Several weeks ago, I promised to delve into the reasons radio playlists are released on Tuesdays. This promise drew more comments than almost anything else…if you throw out Joel and R&R (and we hope you do!). Everyone…from music directors to program directors to those in record promotion and even record company presidents…wanted to know how this practice came about. Tuesday is probably the worst day of the week to release chart information. So why do we do it?
The question is best answered in the following excerpt from my forthcoming autobiography, “The Boss of Boss Radio,” to be published by Doubleday and scheduled for release early this summer.
It was late on a Tuesday afternoon. Harry Nelson and I were relaxing in my office, passing ideas back and forth about upcoming promotions. Lanette Abraham, newly appointed Music Director of KFRC, walked through the open door.
“I’m done, boss.”
By done, she meant that we had finished with the music. Requests and sales had been tabulated the day before and sent to the home office. Research results were studied in the three hour music meeting earlier that morning, when records were added and changes made to the playlist. At two o’clock that information was phoned to Los Angeles. Then she updated the recorded music line so local promotion managers could access the results at exactly three o’clock. After nearly two days of frantic activity, the music was finished.
“Are you guys busy or can I ask a question?”
Nelson gave me the chicken-eye. Lanette never asked casual questions. As a relative newcomer to radio (she began working at KFRC the day after she graduated from high school), she was constantly seeking knowledge about this profession. Her questions often challenged our way of doing things and sometimes made me uncomfortable. Unlike most of the air personalities who were aware of my volatile personality and tended to treat me with deference, Lanette thought she was bullet-proof. She questioned every aspect of her job…and many of mine.
“What is it?” I snapped.
Nelson held his breath. If she was in one of her moods, she could set me off. He sunk into the couch, seeking protection from the cushions.
“Why do we do the music on Tuesdays?”
Nelson let out an audible sigh and relaxed. I smiled and motioned for her to take a seat next to him.
“It’s a long story.”
She flopped down on the cushions and tosser her hair back. “Of course it is,” she replied.
I felt a frown tighten my face. “Why do you say that?”
Nelson stiffened again. He had worked with me long enough to know what makes me angry. Sarcasm from subordinates before quitting time was one of them. If she was aware that she was treading on thin ice, she never let on.
“Oh, Gerry, unlike everybody else, things to happen to you…stories do.”
Nelson laughed and I managed a wry smile. It was hard to be angry when she was right. Besides, this was a particularly good story. I sat down on the edge of my desk and prepared to hold them captive for a few minutes.
“Before you start, can I strike a blow for liberty?” Nelson asked.
I checked my watch. It was just past four…close enough. Besides, I was feeling a might squeaky. A little oil could smooth the edges.
I nodded. “Go ahead.”
He leaned over and pulled three beers from the refrigerator. He stared at the bottle of vodka for only a second before passing on that notion…for the moment.
We silently saluted each other with a toast and washed away the taste of a hard day.
“Well?” Lanette was focused. She didn’t want this to turn into a drinking session. At least not until her question had been answered.
I smiled and took another sip. “I like the time we spend together to be educational as well as entertaining.”
Nelson rolled his eyes and barely contained a groan. She looked impressed. Of course, she was young and wanted to learn. Then again, she could have just be placating me. It had been a couple of years since she was hired and in that time, she had learned how to stroke with the best of them.
I ignored the obvious possibilities and warmed to the question. “The very first record chart was compiled by a local stations occurred in 1954 at WHBQ in Memphis, Tennessee. Until that time, radio stations that had begun experimenting with the fledgling Top 40 format used charts compiled by national music magazines.”
“You mean they didn’t do any local research?”
Nelson sighed heavily and thought about the vodka. “Lanette, back then they didn’t know how to spell research.”
They hit their beers again and I went on.
“As the Rock And Roll craze hit the nation, the sales manager of WHBQ realized that music being pressed and played on local levels in Memphis (such as Elvis Presley on Sun Records) wasn’t reflected on the national charts. He figured, as all good sales managers should, that local sales could be stimulated if WHBQ originated its own chart that prominently featured the hometown records. He could then package this information and sell commercials to the record stores. Since most of the retail business was done over the weekend, the best time to influence potential buyers was the day before the weekend. Hence, the first Top 40 chart originated by a local radio station was done on Friday.”
“To simulate sales,” Lanette stated.
I nodded. “Theoretically.”
Nelson finished his beer and went for another. “It was the first example of a sales-oriented programming feature.”
“But not the last,” I laughed.
“So, how did we get to Tuesday?” Lanette prodded.
She was rushing me, but I let it pass for the time being. Nelson tossed me another beer. This time I eyed the vodka.
“Three years later, TV played a part in changing the way radio released their charts,” I continued. “A new show capitalized on the popularity of Rock And Roll. Your Hit Parade debuted Saturday night and instantly shot to the top of the ratings. People across the country got into guessing which songs would climb into the Top 10 and be sung by the Hit Parade singers. This show aired live in New York at 8 o’clock EST and was film-delayed for viewing on the West Coast. A sharp program director at KFWB, the Top 40 station in Los Angeles at that time, got the Top 10 from the film and began a countdown at 6pm every Saturday. KFWB, trumpeted the fact that you could hear the countdown performed by the original artists at 6 pm and Your Hit Parade would copy them two hours later.”
“That guy was a genius,” Lanette said.
I would never admit that anyone was smarter than I was, so I ignored her comment. “It worked and radio stations across the West Coast began their own countdowns on Saturdays. A year later, Your Hit Parade was canceled, but the habit had been ingrained. East Coast stations began countdown shows on Saturdays to fill the void and this practice continued for several years.”
I paused for effect, but it wasn’t needed. I had them now.
“Then came research…and the charts changed forever. With the ascension in power of the famous RKO radio chain, accurate charts suddenly became important. The powers at RKO decided that each radio station must compile a list of sales and requests and the charts should reflect this research. Tabulations by national jukebox companies were done on Mondays. Since retail data should reflect the important weekend sales, that information was compiled from local record stores on Monday. The RKO chain began releasing its chart Monday evening and since most other stations in the country looked to RKO as the leader, they followed suit.”
“That’s amazing,” Lanette said.
I love it when I was able to impress others with my knowledge. It made me feel powerful. I glanced at Nelson. He was idly thumbing through the sports section of the newspaper… and I knew for a fact that he hated sports. Had I told him this story before or was I just boring him to distraction? I asked him for another beer and grabbed the paper when he leaned toward the refrigerator.
“To further enhance its power, KHJ in Los Angeles, the nation’s most listened-to radio station, counted down its chart on Monday at 6 pm. This guaranteed increased listernership from the audience as well as the record community. RKO further cemented this by holding up its official chart release until 9 pm. Since all RKO stations operated from the same list, the only way to find out what records were added to the entire 12-station chain was to listen to the countdown.”
“Weren’t you the program director of KHJ?” Lanette asked.
The pride was back. I fought the feeling of puffing out my chest. “Yes,” I answered as humbly as possible.
“That was great,” she stroked.
“For years, the record community was held hostage. Executives from the East Coast called their employees on Los Angeles and had the phones placed by radio so they could hear the countdown for themselves. It was the most important broadcasting event of the week.”
“Fantastic!” Lanette exclaimed.
I noticed that a number of other staffers had gathered by my opened door and were listening to the story. I sat up a little straighter and spoke with a bit more authority. I had an audience to impress.
“Then, once again, TV played a part. ABC decided to debut an experiment called Monday Night Football. Within weeks, this show garnered the largest audience in television history. Suddenly, record executives were too excited about the football game to worry about the KHJ countdown. They could wait until Tuesday morning for the information. And more important, Paul Drew, the head of the RKO chain was an absolute football fanatic. He was hooked on the TV broadcast himself. Drew was famous for listening to KHJ at all times. He kept a plug in his ear to track the programming even at important meetings. Very few people knew it, but the only time Paul wouldn’t listen to his most-important radio station was when he was watching football games on TV. Having to monitor the countdown while watching Monday Night Football was too tedious.”
“Unbelieveable.” Lanette’s entire face was lit up.
“Six weeks after the first broadcast of Monday Night Football, RKO moved the KHJ countdown to Tuesday and began releasing chart information on the same day.”
“Because of the games…” Lanette whispered. The group nodded knowingly.
I finished the beer and shrugged. “It’s been the same ever since.”
(Reprinted with permission from the forthcoming Doubleday book, “The Boss of Boss Radio.”)