Say the Name

When I’m on the air and I play a new song, I’m very careful to announce the title and artist, before and after if I can. Seems like a no-brainer. Even if you’ve never been on the air a second in your life, you’d probably want to do it, too. But one of the major complaints listeners have is that stations don’t do it enough.

Part of it has to do with the nature of being a DJ. The songs we play every day wear out for us pretty quickly. Two weeks after the new (current example) Miranda Lambert song has been on our air, we’ve heard it enough so it doesn’t seem new anymore. But we’re the only ones who hear every minute of our shows and who listen to the other jocks all day in the office. The average listener is dropping in and dropping out (listening for nine minutes at a time, if the consultants are to be believed), so not only is it possible she’s missed the 20 times we’ve played the new Miranda Lambert song in the last week, it’s likely. (That’s why some stations refer to any current hit as “new,” even if it’s been around for a couple of months.)

Part of our failure to identify new songs has to do with a station’s formatics. With very few exceptions, the jock on the air doesn’t decide when to talk—our opportunities are scheduled for us. Talk over this introduction, talk out of this record before the commercials, talk into this record after the commercials—and mess with the sequence at your peril. So if that new Miranda Lambert song is in a spot where the jock isn’t supposed to talk, woe betide anybody who wants to know the name of it.

(At the stations I work for, nobody’s getting fired if he or she messes with the sequence for a good reason, such as an urgent traffic or weather update. But that’s not always the case. In 1989, a classic-rock jock in Dallas named Ken Baker interrupted a song to read a tornado warning, whereupon a company VP—not even a local manager, apparently—angrily blazed into the studio to say that Baker should have waited until the next scheduled break because “we’re an all-music station.” Baker responded stylishly, saying he’d be reading the names of the dead if he waited—and then he quit.)

Services like Spotify, Pandora, and satellite radio have text displays with title and artist. Station websites have a now-playing feature, too, and you can even text some stations and use a keyword to get the names of the last three songs. But none of those are really the same as hearing the jock say, “Here’s a brand-new song by so-and-so,” particularly if so-and-so is a favorite artist of yours.

All of this is a poor introduction to a piece from the New York Times titled “Driving to the Music of Chance,” all about the serendipity of listening to radio—not Spotify, not Pandora, not a CD, but radio—in the car, about the “random perfection” of moments that happen when you surrender control of your playlist and simply let music happen to you. While the author acknowledges that commercial radio is by no means perfect, it never was. And nothing else, not even 10,000 iPod songs on shuffle, is quite the same.

Also worth checking into this week:

—A Hollywood Reporter piece on the life and career of Casey Kasem, and the sad conflict currently raging between Kasem’s wife and his children. Casey had one of the most extraordinary careers in broadcasting history, and many of the details are not especially well known.

—A map showing the best-selling artists in the United States by the state of their birth. You’d figure Bruce Springsteen from New Jersey and Michael Jackson from Indiana, but a few are real surprises.

—When Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road gets its deluxe 40th anniversary edition next month, the super-expensive version will include a DVD with a 1973 documentary about the making of the album. If you want to see it now for free, get over to YouTube before it’s taken down.

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