Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Your Request Is DENIED Changes in Radio Programming Make Phone-In Requests a Thing of the Past

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Your Request Is DENIED Changes in Radio Programming Make Phone-In Requests a Thing of the Past

Article excerpt

Their tongues may be coated with silver, but their hands are bound with twine.

Disc jockeys at commercial radio stations can't play requests any more. They haven't been able to play them for decades, in fact, but radio's undying mystique has kept listeners from noticing their power slipping away.

That's great for profitable companies like Clear Channel and Cox, which own most of the radio stations in Jacksonville, but it's exasperating for listeners who still call their stations to make a request, wholeheartedly expecting the voice on the other end of the line to say, "I'll get that right on for you," and actually mean it.

In truth, "I'll get that right on for you" usually means one of two things:

1. The DJ knew he was going to play that song before you even picked up the receiver.

2. The DJ is lying.

A LOSING PROPOSITION

Radio gradually eliminated requests because research indicated that listeners want to hear hit songs they already know. The first few notes of a left-field request could lose a given station thousands of listeners, who simply flip to another station to hear more familiar music.

"The question is always, 'Do you please one person and maybe alienate 10,000?' " said Rock 105 programming director David Moore. "At any one time we may have 10,000 people listening to the radio station, and you can't do that."

The goal of a commercial radio station is to get as many people as possible to listen for as long as possible. Listeners build ratings and ratings build revenues. Requests, on the other hand, build a small and loyal following -- a quaint but economically disastrous model for a big-time station.

"It would lose money," said Moore, who has worked in commercial radio since 1981. "People have tried it over and over. I don't know anyone that has succeeded."

Even casual radio listeners probably know that DJs come into the studio with a pre-formatted playlist of roughly 12 songs an hour, which is how they can announce what's coming up in the next hour.

What listeners don't often know is that DJs have no control over what goes onto that playlist. They're also powerless to change it mid-show. So DJs may be the wizards, but the programming directors are the men behind the curtain.

"Most people think we're just sitting here, and we can put in a CD whenever we want and play whatever we want," said Chill Will, a morning DJ on hip-hop and R&B station The Beat. "Of course, that's not how it is at all."

Though music directors usually select track order, programming directors choose the complete body of music comprising a station's song rotation. They're the bosses, usually knowledgeable music-lovers like Moore and Planet Radio's Rick Schmidt, who long ago accepted the negative impact that requests can have on their overall listenership.

"I've only worked for one station that ever played requests, and it was an unsuccessful station in Gainesville," Schmidt said. "It's unfortunate, because as a music guy I would love to go back to the days of the '70s where [requests] really happened, and you felt like you had some input. There were less radio stations, and less reliance on revenue."

DJs and programming directors speak reverently of the 1970s, for those were the days before rock splintered into uncountable sub-genres, thus creating new demographics to conquer.

"It was much more free-flowing, and consultants were not involved," said Mike James, programming director at country station WQIK. "All the jocks were pretty much in control of playing the music. That was before the music was pre-planned on computer software programs."

But now, if a given station plays music that reaches, for example, Planet Radio's young and predominantly male demographic, it must cater to guys who like the crushing riffs of Korn, the modern rock of Lifehouse and the frat-boy jams of Dave Matthews. …

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