In late May – just before influential radio programmer-turned-Spotify exec Kevin Weatherly returned to Los Angeles alt-rock station KROQ after a two-year stretch with Spotify – an old friend, Warner Records’ Mike Chester, called. At that point, thanks to the fourth season of Netflix’ Stranger Things, Kate Bush‘s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” was improbably turning into a contemporary streaming hit. “I know you haven’t started yet,” Chester, the label’s executive vp of commerce and promotion, told Weatherly. “But this is wild. And you’re someone who would get this.”
Weatherly added “Running Up That Hill” to KROQ rotation even before he started his job as the Audacy station’s senior vp of programming. Quickly, other top programmers, including KIIS-FM’s Beata Murphy in Los Angeles, KYLD’s Mark Adams in San Francisco and iHeartMedia’s Mike McCoy in Columbus, Ohio, did the same. Within days, thanks to robust streaming and sales, Bush’s track – which had peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 during its mid-’80s run, reached No. 4 on the chart. The only barrier left for it to become a massive, Harry Styles-level smash, was to cross it over to radio. Chester reported to his boss, Tom Corson, the label’s chairman and COO, and said: “We got one.” He adds, “It was becoming clear that this was bigger than all of us.”
Although the track’s streaming numbers have recently declined – down 12.5% in official U.S. streams since last week, according to Luminate – copious radio airplay has more than compensated for the dip, making “Running Up That Hill” an even bigger hit than it was during the peak of Stranger Things hype in May and June. For the Aug. 6 charts, the track held at No. 3 for a second week on the Hot 100, and climbed from No. 10 to No. 7 on Billboard‘s Radio Songs listing, an increase of 17%, to 48.4 million impressions. The crossover to massive radio success is a rarity for recent viral catalog hits – from Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” on TikTok in 2020 to Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” from The Batman earlier this year to Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” in the same Stranger Things season last month, none of which have made it to Radio Songs this decade – making “Running Up That Hill” a sort of unicorn.
“Somehow we’ve been able to traverse that Stranger Things moment,” Chester says. “It’s transcended and bridged to passive audiences.” Adds Michael Martin, Audacy’s senior vp of programming, as well as program director for pop station Alice@97.3 in San Francisco, which has played the track 1,100 times — more than any other station, according to Luminate — “This is a rarity. This happens few and far between.”
Radio programmers continue to successfully test “Hill” in callout research, in which they play snippets of the song to listeners along with other potential playlist staples. Also, it’s unusually strong on several top radio formats, rising from No. 5 to No. 3 this week on the Alternative Airplay chart, and from No. 10 to No. 8 on the Pop Airplay chart.
“The audience isn’t tired of this thing,” Martin says. “I’ve heard it on pop radio segueing into a Doja Cat record, I’ve heard it on hot AC segueing into an Ed Sheeran record, and I’ve heard it on alternative segueing into Glass Animals — and it sounds great.”
Like many radio veterans, Tom Poleman, iHeart’s chief programming officer, recalls airing “Running Up That Hill” on rock and alternative stations in the ’80s and ’90s. But the radio activity back then was nothing compared to the last few weeks. “It was a great song to begin with. Sometimes you need a spark to ignite certain songs. You need something to bring it to the surface,” he says. “A lot of things just have to be right for the moment in time. Stranger Things put it in the spotlight and we just jumped on that momentum.” The track, he adds, is in power rotation, or repeat airing, on “a significant portion of our top 40 stations.”
Although Poleman believes the song is starting to “burn a little bit” after a month and a half, like any contemporary smash that dominates pop culture, Warner’s Chester remains hopeful it’ll still rise to No. 1 on the Hot 100. “It’s got legs,” he says. “It’s not moving anywhere. It moved to power rotation at KIIS-FM. It plays every hour next to Lizzo. Kate Bush is more relevant now than ever.”