It was an entirely innocuous song that spurred the discussion. I was scheduling a music log for a Classic Hits station, trying to find a way to segue into “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers that didn’t tank the momentum of the station. Once one of the safest songs you could play, “Listen to the Music” has reached the point where it’s old enough, and old-sounding enough, that it sporadically tests playable, but it’s no longer a song that the audience absolutely demands. Maybe I should reach out to the PD, I thought. Maybe he feels the same way.
I might yet. But first, I posted a question for my radio friends on Facebook. “When you were finally in charge of the music at a particular station, what was the first song you got rid of?”
As is often the case when I pose a question like this one, a number of people seem to have answered the question “what song do you hate?” even when that song hasn’t been on the radio in recent memory. So just as when I asked “what overplayed song can you no longer sit through on the radio?” a lot of people answered “Seasons in the Sun.” But many of those who answered “Seasons” this time were probably not programming back in the era when you could actually find that song or “You Light Up My Life” in an American gold library.
Besides, as IMEG’s Brad Lovett and several other readers noted, “You should not be programming on your personal likes and dislikes.” And that wasn’t the intent of the question, either. Just as no two people would code music identically, no program or music director is going to have exactly the same programming judgment as a predecessor. It isn’t necessary to personally dislike a song to know that you would pull it when it’s your choice to make.
“It’s so funny that I can’t remember, most likely because it would have been a song that I’d never heard of. I remember booting [‘70s southern/progressive rockers] Sea Level at an AOR station and thinking ‘damn, they’re good, but probably better off playing Zeppelin or Pink Floyd in 1989’ … Same with Steely Dan, I loved them more than the audience did.” – Tom Barnes
For several readers, their first purge of a gold library involved way more than one song. “Anything below 150 [titles],” says WSRS Worcester, Mass., PD Tony Bristol. “I threw out hundreds of songs. It was cathartic,” recalls Scripps Tucson, Ariz., OM Smokey Rivers.
“I have no idea. That was around 40 years ago,” says R&B radio veteran James Alexander.
But some readers had no trouble remembering. And while a number of songs are typical lightning rods, beginning with the one that kicks off this list, some are songs that hardly seem galvanizing.
“‘Angel’ by Sarah McLachlan. Nothing brings a station to a halt faster.” – WKDD Akron, Ohio, PD Keith Kennedy.
“‘Stairway to Heaven’ by the O’Jays, the saddest, slowest song that only fits between 11 p.m. and midnight on Sunday. Too harsh?” – WKAF Boston PD Chris Malone, who isn’t referring to a cover of the Led Zeppelin song, but an Urban AC staple. As Malone eventually allowed, the topic isn’t so sad (heading upstairs to the bedroom together) “but the tempo comes across as sad.”
“‘American Pie’—beat to death on an Oldies station at the time and way too long. Maybe [it’s all right] on a weekend, but it was in power at the time.” – Mike Erickson, Wheatstone Audio Processing.
“I took over an Urban AC that had 18 Luther Vandross songs rotating at the same time, so I trimmed the ‘Luther category.’” – Brian Paiz, Fresh 97.9, Greenville, N.C.
“‘End of the Road’ by Boyz II Men. We must have played that song a million times at KMEL [San Francisco], and then when I moved to L.A., it was the Beat’s heaviest recurrent. To this day, I’m still tired of it.” – Harold Austin
“Everything by Adele.” – Kevin Vaughan, Hall Communications, New London, Conn. (He’s talking about on a CHR station and relatively recently.)
“At Classic Hits, ‘Losing My Religion’; AC, Elton John, ‘Nikita’; Top 40/CHR, ‘Rolling in the Deep.”—Montreal radio veteran Daniel Tremblay
“‘Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard’ by Waylon Jennings on a [major-market] Top 40 station.” – Canadian records and music veteran Kevin Shea
“‘Baby Likes to Rock It’ by the Tractors. Perhaps the worst song in the history of ever.” – Townsquare Media Dubuque, Iowa, OM Brian Davis
“‘Proud Mary’ by Ike & Tina Turner.” – Paul Porter, who recalls taking the song off of Majic 102.3 Washington, D.C., many years after it had mostly disappeared from the radio elsewhere.
“I wasn’t the program or music director at my radio station, but the song that should have gone first was ‘Tears of a Clown’—so overplayed on our station. Luckily, the guy who was programming it [left the station] and off it went too.” – Ileana Landon, Megatrax, referring to the 1970 hit that was still power gold on her Rhythmic CHR in 1985.
Josh Brandon brings up Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning,” which he calls the “worst friggin’ song ever written in the history of country music.” That song, about the aftermath of 9/11, remained a reliable tester for years, something Brandon attributes to respondents who felt it was unpatriotic to dislike it. “Never had a single request for it. No one seemed to miss that six minutes of miserable train wreck.” And even if you disagree with Brandon’s aesthetic assessment, programming a song that solemn comes with special challenges.
“Hozier, ‘Take Me to Church,’ on a small-town AC. I hate putting personal tastes into the equation, but I saw no gain in my playing it, and no loss by pulling it.” – Kevin Davis, Guess FM, Memphis
“‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by the Charlie Daniels Band. You couldn’t ask me an easier question.” – Craig Michaels, KIIK Davenport, Iowa
“‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ by Don Henley, three years after it was a No. 13 AC-only hit. On a CHR.” – Tom Mitchell, Cumulus Syracuse, N.Y.
“Two come to mind. The Neighbourhood, ‘Sweater Weather,’ at Power 96.1 and at Hot 106 [Providence, R.I.], Kat DeLuna, ‘Whine Up.’” – Dan Hunt, Power 96.1 Atlanta
“The Eagles. All of it.” – Peter Wilkinson Thiele, KARN Little Rock, Ark.
“‘The Ketchup Song.’ I wanted to be a condiment-neutral station.” – Ronnie Ramone, WROZ Lancaster, Pa.
“Great question, Sean. ‘Any Man of Mine’ by Shania Twain.” – Country radio/records vet Kim Leslie
“‘Fresh’ by Kool & the Gang. Inexplicably, that song makes me angry. Very angry.” – WKXW (New Jersey 101.5) PD Anne Gress