The #1 Rule of Music Programming By Andy Meadows

When we make the jump from on air to programming on a music station, regardless of the format, the first thing we’re taught is a very simple rule that sounds easy to follow yet trips up so many. Depending on who’s doing the teaching the verbiage varies, but the gist is the same. Basically, it’s this: Never add a song because you like it. Everyone gets that in theory but in practice that number one rule has destroyed many programming careers. As usual, there are a wide range of reasons why people fail to adhere to this basic credo.

First off, lots of people get into radio because they REALLY love music. Sometimes it’s a certain kind of music, which is worse. Other times it’s several types of music, which is slightly better, but can still be problematic if it’s not kept in check. A love of music is a hurdle to overcome when programming because that passion is often paired with a strong dislike for other kinds of music, and even nuances within a genre. For instance, country programmers that are really into traditional country tend to despise pop country and therefore struggle to program it when the country scene, which is cyclical like all music scenes, happens to be leaning into pop. A similar thing happens in rock with programmers who prefer harder rock to pop rock when the main artists carrying the torch for the format at that time are crossover artists. But, not being able to set aside our love for a particular type of music doesn’t just effect the new music we add. It also causes programmers to subconsciously try to rewrite the history books on what ‘should have been a hit’ when evaluating and adding recurrent and gold titles. Over time when I’m coaching or managing a programmer who struggles to get past their passion for music I can start to make a list, without even looking, of the tunes and artists they’re going to add that they shouldn’t. That’s a clear-cut sign that someone shouldn’t be programming a commercial radio station.

Another, less obvious reason that some programmers break the ‘never add a song because you like it’ rule is because they are within the core demo of the station and therefore assume the majority of their listeners will like the same songs they do. That may be somewhat true at any given time with a small percentage of the audience, but over the long-term and in the aggregate, that’s never the case. There’s just way too much individual variation when we’re trying to please the masses. Not to mention, eventually we all age out of station’s core demos and adherence to this philosophy vastly diminishes our options for types of stations we can work at.

When coaching programmers here are a few of the code words and phrases they tend to use for justifying songs they want to add, but shouldn’t, or songs they don’t want to add, but should. ‘People around here love that song’ which if it’s not backed up by tangible local research is just another way of saying ‘I really love that song and want to play it’. ‘That song doesn’t fit our format’ can also be a catch all way of shooting down any song a programmer doesn’t personally want to add. However, that’s programming sonically which leads stations to fall behind any emerging trends within a format on new music stations because genres are always expanding what falls under their monikers. Recurrent/gold-based formats would be better served just basing it off of whether a country, rock, pop or hip-hop station would’ve added that song during the era the station is focusing on (Or of course legitimate research data).

Being a musician myself I completely understand having a passion for music. There are literally two things that regularly make me tear up, sports movies and hearing a really incredible music performance. But, I also fully understand that how I listen to music is VASTLY different than how the average radio consumer listens to music. That’s why I constantly preach to follow the data instead of listening to and personally evaluating the music to see what fits/doesn’t or even bringing a couple other voices into the room in a music meeting and doing the same. In music radio, songs are the commodities on our store shelves. If I ran a clothing store and only filled it with clothes I personally like, I’d be out of business in very short order. The same rule applies to radio.

To help serve our clients we track the data on between 70 to 90 new songs per genre every week, looking at the same metrics that record labels look at. I do use my radio background to help decide which buckets those songs should fall into. But, other than that we simply follow the data, set a high bar, and recommend our client stations play the highest demand songs that week, and nothing else, in their current categories. However, we also have some tools we use to collect and utilize local and regional data as well. If you schedule a meeting with me I can share some of that data and explain how we make our weekly recommendations.

What do you think? Comment below or email me at

Photo designed by benzoix for