AAA Gets A-minus

Here’s an unlikely post from the AAA music website “the top 22” entitled “What’s the Role of AAA Radio in Breaking New Music?” (You can turn off the music that blasts out with a switch in the right margin.) In it, you’ll find the author lamenting the fact that there’s often too much repetition in the playlists of stations kowtowing to the format.

While it is universally felt that AAA radio plays a significant role in breaking new songs and artists, what is largely unsaid is that the role of Commercial AAA has drastically changed in just the past five years.

The format has unquestionably gotten much more conservative, with a chart that moves incredibly slow. Witness Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody, from an album released two years ago next week, is currently a Top 20 track at the format.

In short, Commercial AAA radio used to be a place where heavy music consumers — music explorers — could get their fix.

This is no longer the case. Commercial AAA, especially in a People Meter ratings world, has chosen to serve a more passive audience.

In the land of the Purple People Meter, you’re now hearing the same song over and again, ad nauseam — on our “public” radio stations, as well. As it notes, the article says the method du jour does not allow for music discovery: “We simply discovered that we were not a good place for people to discover new music, and decided instead on a role that would try take artists that had sold 100,000 units and put them on a trajectory to sell 500,000.” Which explains the pabulum seeping from your public station. Ironically, however, the article laments that AAA public radio isn’t repetitive enough:

At the same time, Public Radio, with its wildly oscillating playlists, sometimes suffers from a too-short attention span – jumping on and off records without ever effectively achieving the reach and frequency required to make songs “hits.”

This “frequency required” mix may be the magic elixir of program directors at “public” stations such as KUT and WUMB, but for listeners not so enamored of the hit-making machine, it’s a strange brew indeed.


One Response

  1. Members of NEFolknRoots – have been tracking two categories of songs selected by WUMB’s music director, John Laurenti. Mr. Laurenti was hired for his AAA qualifications, having held similar positions and being a DJ for Boston pop/AAA stations WZLX and WBOS) .

    “WUMB’s darlings
    Can you name that tune in two notes? Probably because you’ve heard WUMB play it a gazillion times before. Each week a sometimes good, sometimes mediocre but mostly a “clunker” song seems to get stuck in the music director’s program list and played and played and overplayed to nausia. Why? Who benefits? Is payola involved? Remember, each time a “darling” is aired, some other great classic “chestnut” or non-playlisted new song is not. – direct link –”


    “WUMB’s Clunkers
    “There are only two kinds of music.” Good and bad, that is. That statement has been variously attributed to Richard Strauss, Duke Ellington, and probably numerous other musical figures, but it doesn’t matter who said it first — the important thing is that it’s true. This table contains just plain bad music selected by WUMB’s music director John Laurenti that simultaneously fits the “music mix” formula but does not “serve the folk and roots communities”. Or as Dick Pleaseance said 9/4/09 “once in a while we play a clunker”. Boy, did he get that right! –”

    Access both databases at

    For readers unfamiliar with WUMB, it is licensed to the University of Massachusetts, Boston. For some 22 years it had a folk format, but in order to maintain its large, professional staff, drank the NPR and CPB koolaid some 2+ years ago. For its first years it was known as “folk radio WUMB”, then when it switched format to AAA it became “music mix WUMB”, now identifies itself as “Boston’s NPR music radio WUMB”).

    WUMB’s programming includes not one second of content either produced or hosted by a UMass student.

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