to check on any potential polarity in the results. As explained in a previous article, for any cross tab to be reliable, you need a minimum sample of 30 people in each.


Your Music Core are respondents who listen to you most, and generate your highest TSL. They are most exposed to your music, and are more acutely aware of your rotations. For this reason, you want to use Music Core as your anchor, and compare all other cross tabs to that one Music Core cross tab. Next, you should run your Total cross tab (for example: 20-29 Females), followed by your Competitor(s) Music Core cross tab. This is, of course, a minimum process for cross comparison where you have a single gender sample.


If you have data from females and males (and as long as there is a minimum sample of 30 people in each additional cross tab), you may break out each of the Totals by Gender, and split the Total age demo into its constituent parts (in this example: 20-24 and 25-29). While each additional cross tab provides extra information, you want to avoid the dreaded ‘analysis paralysis’ where you are trying to absorb too much data. Instead, keep your attention focused on the key metrics, and focus primarily on your Music Core (as they are your most important listeners).



For hit songs at their peak, up to 15% or 20% popularity variance is normal (image: Ryan Research)


Your want to base your strategy and approach on two levels when analysing your data:

  1. You want to keep your most loyal listeners happy and engaged
  2. You want to see if you can convert those who currently sample you on a weekly basis, but still listen to your competitor(s) most of the time, to listen to you more, as long as that doesn’t interfere with point 1!


Ideally, when looking at any cross tab, you’d like to see an even trend from the start of each song’s lifecycle through to its peak rating, and then on to its decline in popularity. In reality, you can expect some bouncing in a song’s rating across its life cycle, even during its peak period. A minimal amount of bouncing is acceptable, if it’s within reasonable margins. Over the course of a number of waves where a song is at its peak rating period, if you see a variance of up to 15% or even 20% in its Popularity index, then this should not cause too much alarm.


What you don’t want to see is a song being a hit in one wave, and then get a mediocre score (let alone a poor rating) in the next wave. While the speed of increase and decrease may vary from song to song, there should be an element of a gradual increase to its peak and then a gradual decline as it Burns. Very occasionally, you will see a song maintain its hit status for a very long period of time, after which it will suddenly fall off the cliff with a rapid increase in Burn, but this is unusual. If you begin to see bounces in song ratings above and beyond 20% (when songs are at their peak), then you need to review the panel and recruitment criteria with your fieldwork company.



You can work with either a fixed or a flexible number of songs in your Power Current category, knowing that each option has its own benefits versus disadvantages (image: Thomas Giger)


In a 30-song test list, when ordered from highest to lowest popularity, you would ideally want to see the strongest songs at the top, and then a gradual decline in popularity scores as you go down the list. The songs in the middle to lower part of your list would be those which are either new and in their ascendency, or previous hits in their decline. In more recent times, the spread of songs from the highest to lowest popularity tends to be not so evenly spread. A small group of songs at the top of the list may elicit really good popularity scores, and then there is a drop to more mediocre scores. This can lead to a dilemma in terms of category allocation and rotation of your best-testing songs.


There are two schools of thought. You either have a fixed number of slots in your Power Current category, which must be filled following the results of each wave of research. For example, your A category must always have 5 songs, so you take your 5 best-testing songs in your list and insert those in the category. They are then evenly rotated throughout the day. However, what happens if 3 top songs in your research have phenomenal scores, while the other 2 have reasonably good scores? Here, not all songs are equal. The other school of thought is therefore to allow your A category to be dynamic — and if there are only 3 phenomenal songs, then only put those in Power.


The decision on the right course of action has to be a purely pragmatic one, and will differ on a case by case basis. Whirlwind rotations of the 3 phenomenal songs means the listener is exposed to their most favourite songs more often. On the other hand, such high rotations will likely lead to a faster Burn on these 3 songs, and to a never ending quest to find equally powerful replacement songs as their popularity wanes. However, while using a fixed number of songs in your A category may ease the development of Burn, depending on the scores for the additional 2 songs (in our example) it will dilute the average passion for the songs in the Power category.



Compare a song’s Burn rate with its Favourite and overall Popularity scores (image: Ryan Research)


The songs in the mid to lower part of the list need to be judged on different criteria depending on whether they are new songs in potential ascendancy, or previous hits in decline. For those newer, upcoming songs, the power of the Potential index comes into its own. As a reminder, the Potential index is similar to the Popularity score, except it tries to forecast the Popularity score, if the current Unfamiliarity rating was removed and apportioned pro rata to the existing Favourite, Like & Neutral scores. While the current Popularity index may be only mediocre, the Potential index helps you identify songs from your middle list part for your secondary (B) or, if you have one, tertiary (C) category.


One word of caution. While you may have made every effort to avoid unfamiliar songs in your test list, always check the Unfamiliar rating for each of these B (or C) category candidates. If the Unfamiliar score is higher than around 20%, then the Potential score becomes less reliable, because there are too few people in the sample for the current Favourite, Like & Neutral metrics for this song. Small samples lead to erratic results! Most songs in the middle part of the list have often been tested in previous waves, so check how the Potential index has trended so far (and if it makes sense).


For previous hits in decline, that decrease in rating will be primarily driven by one metric — Burn. As a song’s Burn starts to develop (and Popularity begins to fade), you may have decided to move it from a top-level current category straight to Power Recurrent. However, once it hits a certain level of Burn, consider resting the song (at least for a while, after which you can re-test it). Traditionally, once a song hit 20% Burn, it was deemed time to rest it. In recent times, it’s necessary to be a little bit more tolerant of Burn levels. It is always a question of balance, and the Burn rating always needs to be compared with the Favourite rating (and the overall Popularity score).



Proprietary analysis tools help remove anomalies in music research data (image: Ryan Research)


For example, a song could have a Burn of 24%, but a Favourite of 32% and a Popularity score of 118 (on a 200 index). Depending on what other songs you have available, you may wish to retain this one in rotation longer, and accept the current Burn level. Again, it has to be a pragmatic decision. Also, carefully cross check the Burn on the song for your Music Core against the Total, and against your Competitor(s) Music Core. You may find that the high Burn score is mainly driven by your Disloyal Cume, and therefore in fact would be lower for your Music Core.


To efficiently analyse the research data, you’ll need some form of analysis tool to generate the song ratings. If you work with a consultant, you’ll likely have access to professional analysis & reporting software. When you are adept at using spreadsheet software such as Excel, including its inbuilt functions and formulas, you could analyse the data yourself. The one thing to keep in mind is that, regardless of the efforts of the fieldwork company to provide samples and data based on your agreed quotas, every sample has possible outliers in it. These can skew the end results.


Using proprietary analysis software gives you access to calculations and algorithms to help you identify and remove outliers from your sample. If your test results are consistently erratic, even after a review with your fieldwork company, then you may consider to remove anomalies using the sophistication of a proprietary analysis tool, such as iRate.

This is a guest post by Stephen Ryan of Ryan Research for Radio))) ILOVEIT. iRate is a product of Ryan Research.