How Records Get on the Air
Pittsburgh Post Gazette, June 12, 1973
   As you may have read, the specter of payola has once again risen to haunt those concerned with the manufacture and distribution of popular recordings. Two weeks ago Clive Davis, CBS Records Group chief (Columbia Records) was fired and is being sued by CBS for alleged misapplication of large sums of money. Whether or not there is any tie between this particular case and the payment of monies to encourage air play for certain records has yet to be established. However it is common knowledge in the music and radio businesses that payola has been making a steady comeback ever since the big scandal several years ago. I decided to check the local radio stations to find out how their playlist is determined.
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   The records played on KQV are selected by Bob Harper, director of operations; Jon Summers, music director, and Mike Flynn, the librarian. The choices are based on calls to the local record stores, by Flynn, and national surveys as printed by the recognized trade journals. Record information is also exchanged with other ABC-owned stations. Only recordings approved by Harper are heard on the air.
   On WEEP, the country music station, the program director is also responsible for all records played. He picks the top 25 from the carious top 50 lists, then adds three "oldies" for each hour.
   The man responsible for the music heard on WTAE is Chuck Brinkman, music director. He makes his choices from a study of the Bill Gavin Report, a well-known national newsletter for the industry, and from the "easy listening" lists in Cashbox and Billboard.
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   KDKA uses the committee system in determining what will be heard on the 50,000 clear channel signal. Alan Mitchell, the program director; Ed Salamon, music director; Bill Green, producer director; and Chris Rathaus, production director, hold a weekly meeting. The deejays do not attend this get-together.
   Using the various trade magazine charts, record store reports and information from other Group W stations which play music, this board draws up a list for each of the jocks. They also screen the novelty discs played by the all-night man.
   "The jocks can play any record from the list in any order they think interesting, from the point of view of pacing, etc.," Mitchell told me. He said that the different personalities of the on-the-air personnel helps to determine individual lists. "You won't find records on Jack Bogut's morning show that you will hear on Art Pallan's program, as an example," Mitchell said.
   Excessive repetition, which indicate the plugging of a record, is strictly taboo, he added.
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   Those who don't appreciate the sound of 13-Q (WKPQ) probably have no idea of how little is left to chance in the selection of a playlist for the rocker.
   Dave Daniels, the program director, thoroughly researched the market before the station came on the air this past march 12. Based on this project, his own experience, sales at the music stores, trade journal lists, and the reports he gets from an informal "communications network" of program directors and music directors, Daniels makes his selections.
   "The entire station is pre-programmed, well in advance, and no deviation from the titles and order of play is permitted," Daniels told me.
   He did cite an interesting example of his research. "This is a good 'Three Dog Night' town," he said. Thus, even though he rarely introduces new records, i.e.; those not on national lists, he did put "Shambala," by the Dog Night group, on his play list, even tough it had not shown up on the charts elsewhere. "It was an immediate hit," he added.
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   Perhaps because it had a brush with payola four years ago, WAMO has the most rigidly controlled play list in the market. Ruth McClain, the program director, describes it as "a computer - type operation, which is the hardest in the business to touch" for illegal purposes.
   "We call record stores in eight to 10 cities, get the trade magazine lists and feed all the information into the Computer Data Service, which in turn, makes our play list selection," Miss McClain said.
   "It's a fool-proof system, but unfortunately, even with a KDKA or a WWSW can start playing a soul record before we do, simply because it hasn't yet showed up on enough lists to impress the computer," she added somewhat wistfully.
   The "Golden Oldies" are selected by Miss McClain, while the Gospel music is "usually in response to listener requests." LPs are added from time to time, as are a few new releases from big name artists like Aretha Franklin. "No one has to hand out payola to get a play for an Aretha Franklin," Miss McClain pointed out.