For years it was the sign of a well-programmed radio station: If a song had any kind of intro, the first note would establish itself. The jock would kick in almost immediately. The break would always be about the song that was playing, not the one that had finished. The only exception would be if a song didn’t have an intro—then the instructions were usually to be as brief as possible over the previous fade.
If a small-market station didn’t “crush and roll” during a music sweep, instead letting a jock talk down the fade of one song and up the intro of the next, it implied the PD didn’t know any better. If a large-market station did it, it was taken as a conscientious decision to be “old school,” a repudiation of formatic wisdom that had taken hold decades earlier.
Programmers worked hard to maintain the “forward motion” of their stations. It was, for instance, the reason a station might take a record with a cold intro and manufacture a place for the jock to frontsell that song. It was also the explanation given to an impatient record industry for years for not backselling every song: Only the song at the end of the stopset, which, if the station was well-programmed, would be a newer current. Label people dismissed this logic as ridiculous, but it just proved to me they didn’t understand programming.
Forward motion was one of those programming ergonomics that became discredited in the post-Howard Stern era, especially at those stations where every shift became a miniature morning show. It was condemned in some quarters as the meaningless minutiae of another era, along with having tempo at the top of the hour, or the equally ridiculed hitting the post. Real listeners couldn’t possibly care, right?
The Portable People Meter era has, of course, restored the honor of a lot of our programming basics. But a return to brevity doesn’t mean a return to well-assembled stations. Forward motion is still one of those things I come across inconsistently in my listening. I probably hear it more often than I think without even noticing (which is almost the point of doing it). But there are many places where the break—probably prerecorded—just plops down between two songs, often failing to acknowledge the energy level of either track.
Pacing isn’t even necessarily consistent within a station now. And why would it be if there’s a full-service morning show, Ryan Seacrest in middays, and a two-person show at night? I’ve heard forward motion accomplished with voice-tracking before. More often, stations just don’t seem to bother.
There are other logistic issues. There are still plenty of songs with cold intros; re-editing them is the sort of detail that not everyone has time for either. And if a PD is letting a jock talk only three or four times an hour, two of them at the end of a music sweep anyway, maybe what happens during the sweep isn’t as much of a concern anymore.
The pacing of a station is further dilued in multiple ways by the online streaming experience. Contest promos disappear before they’re over, or aren’t heard at all. Jocks often seem to have their levels wrong—they’re not “in the music,” in accordance with another common instruction of old. Or is it just that the processing on the stream is different from what’s on-air?
And now, if you didn’t grow up with this sort of formatic training, I have to convince you that it matters. Just as I’m ready to grant you that forward motion is part of the largely disregarded high-energy radio I grew up with, I come across Spanish/tropical WSKQ New York whose jocks never abandoned that level of energy, and they’re doing pretty well these days.
But the best reason for forward motion in 1983 is still the best reason in 2013. Forward motion used to be a deliberate sign to listeners that a station wasn’t yet stopping the music. Listeners would hear the jock without the new song playing and expect commercials. At a time when they can still expect six to seven minutes of commercials, that’s still not the right impression to give them. Beyond that, it helped enhance the energy of a station to keep things moving. Companionship and localism, both sometimes neglected, set broadcast radio apart from other audio offerings. But so do energy and pacing.