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Tracy Johnson
Library Depth & How Often Songs Should Play
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The ratings come in. You have a TSL (time spent listening) problem. The cume went up, but your average quarter hours are down. Your first thought is to examine music library depth.

Then the research comes in and the perceptual confirms it. Listeners say you repeat songs too much.

Listeners tell you they can predict the next song, and air talent is constantly complaining about having to play the same music over and over. You get phone calls asking why you play the same songs over and over.

What’s a programmer to do? Your natural reaction is logical. The answer is obvious, right? Fix this problem by adding more titles to the library to reduce fatigue and increase variety.

It won’t work.

9 Realities of Music Library Depth

In fact, slowing rotations is exactly the wrong move. Here’s why:

Ratings Are Misleading

There’s an inverse relationship between cume growth and TSL decline. I call it the two-switch theory of radio programming.

When reach (weekly cume) increases, it’s almost always a result of attracting secondary and tertiary listeners, not fans. These secondary listeners spend far less time with your station, so average TSL naturally declines.

Your audience reach has increased! Congratulations. You should expect a lower TSL. Avoid knee-jerk reactions to ratings.

More Songs=Weaker Library

You were already playing the best music for your audience (well, probably). That’s probably one reason  you’re attracting more listener to your station.

Every song added is weaker than what is on. It has less appeal to the cume you’ve attracted. As a result, it dilutes the power of your playlist.

The more songs you add, the weaker your library. The appeal of the station goes down and you lose the button-punch battle.

What’s Your Criteria?

If library depth is based on music testing, re-evaluate the criteria used to merit airplay.

Many programmers gravitate toward playing songs with low negative scores. That seems logical, but many times, the songs with higher negatives also bring out more favorites. Removing high negative songs may result in less frequent reasons for the audience to leave, but it also chases away passionate positives in some song scores. That passion is the incentive to stay tuned.

Theoretical attempts to reduce tune-out can cause bland stations. Those “non-negative’ songs almost always lack strong positives resulting in a “sameness” factor that is fatiguing and adds to a repetition perception.

Weak Song Repetition

Repetition issues arise when playing too many average or weak songs, not listener favorites. Playing a bad song once is one time  too many. My favorite song? You can’t play it often enough.

Test this theory the next time a listener complains. Ask which song is played too much. Then ask if they LIKE that song. Chances are they don’t. Then ask for their FAVORITE song and if you also play that too much. They’ll say “No, you should play it more”. Most likely, it’s in the same, or more frequent, rotation.

Sound Repetition

Repetition is also influenced by “sameness of sound”. Similar songs by the same artist (especially over-played recurrents and gold) add to fatigue.

And artists who tend to sound the same can increase perceived repetition.

Many/most listeners don’t distinguish between similar sounding songs by the same artist (Katy Perry, for example) and familiar songs by similar sounding artists. So while your music software is not breaking your scheduling rules, listeners hear it differently.

Not Your Fault-Maybe

Listeners generally have no idea which station they’re listening to when they hear a song. They heard it on the radio and assign “repetition” to their favorite station. Congratulations! That’s you! You’ll be credited for a repetition image, even if you’re not the station causing it.

It’s not fair, but it’s reality. And there’s not much you can do about it.

So if listeners are going to assign you a repetition image, at least be repetitious with  the best songs!

Or Maybe It Is

Repetition often results from poor music scheduling more than library depth. Listeners are creatures of habit, tuning in at the same times each day. You can have the largest library in all of radio, but if the same songs play in the same dayparts, hours and quarter-hours, they won’t experience the depth of your library.

It doesn’t matter how many titles you play if listeners hear the same ones. Another overlooked factor is repetition based on lifestyle. If they hear the same song on their drive to and from work, you might have a repetition problem.

Repetition Images May Be Good

If they really are hearing the same songs over and over on your station, that means they’re listening-a lot. Attempting to “fix” this “problem” removes the reason they listen in the first place, and reduces your appeal to both heavy listening fans and those who listen much less.

The more popular your station becomes, the more your repetition complaints will rise. Wear it like a badge of honor!


Fans always say they want “more variety”. We assume they want more depth and breadth in music.

What they want is more variety of their personal favorites. You can’t satisfy personal favorites, because everyone has a different idea of what that favorite is. Trying to satisfy the library depth problem will take you down a dark, lonely path toward ratings oblivion.

Personal Bias & Library Depth

Face it. You listen more than anyone else to your radio station. Your average P1 invests just a few minutes a day with your station. Don’t you want them to hear the best version of your brand every time? Can you afford to have their hear anything else?

That alone will lead to a tighter playlist.

It’s only natural for your personal tastes and preferences to creep into music decisions. Fight the temptation to compromise the best interest of the station because you like a certain song or genre of music.

Yes, your “gut” is important, but not as important as programming to the preferences of the audience.

When In Doubt, Leave It Out

One of my earliest programming lessons came from consultant Frank Felix. In an ultra-competitive battle between two classic rock stations, I was an advocate of a longer playlist. Playing “Stairway” every 19 hours seemed like a sure way to burn our library and develop negative images.

To Felix, library depth was an easy problem to solve.

I’ll never forget Frank telling me:

The way to defeat a direct competitor is that when they play nothing but the 20 greatest songs of all time, you play the 19 greatest. That way, once every 20 songs, you’re playing a bigger hit.

That philosophy applies to all competitive situations. Listeners never get tired of hearing their favorite songs. They quickly tire of average songs they don’t like so much.

If you’re not sure about those borderline songs that could go either way, leave them off. Generally speaking, it’s true that you don’t get hurt by what you don’t play.

Program For Passion

When assigning songs to categories, pay particular attention to those songs with high passion. Favor those with the most favorite scores. Many songs test well because nobody dislikes them. Those songs usually have low burn, and are very play-able.

However, they don’t deliver the same excitement as high-scoring songs driven by favorites. It’s fine to accept more burn in a high-passion song.

This applies especially to CHR stations. How many powers should you have? There really aren’t more than 3-4 true power hits at any given time. Beyond that are titles that are not yet familiar or lack the passion. Avoid the temptation to add more “A” songs, just to fill the category. It’s better to adjust the category based on the strength of current music.


If short playlists beat large lists, how can you maximize your library? Learn to recycle effectively.

Very few listeners tuned in between 10am and 5pm will also be listening from 11pm to 6am. In fact, almost none. So why waste fresh library tracks when virtually nobody will hear the variety?

Recycling recurrent and gold categories is simply replaying the songs used during certain daytime hours in the overnight.

Some stations take it a step further and replay the exact playlist overnight. This allows the music programmer to spend more time perfecting the schedule in the most important hours rather than wasting resources on low-leverage times.

Most music scheduling systems handle recycling easily.


Finding the right rotations is more art than science, and it will take some trial and error to find the balance that works best for your brand.

Exercise discipline, objectivity and use research tools as a guide.


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