Ross On Radio: Keeping Top 40 From Getting Too 'Mid-Turbo'
Ross On Radio: Keeping Top 40 From Getting Too 'Mid-Turbo'

By the time you read this, I will have stopped playing SongPop ... as often.

I will have deleted the "name that tune" game from my phone. Or I will play it only to kill time on the elliptical machine at the gym. Or I will play only with a few industry friends and not three dozen random challengers each week. Or with whoever reads this column this week and challenges me.

I had never expected online gaming to be much of a factor in my life. But last August, after writing about the surprising number of radio people playing Words With Friends, Mike Couchman, MD of Christian AC KSOS Las Vegas challenged me. Five weeks ago, I accepted. Now, only bold decisive action can stop my descent into some Jason Segel/Seth Rogan man-child character.

Ross on Radio: What Would You Do With A New York FM?

A lot of industry friends had already made that decision. They'd already gone through their SongPop phase in summer and thought it was lame, or too time-consuming. I stopped e-mailing friends to play after two nearly identical responses describing all the real work they had to do. When I mentioned being busy, too, one wrote back, "Then I'm helping you by not playing."

But there aren't many chances to play music trivia, and it was nice to see it creep into the mainstream. Billboard Top 40 Update columnist Rich Appel's New York trivia meets drew hundreds of players, at least two dozen of them formidable by any standard. I missed those contests when they went away. So it was easy to overindulge.

And there are a few viable adults in our industry who remain serious players: Clear Channel's Jon Zellner, WAKS Cleveland's Java Joel; NRG's Jeff Winfield; Rawlco's Chris Meyers; KSCS Dallas APD/MD Chris Huff, and KLCE Idaho Falls, Idaho PD/morning man Mike Nelson. Nelson is my toughest competitor to date, although Couchman and I are pretty much at a stalemate now where each of us wins alternating rounds by playing our best musical genres.

Ross On Radio: The Country Single, The Pop Single, The R&B Single And The Hit Single

I also never had to worry about online etiquette much before, until the random challengers came along. Most want to play, not talk. But one figured out that I worked in the industry and sent contact info. My fellow trivia geeks are often eccentric, but typically benign. I was about to call him. "So now you're meeting people in chat rooms?" asked my wife. I didn't call.

There's also the trash talk. It's probably mild compared to you and your buddy shooting one-on-one on the driveway. But what is the correct response to being messaged "You're going down!" by a stranger? It is those people I particularly enjoy beating by one-tenth of a second on the final clue. I have thus far refrained from messaging back, "Suck it, pal!"

To some extent, winning in SongPop is less a reflection of one's music trivia knowledge and more about learning to play SongPop, particularly memorizing the wrong versions of songs, bizarrely chosen clues, and other quirks that dot its playlists. When an opponent quickly guesses certain clues that are garbled audio or only the opening applause from a live version of a song, it means they've been playing a while.

For that reason, SongPop offers few clues about what players' musical context or what songs remain known years later. For practiced players, it's not necessary to actually know every song to make it through a round without incorrect guesses. But the game has provided one key programming insight. For PDs of a certain age, the go-to playlist is often "classic rap." Which helps explain why, as Appel recently noted in these pages, Notorious B.I.G. remains on Top 40 radio as most '90s music disappears.

Executive functioning matters as well. Good, evenly-matched players don't have much time to consider their guesses. When a rival flubs "The Boys Are Back In Town," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or some other megahit they almost certainly knew, you know they've been psyched-out. And it happens to me, too. If I were an air-traffic controller, your chances of a safe landing would be good, but not guaranteed.

You might also beat me with certain obscure genres, although you'll have to figure out what those are. Then again, I've won some pretty unlikely categories because the kind of players who try to "get you" by playing "Los '90s" don't always know all the songs themselves. And if you keep the game friendly, I won't send you "German '70er."

But this is all hypothetical. Because even if you can find me in SongPop (okay, it's "Rossonradio"), I won't be playing...much longer.