...don't even ignore 'em.
-- Samuel Goldwyn

Monday, April 18, 2005

How to think like a radio guy.

[Dehype U.] When I was looking at the Edison Media Research site (see previous post), I found Sean Ross, former Billboard editor, asking wistfully, if “Stairway to Heaven” had been “tested” using radio’s then-emerging “callout” research, would this eight-minute 70s rock classic ever have made it to the air at all? Definition: “callout” is where the radio guy edits the new recording down to a seven-second “hook,” and plays same over the telephone for individual listeners. Only songs whose hooks are the highest “scoring” or “best testing” get on the air, or elevated to “power” status—that is, played incessantly. Ross spends hundreds of words speculating on the call-out fate of other oddball hits, without even a hint of reflection upon the absurdity of the practice, which is the only reason I can think of to ask the question in the first place. “Stairway to Heaven” was spared quack research because callout was not yet widely used—the ratings nerds and their enablers, the corporate risk reducers, had not yet established industrial hegemony. Fortunately for the world as we came to know it, the industry was soon utterly rationalized, all music stations standardized, music stablized, the world made perfect. And video killed the radio star. Now, Internet radio, satellite radio, MP3, everything-via-cellphone, podcasting—and whatever’s next—are sweeping over us faster than you can say “digital HD radio.” Research that, Sean.

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