When the first issue of the Billboard-owned Radio & Records came out a few weeks ago, incorporating many of the elements of the former Billboard Radio Monitor, it was minus two key features from the merged publications. One was Monitor’s Power Playlist page. The other was R&R’s format-by-format “add” rundown.
The Power Playlist pages-a successor to a similar layout of CHR playlists that goes back to the earliest days of R&R-featured the “Airplay Adds” that Monitor had designated for any song getting six or more monitored spins per week at a new station. The R&R pages featured reported adds-a particularly tenacious holdover from a time before the early ’90s when all station playlists were self-reported.
Reported adds hung on because they were, for one thing, the promotional scorecard of the music business and independent promotion in particular. They survived even after the influence of the indies waned in 2002-03, and even after two major group broadcasters, Cumulus and Cox, announced that they would no longer report adds. But label promotion reps usually defended reported adds in nearly identical verbiage: getting “the add” meant that a station had truly committed to a record.
But the R&R move just underscores how much the nature of the reported add has changed over the years. Adds, reported and monitored, still appear at various places in the new publication. Online music tracking gives you daily reports on what new songs are going on specific stations. But a programmer’s ability to open a magazine and see on one page what his colleagues have “added” has been greatly diminished, particularly since Cox and Cumulus stopped reporting adds and Mediabase owner Clear Channel’s stations stopped reporting them to R&R. And that again calls into question whether the reported add is worth defending so tenaciously in this business.
The reported add certainly doesn’t mean what it did when many of us were growing up in this business.
The reported add certainly doesn’t mean what it did when many of us were growing up in this business. In the ’70s, stations typically added new songs once a week, reported them on Tuesday afternoon and put them in the studio right away. Seeing a song listed as a “hitbound” on that week’s survey always meant the same thing: songs you have begun hearing in regular rotation that very week. The adds for Detroit Top 40 powerhouse CKLW on this week in 1976 included “Fernando” by Abba, “Still The One” by Orleans, and two Canadian content obscurities: “Love Of My Life” by Gino Vanelli and “Roxanne” by Peter Foldy. (No.1 that week was “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Chery.)
Seems wildly irrelevant now? Well, yeah. From the early ’80s, the integrity of the reported add was eroded, particularly once the R&R CHR chart caught up with Billboard’s Hot 100 in its importance to programmers, thus making it the focal point of the label chart game. By the mid-’80s, the combination of “paper adds” (reported adds on songs that got minimal or no airplay) and unreported airplay, often of songs on independent labels, had made station playlists so unreliable that monitored airplay was now a neceessity.
Reported playlists became pretty meaningless in the monitored era: who cared if a record went 18-16 on an individual station chart anymore? But reported adds hung in there. And even if you were sincere in the belief that adds = commitment, the ground rules for reporting them (or lack thereof) often rendered those commitments meaningless. Why did some records need 200 spins to get an official nod at some stations when others would “add” songs with six overnight spins a week? And until the end, some adds were reported with no firm spin count attached. What commitment did that represent? And how often does a station’s commitment, no matter how sincerely intended, consistently withstands a few bad weeks of callout anyway?
The add game, it is now clear, sapped label coffers, became part of the euphemistically named “cost of doing business” and perhaps took labels’ eyes off the ball at a time when they most needed to rethink how they were doing business in a digital world. Early access to adds was the centerpiece of independent promotion and access to Clear Channel’s reported adds has now become part of the competition between Mediabase and BDS. All of this has taken the reported add yet further away from its original purpose: an open exchange of information among programmers about what the hits were.
The add game also takes the programmers’ eye off the ball. A record’s story is a lot more than its add count. When K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” finally spread from early supporter WSTR (Star 94) Atlanta to Cumulus’ crosstown WWWQ (Q100) many weeks later that was a turning point–finally being nudged on a song by the competition is the truest sign of a song’s legitimacy. And that story was still there for the industry to see, even though there would never be a “reported” add.
For that matter, there has never been one page in a trade magazine or even a monitored report that will show you airplay on records that are not yet being worked or, as significant, are no longer being promoted. The station that holds on to the song that is working in its market regardless of the national picture is the one making the true commitment. Not the one reporting six overnight spins.
As a chart junkie and historian, I miss having the ability to figure out when a record really began getting airplay in a market. But that’s been gone for years. So the remaining utility of the add-monitored or reported-is the one-stop ability to see what’s being played at every station I have a professional interest in. If that no longer exists, then it’s even harder to make a case for reported adds performing any public service. So sixteen years after the advent of monitored airplay, can what’s on the air will finally be what matters once and for all?