SSAR: The musical diet of a Contemporary Radio station listener is tiny


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
Songs: Total 326 236 789

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
  1. Zedd – Clarity
  2. Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
  3. Swedish House Mafia – Don’t You Worry Child
  4. Capital Cities – Safe and Sound
  5. Macklemore – Can’t Hold Us
  6. Bruno Mars – When I Was Your Man
  7. Macklemore – Thrift Shop
  8. Avicii – Wake Me Up!
  9. Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines
  10. Calvin Harris – I Need Your Love
  11. Bruno Mars – Locked Out of Heaven
  12. Lupe Fiasco – Battle Scars
  13. Taylor Swift – I Knew You Were Trouble
  14. Lana Del Ray – Summertime Sadness
  15. Macklemore – Same Love
  16. Icona Pop – I Love It
  17. Jay-Z – Holy Grail
  18. Imagine Dragons – Radioactive
  19. Justin Timberlake – Suit & Tie
  20. – Scream & Shout
  21. Drake – Hold On, We’re Going Home
  22. Calvin Harris – Sweet Nothing
  23. Pitbull – Feel This Moment
  24. Pink – Just Give Me a Reason
  25. Bruno Mars – Treasure
  26. Jason DeRulo – The Other Side
  27. Rihanna – Stay
Artists: Top 50% 15 13 20
Artists: Top 90% 49 56 76
Artists: Top 95% 64 69 98
Artists: Total 153 115 323

For K-AMP, the 15 artists that make up half of all the tracks they played that year were

Click here to see the list of the artists
  1. Macklemore
  2. Bruno Mars
  3. Justin Timberlake
  4. Calvin Harris
  5. Rihanna
  6. Zedd
  7. Drake
  8. Avicii
  9. Swedish House Mafia
  10. Pitbull
  11. Imagine Dragons
  12. Robin Thicke
  13. Capital Cities
  14. Maroon 5
  15. 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:

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