Last Friday, a Top 40 radio station in Calgary, Alberta, introduced listeners to a new format. As one on-air stinger put it, "90.3 AMP: Now twice the music."
When they say "twice the music," though, they actually mean half the song. That is, this station plays songs that have been heavily edited: long opening riffs, instrumental breaks, even a chorus or two might disappear. The goal, the station's representatives say, is to keep listeners from getting bored.
The programming man behind this venture is Steve Jones, vice president at the Canadian radio firm Newcap, who says the three- to five-minute pop song is out of date: a relic of the era of 45 RPM singles. Hear his conversation with NPR's Melissa Block at the audio link.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Last Friday, a Top 40 radio station in Calgary, Alberta introduced listeners to a new format.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: 90.3 and now twice the music.
BLOCK: Now, when they say twice the music, they actually mean half the song. That is this station plays songs that have been heavily edited. The goal, they say, is to keep listeners from getting bored. Steve Jones is the programming man behind this venture. He's vice president with the Canadian radio firm Newcap which owns 90 stations. Mr. Jones, welcome.
STEVE JONES: Thank you Melissa. It's a pleasure.
BLOCK: Can I just say from the outside - I'm going to put my cards on the table here - I think this is a terrible idea. I think this is everything I don't think about where we are in society today.
JONES: Well, I appreciate getting any biases out of the way early. That's good.
BLOCK: So defend this for me. Why do you think it's a good thing?
JONES: When you think about why songs are the length they are, why are they generally between three and five minutes? It goes back 60 years. And if you were a musician back then, you really wanted radio airplay. You needed to have a 45. So artists complied and created three to five minute songs. Really, what we're trying to do is redefine what listeners want.
BLOCK: But have you actually hearing from listeners who, boy, I'd listen to your radio station, but your songs are just too darn long?
JONES: No, we've never heard that. But then, before Twitter I don't think anyone said, wow, I wish we could communicate in shorter bursts. But we were observing, in two and a half years of consumer research leading up to this change, that people were suffering from a sort of iPod fatigue, where they would put a song on, listen to it for 90 seconds or two minutes. And then hit next song and listen to that song for 90 seconds or two minutes. And we thought, as a radio station, how can we adapt and change to suit the way our target audience is digesting media?
BLOCK: OK, so at the risk, Mr. Jones, of sounding totally out of date, if I'm an artist, aren't I thinking, I created a song that I thought should be a certain length. Who are you, Mr. programmer in Canada, to say we're taking out a minute and a half.
JONES: I think there's a misconception that artists think that way. For years, songs have been edited, or altered, or changed or remixed to suit the needs of various radio stations. So the idea that artist integrity drives what is heard on the radio, I think, is a bit of a fallacy. In large part, what drives what's heard on the radio is an artist's desire to have their music hit the mainstream and a record label's desire to profit from that.
BLOCK: I wonder where this stops, Mr. Jones. I mean, you know, if you think about great story songs that you would hear on country radio - chop out a section of it and maybe we never know why George Jones stopped loving her today. You know, there's got to be someplace where this just doesn't work.
JONES: I agree completely. I think the country radio would be a terrible place to try this. I also think that classic rock songs - it would be very difficult to present listeners who have, for decades, heard the songs a certain way.
BLOCK: Well, let me try something out on you Mr. Jones, because you said you didn't think this could be applied to the classic rock format. But we gave it a shot. One of our producers has been busy with his editing tools and we have a preview here of something that we're calling SUPERKUTZ.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING, "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK")
BILL HALEY: (Singing) 1, 2, 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, rock - 9, 10, 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock, rock. We're going to rock around the clock tonight.
JONES: That's pretty good. But I think at 2 minutes and 18 seconds that song would fit perfectly on our Calgary station, if it were released today.
BLOCK: All right, here's another one.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING, "SATISFACTION")
THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) I can't get no satisfaction. No satisfaction.
JONES: And I couldn't get no satisfaction from that.
JONES: We are trying to maintain the essence and the integrity of the song. And the things that are being taken out almost go unnoticed by listeners.
BLOCK: As I listen to talk you about this, I'm thinking, OK, so you're just conditioning people to want things to be shorter all the time. What's their appetite going to be for anything that's longer, if you keep going in this direction?
JONES: Well, we try not to think like that. I mean, we're looking at one radio station in one competitive situation where we think that this is an experiment we should try and see what comes of it. And there may be cases where we do this in other stations. But there's always room for long-form radio programming. And there always will be.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Jones, I can't say that I endorse what you're doing up there, but I do appreciate you taking the time out to talk to us. Thanks so much.
JONES: My pleasure. Thank you.
BLOCK: Steve Jones is vice president of the Canadian radio firm Newcap, which owns 90 stations. One of which AMP 90.3 is playing edited versions of Top 40 songs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.