No Longer Spinning Out Of Control

A year ago this week, the New York Times published a rare consumer press story about a radio station’s rotations — specifically, the ultra-high spins at Clear Channel’s WIOQ (Q102) Philadelphia, where 123 spins a week on Timbaland & Onerepublic’s “Apologize” had contributed to the song’s record-breaking 10,240 national spins that week.
Q102’s mega-spins, including some within 50 minutes of each other, was characterized by the Times as radio’s response to radio’s declining TSL and increased entertainment competition. Mega-spins also became, for some Top 40 PDs, an almost existential approach to PPM. While stations in other formats, including Q102’s Alternative sister WRFF (Radio 104.5) were offering more gold and slower currents, some programmers’ response to PPM’s higher cumes and shorter average Time Spent Listening was to cede the battle for longer listening spans altogether.
In March, when we last looked at “How Fast Is Too Fast,” Q102 was at 120 spins, but would eventually go at least to the high 130s. KKHH (Hot 95.7) Houston had just launched against a particularly conservative KRBE and could play songs as close as 45 minutes apart. And WXKB (B103.9) Fort Myers, Fla., was at 138 spins a week on its powers.
But toward the beginning of November, under new PD Tracy Austin, Q102 slowed down to a relatively leisurely 100 or so spins on its most-played power, or about 90 minute separation. On Monday, according to Mediabase, Kevin Rudolph’s “Let It Rock” played at 10:27 a.m., 11:43 a.m., 12:42 p.m., and 2:07 p.m., for instance. For its part, B103.9 is back down to 93 times a week on powers.
Those aren’t exactly Triple-A turnover times, of course. And not everybody has slowed down. KKHH is still playing its powers 130 times a week – a more typical move for a new insurgent than for an established station like Q102. Clear Channel’s WKSC (Kiss FM) Chicago, WIHT (Hot 99.5) Washington, D.C., and KZZP Phoenix are still at 111 spins a week, while its WKGS (Kiss FM) Rochester, N.Y., is at 120. Cox’s WBLI Long Island, N.Y., was at 119 spins, while sister WAPE Jacksonville, Fla., was at 118. And Denver-area KONN has been trying to get a foothold with 136 spins a week.
But Q102’s monster spins were national news, even though other aggressive stations like WHTZ (Z100) New York and WPOW (Power 96) Miami had already backed their spin count down by that time. And if Q102 is indeed slowing down long term, it will be further evidence that it is indeed possible to play the hits too much.
One key difference is that since last December, there has been more time for programmers to see what CHR really looks like in PPM – something they were trying to extrapolate from only two currency markets at the time. And there’s no place yet where turning around songs in less than an hour has proven to be a magic bullet. Over the summer, Philly’s rhythmic WRDW (Wired 96.5) opened up a lead on Q102 with slightly less extreme rotations – which is to say somewhere around 110 spins per week. In Houston, KKHH has had an impact on KRBE, but its own numbers seemed to plateau quickly. In yesterday’s PPM numbers, KKHH was however narrowing the gap, up 2.7 – 3.0 while KRBE was off 3.9 – 3.5.
The flip side is that there have been PPM success stories for stations that took a relatively moderate approach: WHTZ (Z100) New York and KIIS Los Angeles with a top spin of 100 and, in the case of Z100, very adult-friendly middays with some variety gold thrown in; WKQI (Channel 95.5) Detroit, which caps its powers in the 80-90 spin range and has a notable gold component.
Another hint that it was possible to push listeners a little too far came in September when Media Monitors demonstrated its Audience Reaction product – which syncs PPM data to station monitors – at the NAB Radio Show. In data seemingly from Philadelphia (but relevant in any event), Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” improved its stickiness among listeners the week that stations in the market backed it down from power to recurrent: in other words, once listeners weren’t likely to encounter it with every damned push of the button, they were more likely to leave it on.
This doesn’t mean that WKQI is the right CHR model for a PPM world and the mega-spin Q102 was not. Programmers have become frighteningly didactic about PPM in a very short period of time. With more time and more markets to look at, some of the new rules of PPM will ultimately be revealed as not so absolute after all. At the very least, once every station is doing appointment setting in every break, there will be a level playing field and successful stations will again become a function of larger considerations and market opportunity. New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit are without direct CHR rivals. And the Philadelphia and Houston battles don’t look so different from CHR wars in the last decade of the diary era. The real magic bullet will be the one that allows two Top 40s in a market to flourish – whatever makes that happen will be more of a game changer than simply speeding up or slowing down powers.

2 replies
  1. Dave Anthony
    Dave Anthony says:

    In a market with two competing mass appeal hit stations — both with equal signals — I’ll take the one with faster turnover. The reason is painfully simple. If average TSL is 45 minutes a day, every one of those people come looking for hits and you’d better be delivering them or they’ll go elsewhere to find them. In every instance, the higher the repetition and listener complaints, the higher the ratings. (Of course, you’d better have regular research showing which songs deserve that rotation.) Pop stations have little chance of securing hours-long TSL unless they’re the only game in town. And while listeners are very vocal about wanting more variety, they still search out the hits and don’t want the depth that most programmers think they do. Not everyone likes every song but a smart programmer stacks the deck to ensure they’ll like most of them, moving all of the non-hits to the Hold category.
    Note that Mike Joseph was not a pioneer with his “Hot Hits” quick rotations. KRIZ in Phoenix proudly featured an hour and fifteen minutes for powers in the 70s, and I distinctly recall competitor KUPD at 45 minutes. Like it or not, you better program to average TSL, because that’s where the majority of listeners are. Adding secondary hits to the mix won’t extend that, nor will folding to a small group of complainers, the sales department, or the air talent’s preferences.

  2. DJ Mo
    DJ Mo says:

    Even though I’m only on the radio for at least once a month for just a 2-hour LIVE DJ set, I rarely repeat any songs I play, unless it’s been requested or previously commented on in a positive manner. If I ever play a song again, I always have to surround it with a totally different tunes to make the show not seem repetitive.
    Radio Disney has the repetition thing down on their 3-hour Top 30 Countdown. They play Jonas Brothers “Lovebug” to kick off the show because it was #1 last week & then play it again inside their Top 30 countdown, wherever & if it still places.
    Although I gag at their music, I don’t gag for it being repetitious. There is a difference. At one time, I poured my heart out to Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”.
    Then, I heard it again & again. Over & over. Button after button.
    A month or two passes & I hear it again. Not so much barf this time, but I can still taste shellfish. The hit is still ruined!
    If I were ever a MD (or even a PAID radio DJ), I definitely won’t exceed 8 spins a day for a power hit. And I don’t necessarily have to wait 3 hours to spin it again. Just do it in a different way, which is why we need good radio talent (whom everyone seems to be cutting unfortunately).
    It’s really all about gut instinct. Just don’t spill the whole bottle of ketchup & make it a bloodbath, please!
    And hold the shellfish.


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