Fred Bronson discusses rap artists, 'My Boo' and radio with readers.
WE CALL HIM THE RAPPER
I read your column regularly, and I was hoping you could provide some clarity.
I was wondering why Nelly's single with Tim McGraw is appearing on the Hot Rap Tracks chart. The song is in no way, shape or form a rap song. No one raps on the song, or even comes close. I was wondering the same about "My Place" featuring Jaheim, wherein Nelly and Jaheim sing throughout the song.
Billboard was smart enough not to place "Hey Ya!" on the rap chart merely because OutKast is a rap act (though inexplicably "Roses" appeared on the chart later). Why are these pop songs by Nelly treated differently? Especially when he clearly raps on another single, "Flap Your Wings." I hope you won't list "Tilt Ya Head Back" as a "rap" song too!
I checked with Minal Patel, chart manager for Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks chart (as well as the R&B/Hip-Hop charts). She told me that including "Over and Over" (as well as "My Place") on the rap chart was a decision made by the chart department, based on the fact that Nelly is generally considered a rapper.
BOO WHO YOU GONNA CALL?
It is interesting to note that Usher and Alicia Keys' "My Boo" enters pole position on the Billboard Hot 100 in time for Halloween. I think you would appreciate that chart trivia.
Quezon City, Philippines
Yes, enough to mention it in the print edition of "Chart Beat" in Billboard magazine. "My Boo" is the most Halloween-appropriate No. 1 since Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" topped the chart in October 1962, even though Usher and Alicia Keys have a different "Boo" in mind.
I must take issue with an argument you made in last week's "Chart Beat Chat" that, "[radio] stations need to build ratings so they can charge more for advertising and the way to build ratings is to play what the majority of people want to hear." I think it would be more appropriate to say "Stations play what the most profitable audience wants to hear."
I guess my point is that while stations do indeed need to accumulate a sizable audience to remain in business, they do so not by attracting a mass audience, but by catering to more specific niche markets. This is similar to how NBC might attract less viewers than CBS overall, but is considered a ratings winner because of their ability to cull a larger percentage of "desirable" viewers in the 18-45 range.
Of course, with regard to radio, stations can choose to ignore specific audiences if they are not desirable enough. Back in the 1970s there was a lawsuit that traveled all the way to the Supreme Court that concerned the buyout of a Chicago radio station. Forgive me, but I do not have the time to research the exact name of the case nor the specifics, but if memory serves me correctly, an oldies station (I think) was bought out and turned into a top 40 station.
This angered the community of listeners that liked oldies and they argued that because there existed in Chicago a large audience for oldies, the station should be legally forced to continue playing oldies music. They based this contention on the idea of "radio diversity," saying that while radio stations should not be forced into quotas that reflect listener preferences, if there is a large enough group of people who like a particular brand of music (oldies for instance), a station should not be able to change musical styles if they are the only station that caters to that style.
The Supreme Court disagreed. In a landmark ruling, one which seemed to conflict with their previous standing on newspaper coverage, they argued that the Federal Communications Commission should allow stations to choose whatever format of music they wanted to play.
The reason I bring this ruling up with you is because I wanted to point out that in any particular region mass audiences for specific styles may go completely ignored by their radio community if they are not "desirable" enough. If advertisers don't want to reach country music fans in Los Angeles, then stations can ignore them.
The possible disparity between who advertisers want to reach and the types of people that buy CDs probably contributes to the huge difference between what songs make it onto [Billboard's] Hot 100 Singles chart and what albums make it onto The Billboard 200. I think another one of your readers brought this up in a letter two weeks ago when he compared the sales of albums by Hilary Duff and Beyoncé with their Hot 100 entries.
While you argued that a hit album on the albums chart should not merit an appearance by a single from that album on the singles chart, I think you missed his point: that it's a great example of the fact that radio simply does not play what music buyers want to hear. In this way, I believe that the Hot 100 has not been reflective of mass American taste since the demise of the commercial single.
I look forward to a time when the digital sale of a single will play a large role in determining a song's placement on the Hot 100. Until then, I regard the Hot 100 with a wary eye, knowing that mercurial radio has a stranglehold on the breakdowns.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. It's a subject that I feel very strongly about, but I haven't had the motivation to write to you until now. I'm sorry that I wrote you such a long e-mail, but I had a lot to say.
Thanks for the great column each week and keep up the good work!
I do understand that you feel strongly about this issue, and even empathize with many of your points.
However, I've said many, many times in this column that radio stations often target specific demographics, whether they be 18-35 year olds, 12-25 year olds, or even 35-54 year olds. They may also target audiences by gender and race.
That doesn't negate the fact that within their target demographics they want the largest audience possible, and that they truly believe the songs they play will attract the audiences they want.
Television is really a different animal, because all of the networks are going for the same age demographic: 18-49. That is the group that matters most to advertisers, and so you are correct that it is much more important to a network to attract the largest number of viewers in the 18-49 bracket than the largest number of total viewers. Unlike television, radio can select its demographic group, so different stations are going after different audiences.
I also definitely get the point that radio doesn't always play what listeners want to hear; I've written about the disparity between the sales and airplay charts many times. That doesn't change the fact that it would be inappropriate to list Hilary Duff's "Fly" higher on the Hot 100 than Ciara's "Goodies" because Duff's album was one notch higher on The Billboard 200. "Fly" hasn't earned a berth on the singles and tracks chart, despite the popularity of its parent album. A free pass for "Fly" really would destroy the credibility of the charts.