Joined: 14 Aug 2002
Location: St Louis, MO
|Posted: Fri Feb 14, 2003 12:24 am Post subject: Why don't DJs just name that tune?
|Why don't DJs just name that tune?
By Steve Carney, Special to The Times
One of the joys of radio is its potential for discovery -- a song you've never heard before grabs you by the throat, or the heart. Then you wait, dying to find out who and what it is.
But you might die before you ever do.
A commercial or the next song comes on, and you realize that the DJ is never going to tell you what just played.
The complaint is so common among listeners that satellite radio companies have made it a selling point, boasting that their equipment always shows what's on the air. And a new survey shows how badly the audience wants to know -- 82% said it was important that DJs give song and artist information for the music they play, compared with 17% who didn't really care and 1% who answered "don't know."
"The announcing of artist and title is something that has always been important to listeners," said Mike Henry, chief executive officer of Paragon Media Strategies, the Denver-based research group that conducted the survey of 407 men and women as part of its ongoing work. It found that many in the audience believe they're getting less information than they were even a couple of years ago. Every song, apparently, is by the Guess Who.
"Believe it or not, the primary reason for it is there are only 60 minutes in an hour, and these broadcasters need to sell as much advertising as they can," Henry said. "The economics have become much more important to them."
Among the survey respondents, 55% said that once a song was over, they wanted the DJ to say what was just played, a practice known in the industry as "back-selling." Meanwhile, 26% said they wanted introductions so they would know what they're about to hear, and 11% even said they wanted both. In addition, 31% said DJs needed to identify only new songs, while 64% wanted to hear about everything.
"It's extremely frustrating," said Hilary Rosen, chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Assn. of America. Unlike other outlets, radio stations don't have to pay royalties to artists for playing their songs (only to the songwriters) -- the rationale being that the airplay is free advertising.
"But if listeners don't know what's being played, the promotional value is lost," Rosen said. "When they're not front- and back-announcing, they're not holding up their end of the bargain."
The DJ's role as narrator and companion "has always been a key ingredient in radio history," said Lee Abrams, a programming consultant who, in his 30-year career, originated such formats as album rock, classic rock and active rock, among others.
"DJs in the '50s, '60s and early '70s used to sell music," said Abrams, now chief programming officer for Washington-based XM Satellite Radio. A DJ would push a song he thought was good, "he'd get excited about it, and eight out of 10 times the DJs were right.
"What it gets down to, talking too much is a complaint too, and some stations have taken it way too far," he said. "There's nothing wrong with playing a lot of music, but there has to be a human aspect. The key is being economical about it. We look for a middle ground."
On XM's 71 music stations, the amount of chatter depends on the format and target audience. On a fast-paced channel aimed at a young, impatient audience, taking time to announce "every song would be a huge mistake," Abrams said.
But XM touts its listeners' ability to learn artist and song information on any station they tune to. It's technology that does the trick, not gabby DJs.
The signal beaming down from the satellites of XM and its competitor, Sirius, has enough room to carry the music as well as the extra information, which shows up on the display screen on customers' receivers.
Digital technology becoming available this year will let earthbound stations offer the same feature, but in the meantime many point listeners to their Web sites for the answers to "who?" and "what?"
But that's not much help if you're listening in your car, and Henry said it forces the audience to take extra steps. "It's making it harder to be a listener," he said, and only 8% of the survey respondents said they wanted to get their details online.
"Shotgun" Tom Kelly, who works afternoons on oldies station KRTH-FM (101.1), said he wants listeners to call or e-mail if they don't recognize a song. That way he can make personal contact with those he hears from without cluttering the airwaves for the rest.
"We feel that people already know what the songs are. Everybody knows what 'My Girl' is," he said, referring to the Temptations' chestnut.
With one-hit wonders, he said, he likes to slip the song title into whatever commentary he's making about the weather or traffic or current events -- the uninitiated get a clue while those in the know enjoy the reference. "These songs are from the '60s, and usually everybody knows who they are."
Abrams joked that listeners to pop stations also always know what they're hearing because the playlists are so repetitive. But, he said, "how do you introduce new music then?"
Henry called it "a trap a lot of radio people fall into -- 'everybody knows this anyway.' You can't take for granted [that] they know what you're playing."
Song information "is still a very important component that radio stations need to pay attention to," he said. "Pendulums swing pretty hard, and right now the pendulum has swung to the economic side. Sooner or later, radio stations are going to have to recommit themselves to what the listeners want."
But even with brand-new songs, some things are better left unsaid.
Kelly recalled that when he was working at KCBQ in San Diego in 1971, the station cut a deal with Apple Records to debut a new John Lennon single. The station played up the event, ferrying the record from the airport in an armored car and rushing a copy to Kelly, who was on the air. Quickly reading the label, he announced: "Here's the new single from John Lennon: 'Im-a-jeen.' "
"I went to Catholic school, and the sisters always said, 'Sound out the words,' " said Kelly, who saved himself with a back-sell. "I had to come back after the song and said, 'It's "Imagine." I was just kidding.' "
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