May 26, 2009

Radio Sucks

Radio programming is just that!
-- Saul Williams, "Penny for a Thought"
Radio sucks! The same fucking songs over and over again! All the weak ones, all that disposable crap that isn't gonna matter in 3 months, it's just shit!
-- Matt Pinfield, Significant Other hidden track
Turn on the radio, nah, fuck it, turn it off!
-- Rage Against the Machine, "Vietnow"

When I posted my analysis of The Current's playlist a while back, I mused about how it might stack up against a station run by the mainstream corporate borg that is ClearChannel. The problem is that no other stations make their full playlists publicly available, so I had no data to work from. Most of them offer the 10 most recent songs played, and that's it.

I dropped the idea for a while, but when I got myself a cheapo hosting plan, suddenly I had an always-on box that could, say, run a cron every ten minutes, perhaps a cron that scraped some radio sites for their recent songs. And even better, since every ClearChannel subsidiary uses the same template, I only had to build one scraper and I could collect data on half the music stations in the Twin Cities. Score! A little later, I discovered, a cool service that even provides an API, and worked out a way to scrape the other major stations in Minneapolis.

The code is available here. The data you see below is the averages for the period of 3/22/09-5/22/09. If you'd like more discussion of my analysis techniques, check out my original post. Don't worry, this post will not contain any sad kitten pictures. Without further ado, the results:
Unique Song Ratio
I went into this expecting KDWB (Today's Best Music) to suck, and they did not disappoint. They come out swinging with an absolutely abysmal level of uniqueness per week - which only gets worse when we measure over a month. However, they're facing some heavy competition from KS95 (Variety...80's, 90's and Today!). Those people seem to be rather confused about what constitutes "variety." Apparently the 80s, 90s, and today just didn't have that much to offer.

Most of the other stations muddle along between 0.2 and 0.3 - not as bad as they could be, but if you've spent any significant amount of time listening to Cities 97, you'll know that's still bad enough to drive a person to murder.

There are a couple notable standouts at the week level - KQRS and Love 105 (the latest owners of what was once Rev105's signal) do respectably. And Jack FM, who brags constantly that they are Playing what we want!, actually beats the Current for uniqueness at the week level. All these stations suffer significantly in the month-long measurements. To me, it looks like these stations have fairly large playlists, but simply rotate the same playlist over and over again. This isn't entirely a bad trait, especially for KQRS (Minnesota's Classic Rock), who doesn't have a growing field to work with.

Still, this demonstrates to me the importance of not only playing good songs, but playing different songs. Sure, it's fun to sing along with "Dirty Deeds" once and a while. But we've been singing along with it for decades now. And yeah, it's quirky when JackFM plays The Bangles right after Linkin Park, but it's a quirkyness that's manufactured by CBS Radio and shipped out to countless identically-named stations nationwide, and I don't think I'm the only one who starts to notice the cracks in the veneer after a while. So, hooray for The Current! Hooray for quirkyness that's actually just Mary Lucia being wacky and saying whatever goes through her head. Yes, Mary, I was listening that one day when you suggested that Mark Wheat take up cocaine.
Highest Playcount
Interesting. You'll notice The Current is definitely not ahead in this race. Jack FM, KQRS, and Love 105 again all put up very impressive numbers, and KOOL 108 isn't bad either. It makes a fair amount of sense - these are the stations that are drawing from several decades of music and shying away from new releases. So they're not under pressure to spin the latest single that some manufactured star just released. Good for them.

The Current, of course, is still a long, long way from the real offenders here. KS95 again manages to compress three decades of music into playing one song almost 50 times per week. And B96 pulls out a surprise win over KDWB here, playing the top song for a given week roughly 85 times in that week. I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Radio sucks, people. It sucks, sucks, sucks. Some stations suck more than others, but I can't lionize anyone here. The best we can ask for in playlist variety, it seems, is mediocrity. Listen to WLTE, who's completely unremarkable in every degree. Or, listen to Rage. Turn it off. There is no guerilla radio. The war was lost to the strains of Howie Day's simpering falsetto.


I've got one last graph for you all because, well, I still have an agenda. Here's the uniqueness graph again, but with one new data point: values from The Current for the same two-month period in 2006 as opposed to 2009.
Unique Song Ratio Redux
This is what I had hoped to see in the earlier charts. It's completely dwarfing the other stations. The scale is all off. It's not even worth debating how one conglomerate scores compared to the others, because The Current is embarrassing all of them. That's what it looks like when one station is single-handedly saving radio. That's where I want us to be.