When I first started listening to music it was to my two big sisters favorite records and radio station. Since they were a decade older than me, I might as well been listening to my parents music. Not that there was anything wrong with that. I liked it, sang along to it, got mushy over girls because of it, even danced around my bedroom and pretended to sing into a hairbrush that looked a little like a microphone. Then I discovered Top 40 radio. It changed my life and became my future career. There was nothing I didn’t love about it. The music, the deejays, the station jingles, the contests; even the equipment they used. It was just my vibe. And I was insulted when I caught an older person listening to MY station. (I had not yet figured out that they couldn’t make money from having only teenagers listening.) When I was in 5th grade I was already hanging around the local station. Watching and listening and asking questions and learning about how radio programming and DJ’ing worked. And listening to every record that came in their mail. And taking home the non-hits they wouldn’t play. The greatest experience to me as a kid was discovering styles and genres of music. I loved it all. From rock to pop to soul; the male and female vocals: the groups and bands; the instrumentals too.
In the day, all of those sounds could and did end up in the Top 40, even the Top 10. It didn’t matter what “kind” of song it was, or which artist performed it or how fast or slow it was. It WAS “all about the song.”
That resulted in all kinds of tunes making it on the survey; and selling copies and getting call-in requests. Today radio thinks that mixing genres is not focused enough. So they started narrowcasting in place of broadcasting. A song would have to appeal to, for example, a 25 to 54 year old female in order to get airplay. Do you know any 25 year old who has exactly the same taste as a 54 year old? Doesn’t matter. Radio believed it and that’s pretty much what they are still doing 40 years later.
In a future discussion I’ll address what “variety” really means, why stations chose those demographic target groups and what the hell happened to instrumentals.