HITS Daily Double
most of the songs that SHOULD be
big radio smashes won’t fulfill the requirements needed to get beyond the first
150 spins.


That Means You, Mr./Ms. Alternative Programmer

THE SOUND OF WINTER: I will never forget the day I was summoned into Charlie Minor’s office at A&M Records, where I was the National Director of New Music Marketing. Charlie was and will always be the most legendary promotion executive in the history of the business. Every so often, he would try to cross one of the songs I had success with to Top 40. We had shared smashes with Simple Minds, OMD, Suzanne Vega, David & David, UB40 and Human League, but 90% of the bands I worked with remained solely under my department’s umbrella.

On that day in 1989, once Charlie finished a barrage of phone calls, he looked at me, meekly standing just inside his door (he tried to strangle me once during A&M National Meetings—I was never quite sure if he was going to hug me or kill me; years later, when he worked at HITS, we were much closer), and asked, "So what’s that Innocence Mission song ‘I Remember Me’ about?" Now that I’ve been at HITS for almost 25 years; if Lenny asked me that question, my immediate response would be, "about four minutes." Back then, when I still had the overwhelming need to prove that I deserved a "seat at the table," I immediately launched into a long and passionate explanation that the song was about Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who was rumored to have escaped her captivity (and rumors of her death), which resulted in more than a dozen imposters trying to infiltrate New York society as her, with varying degrees of accomplishment. It had since been proven conclusively that Anastasia had died with her family, and the Innocence Mission wrote the song from her point of view. Satisfied with my explanation, I waited for Charlie to tell me he was going to make this song a hit! I think he was too stunned to be annoyed, and asked me again, "Is it fast or is it slow?"

From that moment on, I’ve tried to be a promo person who can distill a song to its basic essence: Is it fast or is it slow? Is it up or is it down? Is it a hit or isn’t it? Can I hear a "hit" in one listen? I mean, I can tell you when something SOUNDS like a hit, but it’s only that rare song that makes me FEEL something. I trust my intuition more than logic when it comes to picking the hits. Unfortunately, most of the songs that SHOULD be big radio smashes won’t fulfill the requirements needed to get beyond the first 150 spins. I have yet to meet anyone who can explain to me how MScores WORK. How can you measure retention if there’s no accounting for the listener who, given the short-attention-span nature of the demo, flips through their presets, before deciding that the initial song they tuned away from is the one they ultimately want to hear? And don’t we all agree that new songs take at least 300 spins to test? How do I get you to, well, lean in?

It took almost a year for Tame Impala’s "Elephant" to go Top 10—it’s still getting played 50x/week in LA. If the format continues to cycle from pop-crossover-song to pop-crossover-song, at some point, the budgets to bring bands into the market will be eliminated. Compliance or not, the spending is as freewheeling as ever. If Modern Rock is merely a "head fake" to Top 40, without developing bands whose measurable success is exclusive to the format, its position and status will be greatly diminished. Playing Foo Fighters, Black Keys and Weezer, plus a myriad of hits-in-other-territories pop songs is not the key to long-term ratings success. How are you redefining culture? How are you reflecting subculture? Stop whining about what your competitor is getting/doing. This is about your ego—your audience is oblivious. Be competitive with yourself. Put on a song and FEEL something. Program accordingly. SONG TO HEAR: Hooray for Earth, "Keys."