Your two-minute warning
On Thursday, be thankful for radio as we know it. It soon may be gobbled up by QuickHitz. Just out of the oven, this 21st-century radio format smells terrific. Just imagine: “Stay tuned for 24 songs an hour, every hour.”
But don’t swallow the concept just yet. Subtract 12 minutes from that hour for obligatory commercials and do the math. That’s 24 songs in 48 minutes, or two minutes per song. Two minutes per song.
If it sounds like a joke, it once was exactly that.
In 2005, Sean Demery, a San Francisco program director, promised, promoted and presented “The 60-Song Music Hour” delivering one-minute edits of five dozen songs to the listeners. Early last year, Demery and Paragon Media Strategies CEO Mike Henry began fine-tuning the format into one radio might accept.
Some radio industry observers believe it’s a concept whose time has come, citing short attention spans and the proverbial “fast-paced society.”
Evidently, they’ve forgotten that the “fast-paced society” of the ’70s was more than open to listening to complete versions of “Stairway to Heaven,” “Layla,” “American Pie,” “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Free Bird.” The preceding decade produced its own share of airtime hogs: “Hey Jude,” “Light My Fire,” “MacArthur Park,” “Aquarius” and “In A Gadda Da Vida” come to mind. And while all were edited somewhat for Top 40 play, none came close to squeezing into a 120-second capsule.
Another alleged bonus of the format is that with 24 songs per hour, radio can introduce more new music to fans. That, of course, is baloney. And not even turkey baloney.
When all of the aforementioned four- to seven-minute songs were being played in regular rotation on the radio in the ’60s and ’70s, radio was already playing 40 or more songs at any given time. Hence, the moniker of Top 40 radio. Today, radio has chosen to limit that current play list to 20 or 25 songs so it doesn’t tax listeners with too many choices, and to get their “favorite” song back on the air quicker.
On the flip side, QuickHitz could conceivably be a great format for introducing new songs. Programmers could slot in two, two-minute previews per hour (the equivalent of one current song) to give listeners a taste of new music. Minimal exposure to new music is preferable to none.
The Paragon CEO is quoted in Billboard as saying the format will work because, if the average drive time is 17 minutes, listeners will get to hear eight songs instead of four.
There are instances when two-minute songs might work. Kids still love “Sexy and I Know It,” but after two years of nonstop airplay, a snappy edit would be fine, at least with parents. I’m also fine with a mere 120 seconds of a multitude of mindless oldies but goodies – songs we all like, but don’t need to hear in their entirety anymore.
Other tunes, like the current “Diamonds” by Rihanna, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and almost anything by Phil Collins are so phrase-repetitive that radio would be doing their listeners a favor by slicing the song in half.
But a gourmet burger is a gourmet burger.
Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” and “Cats in the Cradle” succeed because of heartfelt lyrics. Likewise, the songbooks of James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Billy Joel and a host of country talent rise beyond tampering.
Evidently, “QuickHitz” is taking aim at contemporary hits radio. Given the artists – most of whom are not known for their writing talent – and the audience – teens and moms disillusioned into believing they are still teens – it might just work.
If all they want to do is dance and put their hands in the air like they don’t care, then two-minute hits will work just fine.
I have my doubts about QuickHitz, but …
While working at a Pittsburgh radio station in 1974, I was asked to compile and promote the “Top 100 Songs of the Year.” To differentiate our station from the one across town, which was counting down the top hits all New Year’s Eve day, we decided to do our entire countdown in the 10 minutes leading up to New Year’s Day. That’s six seconds per song.
I expected phone calls, and was not disappointed. To my amazement, though, not all of the callers were furious. Some just wanted tapes of the countdown, presumably for their car. They may have been on to something.
QuickHitz hasn’t quite made it onto the air yet, but it is most assuredly coming to a radio dial near you.
Consider this your two-minute warning.