Climbing the Charts

Climbing the Charts: What Radio Airplay Tells Us about the Diffusion of Innovation

Gabriel Rossman
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t9dj
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  • Book Info
    Climbing the Charts
    Book Description:

    Despite the growth of digital media, traditional FM radio airplay still remains the essential way for musicians to achieve commercial success.Climbing the Chartsexamines how songs rise, or fail to rise, up the radio airplay charts. Looking at the relationships between record labels, tastemakers, and the public, Gabriel Rossman develops a clear picture of the roles of key players and the gatekeeping mechanisms in the commercial music industry. Along the way, he explores its massive inequalities, debunks many popular misconceptions about radio stations' abilities to dictate hits, and shows how a song diffuses throughout the nation to become a massive success.

    Contrary to the common belief that Clear Channel sees every sparrow that falls, Rossman demonstrates that corporate radio chains neither micromanage the routine decision of when to start playing a new single nor make top-down decisions to blacklist such politically inconvenient artists as the Dixie Chicks. Neither do stations imitate either ordinary peers or the so-called kingmaker radio stations who are wrongly believed to be able to make or break a single. Instead, Rossman shows that hits spread rapidly across radio because they clearly conform to an identifiable style or genre. Radio stations respond to these songs, and major labels put their money behind them through extensive marketing and promotion efforts, including the illegal yet time-honored practice of payoffs known within the industry as payola.

    Climbing the Chartsprovides a fresh take on the music industry and a model for understanding the diffusion of innovation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4244-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-10)

    As I wrap up my work on this book, two news items suggest contrary understandings of the role radio plays in American pop culture. The humbling piece of news was that the popular European streaming music service Spotify is entering the American market following successful rights negotiations with the record labels. The service allows instantaneous access to an immense catalog of songs, with the premium version of the service allowing listening on the go over a smart phone or MP3 player. This service joins a variety of other Internet-based music services, including Pandora Radio, Stitcher, Amazon Cloud Player, and Apple’s...

  6. 2 HOW SONGS SPREAD
    (pp. 11-21)

    The central empirical concern of this book is how songs become popular on the radio, so a good place to start is by case study of a particularly successful song. In figure 2.1, I have graphed the diffusion curve for “Umbrella” by Rihanna. Although the song was also popular in several other formats, I limit this to “Top 40” stations (all of which played “Umbrella” sooner or later) to avoid any confounding effects of format.¹ This 2007 duet with Jay-Z was Rihanna’s seventh hit song since her 2005 debut. The song spread explosively and then slowed thereafter. As many stations...

  7. 3 BUYING YOUR WAY ONTO THE CHART
    (pp. 22-43)

    In the last chapter I established that something is making radio stations behave as though they were coordinated by a central actor, but that surprisingly this coordination does not come from the corporate radio chains. Still, this leaves open the question of exactly whoiscoordinating radio. One way to begin to answer the question is to think of the long-running (but now defunct) trade journalRadio and Recordsand see the radio industry as part of a broader music industry that includes such actors as instrument manufacturers, live performance promoters and venues, and most important of all, the recorded...

  8. 4 CAN RADIO STATIONS BREAK SINGLES?
    (pp. 44-58)

    As seen in chapter 3, record labels are tremendously interested in getting radio stations to play their songs. As described in that chapter, record labels will go to great lengths to promote their songs to stations, going so far as to pay for the privilege (often in roundabout and genteel ways). However, record labels are not interested in all stations equally. Some stations are seen as keystones to an entire format with the ability to “break” a single.¹ The consensus is that while any station can be first to play a single, only certain high-status stations cancausea single...

  9. 5 THE DIXIE CHICKS RADIO BOYCOTT
    (pp. 59-70)

    In March 2003, the Dixie Chicks were arguably the most popular band in America.¹ Their bluegrass-inflected albumHomewas on the verge of going triple-platinum, their pending American tour for the summer had already sold out most of its dates, and they were number one on both the Country and Adult Contemporary radio airplay charts. This began to change on March 10, 2003, when the Dixie Chicks performed at the London nightclub, Shepherd’s Bush Empire. On March 12, the British newspaperThe Guardianpublished a brief, three-star review of the concert, approvingly noting that in a “profoundly punk rock” moment,...

  10. 6 BUT WHICH CHART DO YOU CLIMB?
    (pp. 71-90)

    The most fundamental issue that defines a radio station is its format. A format is “a package of program content, announcer style, timing of program and commercial material, and methods for obtaining listener feedback and quality control.”¹ In other words, format is radio’s version of what organizational theory calls a core strategy. Formats structure radio station behavior in every way. Formats determine a demographic and psychographic target audience, as in Chancellor Media’s boast to advertisers that it had a “wall of women” of various ages in its Top 40, Dance, 80s Hits, and Adult Contemporary stations in New York.² Similarly,...

  11. 7 THE FUTURE OF THE CHART
    (pp. 91-122)

    There is an obvious irony to writing a book in the early twenty-first century on such a consummately twentieth-century medium as radio. Radio as we know it began with the November 1920 launch of KDKA in Pittsburgh. Thus began the transformation of radio from a military and maritime point-to-point communication technology controlled by the Navy into a civilian broadcasting medium. Hundreds of stations went on the air in 1922—the same year that WEAF of New York started selling advertising time.¹ Radio set manufacturers encouraged sales by promoting broadcasting. Most notably, RCA, GE, and Westinghouse cooperated to create the National...

  12. APPENDIX A DATASETS
    (pp. 123-126)
  13. APPENDIX B ROBUSTNESS TO ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT VOLUME OF AIRPLAY CONSTITUTING AN ʺADDʺ
    (pp. 127-132)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 133-154)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 155-166)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 167-184)