Statistical Snapshot of American Radio – Introduction


Any time I’m in the car and actually turn on broadcast radio, I always privately wonder: “god, how often do they play this song?”. Because it seems that no matter where you live, no matter what station you turn to, you’re going to hear the same few hundred songs. In some cases, like contemporary radio, the entire playlists strikes one as being maybe 25-50 songs. In any given day in the past year, if you had a Top 40 station on for 30 minutes you were going to hear “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore.

Whether you think that DJs are tastemakers, influencing what people like by playing songs, or that DJs play the songs that people want to hear, the bottom line is that a study of what radio stations play is also a study of America’s taste in music. To study this, I data mined the complete song play record of 15 different radio stations around the country. The final data set was 1,186,922 song plays, representing every song played on these stations between Jan 24 and Dec 10 of 2013, with the time and date when each song was played. It’s not a sample from those stations: it’s literally every single song played according to their website and when it was played.

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