Gone Fishing


A while ago in this column, I used the phrase, “The Fish Are In The Trees.” It was a joke…a euphemism. I used it to describe, among other things, the reporting system used by R&R.

I only intended on using it once.

Other anomalies occurred and I was forced to follow shortly with another editorial entitled, “More Fish.”

I swore that was the last time.

Suddenly, there’s an outbreak of fish hiding in the leaves. Every time I walk under a tree, I have to brush scales off my shoulders. There’s a shark tree in my front yard, a bass tree across the street from the office and a tuna tree in my bedroom. (And everyone knows you can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Yada yada.)

For months, The Network Forty has echoed the voices of our industry by questioning the methodology behind R&R’s reporting criteria. We’ve asked why the total number of stations is limited. We’ve tried to find out what exact criteria constitutes a reporting station. We’ve asked why certain, more deserving, aren’t included in the sample. We’ve asked what determines a station’s status in a particular format and many other seemingly easy questions.

These editorials aren’t the sole opinions of The Network Forty as a magazine or mine as the author. They’re reflections of the feelings of our industry as a whole.

We applaud R&R for their consistency: They’ve refused to enlighten the industry they serve with any explanation whatsoever.

And just when we thought the disease was confined to only one publication, disturbing information indicates the virus is spreading.

Is this arrogance contagious?

Billboard is now manipulating their reporting stations to serve their needs.

(Editor’s Note: You can relax, Joel. This one isn’t about you…entirely.)

The entire industry has welcomed BDS as a method to accurately reflect radio airplay. It has taken the guesswork out of the charts. But why does Billboard have a problem defining reporting stations? In his infinite wisdom, Michael Ellis, as Joel before him, has determined he and he alone is competent in pigeonholing stations. Forget how the stations position themselves: it is the “Almighty Michael” who will now make the ultimate determination.

Cloning Joel, Michael began his manipulations with WPLJ and other AC-leaning stations. To his credit, shortly after making these changes, Michael reversed himself and put these stations back into the mainstream…for the time being. He got the message quickly from industry leaders. Joel has also heard the natives. Those stations are being added back into the list of R&R’s mainstream reporters. If they have room.

My question is: “Why did you do it in the first place?”

Can I make an observation? Guys, it ain’t that difficult.

The Network Forty accepts playlists from all stations that want to report. Every radio station featuring current music is eligible. All these reports are compiled into our “Mainstream Chart.” After using that entire universe, we then break the information into specifics. Stations whose audience skew younger and those who skew older are prioritized for our “Target Charts.” Those stations that fragment musically are used to generate our “Alternative” and “Crossover Charts.”

Bottom line: We use all the available information. We don’t manipulate data. We let the universe determine the outcome. It’s the first rule of generating accurate research.

The audience listens to music…not formats. Why do we feel the need to specifically define particular stations? To serve our own needs? Bing!

In 1974, when radio was less fragmented, Paul Drew, then Vice President of Programming of the powerful RKO Radio chain, offered a cash incentive to the PD who could come up with the definition of Top 40. This came at a time when the entire industry looked at the RKO chain as the definition of Top 40.

The cash is still waiting to be claimed.

Any radio station that plays current music should be welcomed by our industry and given all the tools to make it grow and prosper. Those who make the criteria for success harder are the only cutting their own throats. When radio stations featuring current music are denied the opportunity to gain popularity, receive promotions and increase profit by their inability to attain needed publicity and accolades, we’re all doomed.

Do you get it? Magazines don’t play music. We don’t create formats. We can only reflect the attitudes of our industry, accurately report available information and increase the visibility of successful records and individuals. If you manipulate radio stations for your own advantage, how do you expect them to trust you when you report a particular song is a hit? Or format? Or promotion?

We should all champion all radio stations that expose new product. To do otherwise only exposes a thinly disguised attempt to increase our own importance.

News flash, Joel and Michael: The future of our business…our future…is new music. Without it, music radio dies…record companies die…entertainment magazines die…only K-Mart remains to sell the oldies…for a while.

And guys, I, for one, don’t want to spend the rest of my life announcing the “blue light special” on aisle four.

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