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How Fast Is Too Fast? The 45-Minute Power Rotation

Entry by Sean Ross | Wednesday, March 19th, 2008 | Permalink

The new Top 40 battle between Cumulus’ KRBE Houston and CBS’ newly launched “Hot Hits” KHJZ (Hot 95.7) will be a referendum on several fronts: rhythmic-leaning vs. determinedly mainstream, mostly current vs. a broader library, and, in particular, ultra- fast power rotations vs. the slowest power rotation in the top 50 markets.
KRBE, according to Mediabase, played its six powers no more than 65 times last week. On the day before KHJZ launched, the station’s most spun song, Buckcherry’s “Sorry” was coming around every 2:45 or so. By contrast, KHJZ could be heard playing songs as close together as 45 minutes on its first full day. After six days on the air, six songs have more than 100 spins. Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” shows a jaw dropping 169 spins, but that apparently includes stunting before the launch.
Among mainstream Top 40 stations, the mega-powers put Hot 95.7 in rarefied company. Beasley’s WXKB (B103.9) Fort Myers, Fla., played Flo Rida’s “Low” 138 times last week. During the midday/afternoon stretch I looked at yesterday, its spins came as close as 45 minutes together (but also as far apart as 1:15). Clear Channel’s WIOQ (Q102) Philadelphia was at 120 spins on its most-played record, Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song,” which was playing anywhere from 45-minutes to 1:10 apart yesterday.
Mega-spins used to be mostly for a launch or relaunch. But Philly has been a battleground for monster spins since 2003 when Rhythmic WRDW (Wired 96.5) came to town under consultant Jerry Clifton and launched with powers as close as 45-minutes to each other. (Wired was at 108 spins on its most-played song last week.) Last fall, Q102′s rotations made national news when The New York Times, reporting on the national spin record set by Timbaland/One Republic’s “Apologize,” said that Q102 was “letting as little as 50 minutes tick by between repeat spins.”
The headline of the Times article – “Radio’s Newest Strategy: Play a Hit Again and Again” – wasn’t entirely on point. Many of Q102′s Clear Channel brethren had hit the 100 spin mark on powers in the early part of this decade. Monster spins were neither quite as audacious as they were when a handful of PDs first cracked the 100 mark in the mid-’90s or, it seemed, quite as common as they were a few years ago. Since then, for example, WHTZ (Z100) New York has backed down to what now feels like a positively leisurely 94 spins a week. But that article was before B103.9 and Hot 95.7. So it’s easy to see mega-spins capturing programmers’ attentions again.
Ultra-high spins usually went hand-in-hand with stations that were distinctive in other ways. Mike Joseph’s all-current version of “Hot Hits” on WCAU-FM Philadelphia spun its powers every hour and 10 minutes. In the morning countdowns that ran on his WHYT Detroit, the biggest songs played literally an hour apart. More than a decade ago, Roy Jaynes used mega-spins on the early WKXJ Chattanooga, Tenn..–a tight-playlisted station that was mostly rhythmic, but was also one of the few Top 40s to play LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue,” because it, too, was a reaction record.
Among advocates of ultra-high spins, the prevailing logic has often been that Top 40 is going to be saddled with the image for repetition anyway, so why waste time fighting it when you could be playing a hit record? More recently, some have thought of it as an appropriate strategy for a PPM world where a station’s cume is larger and its Time Spent Listening is shorter. In today’s instant gratification world, why not hear the strongest record every time you tune in?
And for some PDs, ultra high spins are not just a matter of playing the strongest song available at any given moment; they’re also about burning the hits out for the other guy and creating a war of attrition. And, indeed, a number of the stations confronted with that type of Top 40 station did indeed get out.
But as programmers ponder Hot 95.7 or Q102 or B103.7 and wonder if they, too, need to play the hits every 45 minutes, they should consider the following:

  1. While there was probably more to it than merely fatigue, Top 40′s doldrums of the mid-’00s pretty neatly coincide with the moment when the bulk of large-market Top 40s were over 100 spins a week on their powers. At that moment, ultra high spins were not a distinctive statement; instead, they were part of an increasingly oppressive template. And for the first time, it seemed like it might be possible to play the hits too much–top burn scores in Top 40 callout started to top 50% in that era and have remained high ever since;
  2. The genre most favored by many of the 100-plus club is also the one that has suffered the most genre burnout in recent years. Hip-Hop has a lot of other issues as well, but three or four stations in a market playing the biggest songs 200-300 times a week between them has not likely helped;
  3. Whether because of “the long tail” or fewer major-label releases, there are fewer hits in most genres now. While one response is certainly to pound the hits that do exist, there’s also something to be said for not burning out your powers because you don’t know how long you’ll have to live with them. And few songs have the ability to hang in there for six months like “Apologize” did;
  4. You can’t do it without research. Because even if there’s no such thing as playing the right records too much, you have to know what those songs are;
  5. While you can’t program your station for the people who don’t like Top 40 radio, there was some comfort in knowing that critics’ perceptions of radio were ridiculous: nobody really plays records every half-hour. Now, anybody who read the Times article is convinced that their local station is turning them over like Q102 does; (indeed, I got a call a few weeks later from a reporter whose question began with, “so now that Top 40 is playing the same songs over and over”).
  6. If PPM is the motivator, we haven’t yet seen a CHR battle between fast and slow rotations yet. KRBE and Z100 are faring better than Q102 at the moment, but they also have the advantage of being the only CHRs in their market. But it’s interesting that the PPM strategy in, say, Rock has resulted in less intense rotations and a broader gold library. And Z100, in particular, has done a good job of having it both ways–three songs top the 90 spin mark, but there’s also a broad library and other relief throughout the day.

As that suggests, the “moneyball” formula for maximizing the hits could be just a few spins-per-week slower than the one for destroying them. WPOW (Power 96) Miami is another station that tops out in the mid 90s on its hits and is, for a variety of reasons, doing better than it was two years ago when it was over the 100 mark.
Hot 95.7 has been an exciting launch in an industry that doesn’t get a lot of new major-market Top 40s. And as with Joseph’s “Hot Hits,” which was much more than its rotations, it’s exciting in a number of ways. It’s also in a rare market where the opportunity is to go more rhythmic and more current than the incumbent. One hopes that 2008 will see a lot of audacious station launches, and that each of them will look a little different as PDs assess what the market will give them. Chances are the answer will be “45 minute rotations” only under very special circumstances.

23 Responses to “How Fast Is Too Fast? The 45-Minute Power Rotation”

  1. Lou Pickney says:

    I’d think that a CHR breakthrough like “Love Song” would have to be used more carefully in markets where it originally broke on another format, such as here in Nashville when AAA Lightning 100 was playing it in early December 2007.

  2. Cleveland Wheeler says:

    Any of these (speed-power rotations) would distantly approach making since if the reason for doing it were to give an audience what they wanted. But we know this isn

  3. Don Tandler says:

    This isn’t new. WABC played their #1 song about 20 times a day during the mid 60′s. Why didn’t listeners burn out on that? Because as soon as a song dropped off their local top 20 singles sales chart after a “long” chart run of maybe 8-10-12 weeks or so, it was dropped. There was no such thing as a “recurrent”. Songs would be totally rested for a period (maybe a few months) & then show up once in awhile as gold. Yes, in the mid 60′s, incredible new songs were coming out almost daily, probably the greatest period for mass-appeal music in history (& WABC introduced a “New Gold” category later in the decade–called “Encores” in the 70′s), so older songs weren’t needed. The longest-running song on their survey during the mid 60′s was “Hello, Dolly!”, which drew complaints from both listeners & jocks. It lasted forever on the survey: 22 weeks. That’s average now!

  4. Michael McDowell says:

    The reason that the cliche “familiarity breeds contempt” has lasted for so long is because there is considerable validity to it. Go deep! Diversify! Don’t underestimate the attention and retention spans of your listening audience. 45 minute rotation does work in rare cases like Radio Disney. But as the diminshing vintage rock demographic underscores, Bill Haley was not a one hit wonder. Again, go deep and diversify. Variety is the spice of life.

  5. Ralph Allen says:

    YES! There ARE dayparts that change radically every twenty minutes or so, and you need to be knowledgable about this issue. I knew this even as a morning man, years before I was a program director. I was always in trouble for fast rotations of power hits to the exclusion of regular format songs…I said, “You MUST change the rotation in important dayparts, especially mornings…so YES! I agree, if you’re gonna win, you better know the game VERY VERY well…and use “selector” to your advantage. It was never about a “balanced” format clock…THINK!
    You’ve gotta have good ears and good research and play those power hits often…shoot those bullets baby!

  6. Tom Killorin says:

    In the late 70s I worked for a station that played “Devil Went Down To Georgia” and “Reunited” every 20 minutes. Worse yet, the consultant named Frank (insert cat name) insisted on speeding up all of the music so everything was recorded onto cart at hyper-comic speed.
    A 45RPM played back at what sounded like 60RPM. Devo not only “whippeditgood” they bing-bonged along that cheesy synth road as if stuck in traffic after consuming mass quantities of big gulps – with no rest area in sight.
    The theory held that playing the same songs too often and too fast somehow made all the other stations in the market sound dull or slow.
    The opposite was the truth and that speed racer shtick was clearly nothing more than an early form of shock radio. People either tuned in because they couldn’t believe a radio station would do something so insipid or they genuinely enjoyed the comic relief. ?”Longer-than-therehavebeenfishesintheocean” by a faster Dan Fogelberg was Mel Brooks funny.
    In the very, very short term, the station did attract some Arbitron numbers but the pet rock-like novelty of it all quickly evaporated.
    Over the decades more and more ticks of the broadcast trade have educated the consumer into believing the term “radio” implies some sort of a practical joke.
    Is it any wonder financial pundits are dissing investment in broadcasting and the word “radio” is all too often associated with a negative brand perceptual? Invest in radio? It’s (insert production blast) Zany and more repetitive than ever!
    Meanwhile, technologists are doing anything and everything to emulate what radio can do naturally — go figure. If the consumer wants to hear the same song over and over again that is already available digitally.
    The strength and beauty of radio lies in its ability to be more informative and enjoyably less predictable than other playback devices — not more assaulting and repetitious.

  7. P Kowtiuk says:

    Tom, you had me crying with laughter. “A 45RPM played back at what sounded like 60RPM”. I don’t know why, but that is such a funny phrase. Well, at least the studio probably didn’t need air conditioning! On the other hand, the imminent danger of DJ decapitation had to be a real concern! :-)

  8. Jon Bruce says:

    Frank Felix was the greatest. The ratings were thru the roof. Sure the songs were speeded up, but not to 60 rpm and “Devil” and “Reunited” as recurrents came up every 90 minutes, not 20 !

  9. Will LaTulippe says:

    First of all, good to see my fellow Mediabase alum Don Tandler “The Record Handler” in the house.
    He absolutely pegged it with his response. There’s just not enough good music out there anymore where you can overplay songs like this. I worked for a PD who did everything that Z100 did to the nose, including spinning powers 90+ times a week, oblivious to the fact that Z100 does it because people will turn to WPLJ or Hot 97 if they don’t. Stations in those formats don’t exist in Burlington, VT.
    The hits have gotten a little better over the past year, but 2004 and 2005 will not go down in the annals as great years for pop music the same way 1999 will.

  10. Chris says:

    Alot of good laughs here. I remember having turntables speeded up so you could play “much more music”! If you were a musician and tried to learn the latest song off the radio, you could always find a station that would play it in a key you could sing in.
    Here is a list of all the songs The Big 8 – CKLW played on June 29 1973. The most any of these songs were played that day was 10 – and only 10 of them were played more then 8 times. Can anybody say Doug? (a href=”http://www.ct30.com/big30/june291973.html”>Here is the list
    Also: here is the Top 30 list for that date:(http://www.ct30.com/big30/1973/730626c.html)

  11. Greg says:

    Frank Felix’s programming was a joke (and he was a pretty unpleasant man overall)unless you’re talking about superserving 12 year old girls…
    Just where did any of Felix’s stations “skyrocket” in the ratings, Jon Bruce? KFXM? They went up a few shares, but that quickly eroded as the station flamed & burned. As Tom pointed out earlier, Felix’s formats would get a short upward tick as they debuted, and then crash & burn after the fatigue was too great..

  12. Big Tuna says:

    Anyone else think that the reason there are “fewer hits in most genres now” is because there is not as much payola?
    That’s how songs got on the air for 40 years! Record companies paid for them, in one way or another. No payment, no need to push new hits, fewer new hits on the radio.

  13. Ron Parker says:

    I heard the 95.7 this past weekend when I went home to Houston. I believe the one time I heard a 45 minute rotation on Fergie may have been a mistake. In most of my listening I heard about a 90 minute rotation on a few songs.
    I think of the late 70′s era when I was music director of WLCY AM 1380 going up against powerhouse Q-105 FM Tampa Bay where we had about 7 songs in the 90 minute rotation. Most of these happened to be the Saturday Night Fever tunes. We absolutely destroyed Q-105 in the ratings. The AM came back and beat Q-105 in most key demos 1978 – 1979 during that era.
    I believe there is nothing wrong 30 years later with this type of rotation. The hits are the hits – and that is what the public still wants. Listener preferences are still universally the same. I’m so happy to see some radio stations go back to the basics of what made great radio in the Top 40 era of the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. Over the years many people have forgotten to do a simple procedure:
    PLAY THE HITS AND PUT SIZZLE BEHIND THEM! What a novel idea.

  14. High Rotations In High Rotation Among Radio Topics

    Readers have a lot to say about the recent Ross On Radio column, “How Fast Is Too Fast: The 45-Minute Power Rotation,” a column inspired by the monster sign-on rotations on KHJZ (Hot 95.7) Houston, among others. To see their…

  15. Frank says:

    To add to Tom’s comment (It’s zany and – production blast – more repetitive than ever!, LOL)…..
    If you think the public has a positive perception of radio, take a look at the SNL running skit where Jimmy Fallon is the obnoxious DJ. “And we’re baaaackkk.” There’s a reason that skit touched a nerve and caught on!
    Not sure why advertisers would want to pay money to be on a station aiming for “20 minute listeners.” To me, that would be a red flag that as soon as my commercial comes on, the listener is gone.
    I’d want to advertise on a station that stays on all day. The kind people have on in the office, or that’s on in the deli or pizza joint. That station is going to NOT want to repeat the songs every two hours, because nobody will be able to stand it. And let’s not even talk about stations with no new songs (classic “hits”, classic rock, classic jack, mike, alice, gertrude, the river, the fox, the bear, the bone, the hippo, the gazelle…. whatever they’re calling it.) Those stations have even more need to NOT be boring.

  16. Chris S says:

    Stepping back to the golden era of Top 30 radio, stations competed to be the first to play a song, rather then being the last one playing the song.
    Jump to today nobodys saying “Hey, I heard [insert artist/song title here] 15 times today on [insert call letters/station name here].”
    Too many radio stations bore their audiences to another station (or XM). Somedays you can set your clock to when a song is played.
    [please note that I only spent 18 months in the radio industry, in the early 70′s and thought it was hopeless then, and switched to accounting.)

  17. radiogeek says:

    Here’s a question:
    Have CHR’s ever considered peppering their super tight playlists with a wider variety of recurrents in an effort to add depth to their sound?
    I never understood why CHR’s only rotate a handful of recurrents/golds at a time, rather than have a “bottomless pit” (so to speak) of non-currents to flesh out their playlist.
    How come everytime I turn on my local CHR, I hear the same golds every 12-14 hours (“Suga Suga”, “No Diggity”, “Irreplacable”). Then, after a few weeks, these songs will go away and a new batch will be filtered in. Why not just add more songs to this category and keep your currents super, super tight.
    In the age of the Ipod, when listeners seem they would have a much bigger tolerance for LOTS of music, why haven’t any major market CHR’s tried this method? Instead of having the same 10-15 non-currents pop up every day, why not pick a bunch of really core library songs (that make total sense) and mix them in with the 15-21 currents?

  18. chris says:

    learned here that someone was insane enough to hire frank felix in detroit!!! there still hope

  19. Frank Felix Makes A Surprise Appearance

    A few months back, I likened today’s stripped-down CHRs to the minimalist AM top 40s that popped up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, in a failed attempt to save the format on AM by making it more like…

  20. Mike Smith says:

    My ideal rotations with 3 categories – Current, Recurrent, Gold.
    The 25 Currents each get 4 spins a day,
    The 50 Recurrents each get 3 spins a day
    The remaining slots are filled with Gold category songs.
    Some people make it waaaaay too complicated.

  21. WHY IS Z100 NY PLAYING YOU OUGHTA KNOW/ALANIS, YOU GIVE GOOD LOVE/WHITNEY AND WHAT IT TAKES/AERSOMITH? ALSO ARE IN THEIR PLAYLIST!!!

  22. Paul C says:

    I saw the Z100 playlist with the 3 songs Charlie Contigo mentions at the top of their list (positions 1, 2 & 3). I am a NYC area resident & regular Z100 listener. This is such an obvious mistake. (Computer error? detection error?) So much for either Neilsen/BDS or Mediabase 24/7 being infallible. Don’t believe everything you see on the station website playlists.

  23. Pat Cloonan says:

    Playing the same song every 45 minutes? I know one can find oneself bouncing from station to station listening to news and talk formats (as I do even on a 20 minute drive to work), but perhaps I’m still of a different age or taste in music that appreciates radio when one wants just to listen to radio as background sound. Something tells me I wouldn’t stay long with a station playing the same thing over and over … it would suggest to me either payola or someone losing their mind and/or locking themselves in a studio.

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