America’s All-Current CHR Superstation Is …
It’s always an intriguing question for programmers. Could you successfully program an all-current CHR along the lines of WCAU-FM Philadelphia? WCAU, now WOGL, famously revitalized the format with a total inventory of 50 titles in fall ‘81/spring ’82. And it did so beginning at a time when CHR music was at its then-nadir.
That was a long time ago, and all-current is not where CHR lives right now. Over the last decade, CHR has adapted the lessons of Country and Hot AC — formats where recurrents are often the most important records on the station. These days, CHR is usually on permanent staycation in “stay current” — the category where songs go on their way from power rotation to recurrent.
Nationally, CHR has effectively become a format of less than 20 currents receiving meaningful rotation. (When I took my “virtual road trip” of East Coast radio in December, the most aggressive stations were the ones spinning songs in the No. 35-45 range.) It might seem like an odd response to a wide world of music discovery, but the fraction of the audience most interested in music discovery has been siphoned off, and it’s not worth most people’s efforts to fight for them.
Except for Radio Disney. Over the last year or so, that channel has evolved to what is effectively all-current CHR. There are a few stay-currents, but I only know that Radio Disney is still playing “Havana” (about 4-7x a week) because I looked at a monitor. But if you look at those songs spinning 7x a week or more, there are 57 titles, just a few more than WCAU. The online-only Radio Disney Country is mostly currents now as well.
Radio Disney is where Keala Settle’s “This Is Me,” from the No.1 “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack, can actually be heard on the radio in meaningful rotation. It’s where you can hear Rudimental’s “These Days,” the rest-of-the-world’s most ubiquitous song right now, day-and-date with every other territory. It’s where you hear In Real Life, Why Don’t We, and the other teen acts that Mainstream CHR struggles with at the moment.
There’s not much you can’t hear on Radio Disney now, at least in edited form. I haven’t heard its version of the Dua Lipa song known on the charts as “IDGAF,” but I know from monitors that it has one. It’s also playing the Dustin Atlas & Erin Bowman song whose full title is “Fake Ass Friends,” a song which has nearly 200 spins between Radio Disney and Sirius XM’s CHR formats, but almost none from broadcast radio.
“IDGAF” has also pretty well summed up broadcast programmers’ response to any song that has a story on Radio Disney, Sirius XM Hits 1, or any other non-broadcast outlet, even now that those stations are chart reporters. In a recent survey of Country programmers, the importance of “streaming stories” was finally among their top metrics, but Spotify was not — because watching it specifically seemed to be too much legitimization. By contrast, Radio Disney has Spotify playlists and promotes them on-air.
Radio Disney has been trying to close the gap between when listeners find songs and when broadcast radio plays them. (Its only broadcast outlets are on HD subchannels, with most listening online or on Sirius XM.) In doing so, they raise the issue of whether pure pop has any activity outside broadcast worth tracking, since the best-known stream stories have been the Hip-Hop titles that CHR struggles to acknowledge (and which you won’t hear on RD for the most part).
Tied to that is the question of whether teen pop matters in 2018. More than at any time in the last 25 years, Hip-Hop has again become a soundtrack for almost any self-respecting teenager. Do acts like Why Don’t We grapple for acceptance at CHR because the kids like something else? Or because of CHR’s own odd perspective: Teen idols who have visibly grown up are okay (Demi, Selena, the Justins); neutral male acts who happen to be youthful (Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes) are too. But put two lead singers on any of those songs and you’ve got a boy band, and those are unhip again.
(There were contradictions in the early ‘90s, too. Teen pop was publicly discredited post-New Kids on the Block. But a lot of the records that held CHR radio together through those doldrums were from Color Me Badd, All-4-One, and Boyz II Men.)
What Radio Disney won’t give you a chance to hear is what a truly balanced diet would sound like at Mainstream CHR. That’s not its job. If you want to hear how Why Don’t We and In Real Life sound on the radio, you’ll hear them within a few songs of each other, not next to “God’s Plan” or “Pray for Me.” But it’s not as if most Mainstream CHRs are really playing “all the hits” either. However, even if you’re a CHR PD who is reluctant to acknowledge Radio Disney as a “story” on a particular song, it’s a good place to hear how not just teen acts but, say, the new Echosmith sounds on-air.
Here’s Radio Disney at 9 a.m. Eastern on the morning of March 28:
- Keala Settle, “This Is Me”
- In Real Life, “Tattoo (How ‘Bout You)”
- HRVY, “Personal”
- Echosmith, “Over My Head”
- Lauv, “I Like Me Better”
- Why Don’t We, “Trust Fund Baby”
- We The Kings, “Sad Song”
- Milo Manheim & Meg Donnelley, “Someday” (from “Zombies”)
- J-Hope, “Hope World”
- Foster the People, “Sit Next to Me”
- Zedd f/Maren Morris & Grey, “The Middle”
- Camila Cabello, “Inside Out”
- Jack & Jack, “Beg”
- Rudimental, “These Days”
- Dustin Atlas & Erin Bowman, “Fake A** Friends” (heard here as “Fake Friends”)
- Bruno Mars & Cardi B., “Finesse”
- Alice Merton, “No Roots”