By Scott Overton
In spite of the advent of television, then music videos, all-music video channels, satellite radio, iPods, and the internet, old-fashioned free-off-the-airwaves radio broadcasting is still alive and well. Most of us probably spend part of each day with a favourite radio station, especially when we’re in the car, but there are a lot of things we think we know about the radio business that probably aren’t true anymore.
As a radio broadcaster for more than thirty years (a morning show host for twenty-five) I put a lot of insider knowledge into the writing of my mystery/thriller novel Dead Air, about a morning man who finds himself marked for death by unknown enemies.
One of the beliefs that’s been around forever and still seems to be unshakeable is the idea that radio announcers have choices about the music we play. We can pick our favourites and play them more often, plus play listener requests any time someone calls in. It’s hard to understand why that assumption still clings to life. That would be like a retail clerk in an Old Navy store deciding what clothes the store is going to stock. I haven’t picked the music for my show since about 35 years ago (in the smallest of radio stations).
Private radio is a business. Successful businesses these days use market research—so does radio. The Programming department uses industry lists and surveys, consultants, local research and more to decide what songs to play and how often. Then the mix of the music is carefully programmed and scheduled using computer software. The Music Director will make sure songs are arranged for the most pleasing effect, by age, tempo, type of artist, male or female artist, the feel of the song, and a lot of other possible parameters. In Canada, programmers have to contend with Canadian Content rules that, while valuable for performers, are their own special headache for radio stations. All of this and more is handled by computer and then all of the songs, commercials, station IDs (and even announcer talk breaks sometimes) are stored on hard drives and played using computer software. We announcers just play what’s scheduled, as scheduled, unless there’s a need to shift things for timing or some other urgent reason. Play our favourites? I don’t think so.
So what about requests? Well, it is possible to manually substitute a song from the database for a scheduled song, so many radio stations will have request lunch hours or a “Drive at Five” feature based on call-ins. But to play requests at any and all times would mess up that scientifically-researched music mix. Radio stations don’t take chances with their sound, so any radio announcer who thinks he has a better idea (or better taste) better look for other work.
There’s lots more inside information about the radio world in Dead Air available as an ebook from Kobo.
As the host of a radio morning show for most of his 30+ years in broadcasting, Scott Overton has learned to entertain and inform as he entices thousands of groggy people into beginning a new day. He brings those same skills and instincts to his writing. Scott’s stories have been published in such places as On Spec , Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine, and the anthologies Tesseracts Sixteen: Parnassus Unbound, Doomology: The Dawning Of Disasters, and Canadian Tales of the Fantastic and some of those stories are available on Kobo in two different digital chapbooks: Disatrous! and Body of Opinion. Scott’s thriller, Dead Air, about a long-time morning radio show host trying to stay one step ahead of an anonymous listener who has started to make death threats on his life includes plenty of industry insider details and insights.