The Statistical Snapshot of American radio is a look what radio stations play and how often. You can read about where the data came from in a previous post.
How many songs does a contemporary (Top 40 or “hot adult contemporary”) station play during a year? Of course, we know they play the same songs over and over again, but I wanted to quantify it a little better than that. For instance, I have a playlist on my iPhone that’s 1200 songs long. Does a radio station play more variety than I do?
Not even hardly. 90% of all song plays on an average Top 40 station are the same 120-150 songs, and that’s during the entire year, as tracks go in and out of rotation. On any given day, the stations play an average of 83 distinct songs (this average was remarkably similar between stations). On no day were more than 110 distinct songs played. Because the stations play an average of about 275 songs per day, that means that the average song is repeated 4 times in a day.
The stations I polled in this category were
- 97.1 K-AMP FM Los Angeles, Top 40 contemporary hit radio
- Now 100.5 Sacramento CA, hot adult contemporary
- KROQ Modern Rock LA
The modern rock station KROQ fares much better than the two Top 40 stations, at an average of 129 distinct songs played per day. At 237 song plays per day, that means that there are a little less than 2 repetitions of the average track. 90% of all song plays during the year were the same 207 songs.
There is even less diversity when it comes to what bands were played. 90% of all songs KROQ played were by the same 76 artists (top artists were Imagine Dragons, Of Monsters and Men, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Black Keys). On K-AMP, 90% of all songs played were by the same 49 artists (Macklemore, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Calvin Harris, and Rihanna top the list). NOW 100 had a similarly low, but slightly bigger, 55 artists making up 90% of its plays (Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Fun. and Pink were the most played).
By the numbers
Below I have some tables that show, for each station, what the total distinct songs and artists were for half of all songs played, 90%, 95%, and total for the year.
|Songs: Top 50%||27||32||47|
|Songs: Top 90%||119||121||207|
|Songs: Top 95%||156||148||254|
Half of all plays all year were the same ~30 songs for the Top 40 stations, and the same 50 songs for KROQ. Half of all songs on K-AMP are encompassed in this playlist:Click here to see the list of the songs
- Zedd – Clarity
- Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
- Swedish House Mafia – Don’t You Worry Child
- Capital Cities – Safe and Sound
- Macklemore – Can’t Hold Us
- Bruno Mars – When I Was Your Man
- Macklemore – Thrift Shop
- Avicii – Wake Me Up!
- Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines
- Calvin Harris – I Need Your Love
- Bruno Mars – Locked Out of Heaven
- Lupe Fiasco – Battle Scars
- Taylor Swift – I Knew You Were Trouble
- Lana Del Ray – Summertime Sadness
- Macklemore – Same Love
- Icona Pop – I Love It
- Jay-Z – Holy Grail
- Imagine Dragons – Radioactive
- Justin Timberlake – Suit & Tie
- will.i.am – Scream & Shout
- Drake – Hold On, We’re Going Home
- Calvin Harris – Sweet Nothing
- Pitbull – Feel This Moment
- Pink – Just Give Me a Reason
- Bruno Mars – Treasure
- Jason DeRulo – The Other Side
- Rihanna – Stay
|Artists: Top 50%||15||13||20|
|Artists: Top 90%||49||56||76|
|Artists: Top 95%||64||69||98|
For K-AMP, the 15 artists that make up half of all the tracks they played that year wereClick here to see the list of the artists
- Bruno Mars
- Justin Timberlake
- Calvin Harris
- Swedish House Mafia
- Imagine Dragons
- Robin Thicke
- Capital Cities
- Maroon 5
- Flo Rida
The (not so) long tail
In addition to a very small playlist, the songs that are popular now are an evanescent thing in the extreme: the playlists of these stations does not go back far at all. Let’s look at all stations and all years. Note that the y-axis is a log scale, meaning it’s in powers of 10. This is needed to show data with such disparate numbers.
KROQ has a token number of songs from the 1980s, with no year above about 100 song plays. About 1000 plays come from each year in the 1990s, which accounts for why KROQ has more diversity than the other contemporary stations.
The Top 40 stations don’t reach back nearly as far. For NOW 100 the number of songs played before 2002 is basically zero. K-AMP plays about a couple hundred from 1996-2002.
The tracks drop off in time even from recent years. Let’s look at a closeup of the last chart, zooming in on recent years:
94% of all song plays on K-AMP are from after 2009, as you can see by how quickly the curve drops off (remember, these are factors of 10). For NOW 100 95% are 2010 and later. KROQ, by contrast, only draws 65% of their playlist from 2009 to present.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with one thought. There is such a diversity of good music out there, so many types of music, so many people making so much of it, it’s amazing to me that any of the artists have a visible share of the market on a pie chart. But here it is, for the two Top 40 stations: