What I Learned About Worldwide Radio By Listening to Justin Bieber's 'Love Yourself' for an Hour

Courtesy Photo
Justin Bieber, "Love Yourself."

There was a point about two weeks ago where "Love Yourself" stopped sounding like just another moment in the Justin Bieber juggernaut and more like an "Uptown Funk"-level megahit unto itself. Plucked by radio from the Purpose album even before the label was done promoting "Sorry" -- a rare occurrence these days -- "Love Yourself" was becoming unavoidable as I punched from station to station.

And then I wondered, how unavoidable? A number one song is always playing somewhere in the world. But where? 

That's an easier question to answer because of OnRad.io, an app that uses radio station metadata to give users the "type a song, hear a song" functionality usually not available in broadcast radio streaming. OnRad.io features both domestic and international radio, and both broadcast and Internet-only stations. Unlike YouTube, you're limited to a song that might actually be on the radio somewhere. But for a hit like "Love Yourself," that can be anywhere. 

So at 9 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Feb. 20, for a little more than an hour, I began "punching around" in OnRad.io to see where in the world "Love Yourself" was playing. I used the search engine to find the song on a new station, waited to see what each station would play after it, and then repeated, for a total of 18 times. 

It was an hour of intense self-love. But I didn't know if this would be a good source of "audio tourism." Last year, I used the TuneIn search engine to find a day's worth of unique stations by altering my usual station searches by one call letter. With this search, it is certainly possible that I could have punched from one major-market domestic CHR after another, each segueing Justin into Selena Gomez.

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But I actually didn't land on any major-market mainstream top 40 stations. In barely three months, "Love Yourself" has fanned out around the world to a diverse field of stations. And since the handheld version of OnRad.io doesn't show you what radio station you've selected, until after you've chosen your song, there was no advance info on what type of station I was choosing. Here's where we started.

9:00 a.m. | CKCE (101.5 Kool FM) Calgary (7 a.m. local time) -- Canada's first Rhythmic AC, along the lines of WKTU New York, has evolved toward more typical Adult CHR now, but you'll still hear an occasional Destiny's Child oldie. The song that followed Bieber was equally unavoidable a few months ago (especially in Canada, where all stations still play 35-40 percent Canadian content): the Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face."  

9:03 | MR2 Petofi Radio Hungary (3:03 p.m., local time) -- Hungary's state broadcaster has an even hipper version of the U.K.'s Top 40 BBC Radio 1. You'll hear alternative and EDM records that should be hits in the U.S., but Petofi also played Austin Mahone and Katy Perry in the hour preceding "Love Yourself." The next song was the current European hit "Sweet Lovin'" by Sigala. Petofi also had one of the few live jocks I encountered during this exercise. 

9:09 | Reelworld Radio -- An online showcase for the jingles and imaging of the Seattle-based production house. (There was also a produced ID with an artist drop from Justin.) The next song was Fall Out Boy's "Uma Thurman." 

9:13 | V Hive Radio Philippines (10:13 p.m., local time) -- "The hottest online Pinoy radio station," promised the Website, which also encouraged listeners to "jive with the Hive." Bieber was followed by bilingual rhythmic pop, Filipino-Australian actor/singer James Reid's "Randomatic."

9:17 | Radio Central/Charts Switzerland (3:13 p.m., local time) -- In Europe, stations often have an entire suite of side channels, including this regional network whose main channel was a broad-based Hot AC. ("Recently played" included Roxette's "Sleeping In My Car.") The next song on the top 40 side channel was Sia's "Cheap Thrills."

9:20 | Vienna.At/Top 40 Vienna, Austria (3:20 p.m., local time) -- Another European suite of five online stations, this one connected to a local news site. The Website opens to "Die 80er" channel, which was playing Queen's "A Kind Of Magic." As for this CHR channel, the next song was Zara Larsson's "Lush Life."

9:24 | Radio 538 Hilversum, Netherlands (3:24 p.m., local time) -- This Dutch radio CHR powerhouse began on cable only, before landing on FM. They offer their own side channels, including an ongoing chart countdown, both jockless and hosted variants on top 40, and a dance channel. The next song on the main frequency was Ellie Goulding's "On My Mind" with a produced "power intro."

9:27 | WLHT (Channel 95.7) Grand Rapids, Mich. -- Billed as "Today's Best Mix," this is a fairly aggressive Adult CHR. (The recently played songs ranged from "Grenade" and "Shut Up And Dance" to "Stressed Out" and the new Ellie Goulding single. Because Saturday mornings are anchored by "The Best of Connie & Curtis," Justin was followed by a morning show bit.

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9:32 | KWXS (107.7 The Beat) Bend. Ore. (6:32 a.m., local time) -- They were playing the dance version of "Love Yourself," which by now was a big relief. They followed it with the dance version of Adele's "When We Were Young." 

9:36 | Antenne Voralberg Hits Voralberg Austria (3:36 p.m., local time)  -- Another suite of Austrian channels (including lounge, rock, and "SchlagerKult," the unusual mix of German oompah-pop and Euro-oldies). The main channel was an AC station that went from Elton John's "Circle of Life" to Owl City's "Fireflies" to a German cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." The next song on the "Hits" channel was the atmospheric pop of Alan Walker's "Faded."

9:40 | P5 Hits Sarpsborg Norway (3:40 p.m., local time) -- Another state broadcaster's broad-based Adult CHR that had just played "Get Lucky," "Can't Hold Us" and the more-unlikely "Who Says" by John Mayer. There was also news at the top of the hour. The next song, after an artist stager, was Major Lazer's "Light It Up."

9:44 | KLSM (K-Hits 104.5) Vicksburg, Miss. (8:44 a.m., local time) -- An adult CHR that includes "Retro ‘80s Weekend" programming. So their "always giving you hit music" position also encompassed Peter Cetera's "Glory Of Love" and La Bouche's "Be My Lover," based on the "recently played" listing. It also included Leon Bridges' triple-A hit, "Smooth Sailing," which made me resolve to come back later. After Bieber, they went into weather and a stopset. 

9:47 | WKTN Kenton, Ohio  -- "Love Yourself" has already made it to small-market Mainstream AC, where you can hear it segued into Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About" as I did here. WKTN is streamed through its co-owned Kenton Today site, whose Web poll asked, "In light of attacks on the rise in public places, how do you plan to respond?" Leading responses were "Continue as Normal" (37 percent) and "Carry Concealed Weapon" (29 percent). Only 5 percent said "Go Out Less Often."

9:50 | Ado Radio Paris, France (3:50 p.m., local time) -- They've evolved from R&B to a rhythmic CHR positioned as "Mix Dance, Pop, R&B." There was a screaming winner promo of the sort recognizable in any language ("gagnez argent!"), followed by "Mr. Policeman" by Eva Simons, best known here as the voice of Afrojack's "Take Over Control." (The lyric is about a dancer trying to avoid being arrested because, "I just want to drop my jiggelin' down to the floor.") 

9:56 | WAOA (W-A1A) Melbourne, Fla. -- The first mainstream CHR of the hour was Cumulus' heritage outlet. Bieber played between Daya's "Hide Away" and a new music stager that went into Zara Larson's "Never Forget You."

10:00 | WSTO (Hot 96) Evansville, Ind.  (9 a.m., local time) -- Another heritage outlet for "Today's Hit Music." Here, Bieber was between Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" and the second morning appearance of Fall Out Boy's "Uma Thurman."

10:04 | WBZZ (100.7 Star) Pittsburgh -- "100.7 Star plays the hits for Pittsburgh" said the stager. The CBS Radio outlet is an Adult Top 40 reporter, but pushes those limits all the time. The next song was Calvin Harris' "Blame."

10:09 | 2BFM.be Belgium (4:09 p.m. local time) -- Powered by online aggregator Radionomy, this is a Belgian ‘90s-through-now Hot AC. Bieber segued into Jamiroquai's "Cosmic Girl" here.

In an hour's listening, I encountered a diverse group of stations and discovered new songs. I didn't hear much local personality. That doesn't mean there wasn't any, but if you're only hearing a song or two, the odds are against encountering it. Even stations that are hosted aren't hosted much these days.

I was reminded that lean-back online radio, vulnerable in the U.S. after a recent Copyright Royalty Board ruling (which has been blamed for the shuttering of some Webcasters as well as Live 365) nd more competition from the big groups, remains robust elsewhere.

I can also say that "Love Yourself" holds up okay after 18 nearly-full-length listens. It's barely a three-month old record, which helped, but it's also the craftsmanship. Bieber has had a lot of high-quality help recently, but hearing Ed Sheeran write for him is the kind of thing that rarely happens these days -- a contribution from an ascending star who's just about to get too busy to co-write other people's hits.

So far, "Love Yourself" has also beaten the jinx of songs with negative hooks directed at the listener (especially by a male singer). Justin's audience isn't limited to Beliebers these days, but some fans are undoubtedly happy to hear any potential rival told-off as decisively as possible.