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Having been in radio for over 20 years now, I have accumulated my fair share of great radio stories. But, naturally, I have one story that I always tell. One story that is always my go to story when I want to get a laugh about the mores of my business and the silliest of silly ego battles. I have one story that I always tell when I am initiating my new employees and interns in the ways of our business. It’s a cautionary tale to remind ourselves that, sometimes, other people know better than you.
It was February 1997, and I was just a few weeks into my radio career. By this time our evening announcer, Art Monroe, had become a mentor to me. I job shadowed with Art for over a week as I prepared for my very first on-air shift, filling in as the overnight host on a late Friday night into Saturday morning. It was Valentine’s weekend, so for our Friday night we’d gone with nothing but love songs and were even in the rare position of taking requests and on-air dedications.
I say rare because our program director and his bosses had directed us to stick completely to our market tested playlists. We had a very strict music rotation which is standard practice in the radio industry but it can obviously be a tad cumbersome when you have listeners who want you to drop in a favorite song now and then or when it’s Valentine’s weekend and our playlist contains a few songs that we’ve been directed not to drop under any circumstance.
Our program director had selected a loose playlist of love songs that our music director and night host, Art, had to play in the midst of the requests and dedications we were taking. This proved to be quite a unique selection of songs that stretched the boundaries of what one might consider a love song. For example: "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Now, taken at surface level, "Every Breath You Take" could be thought of as a song about a man desperately in love with a woman, but most people recognize that Sting and his band-mates were going for something more along the lines of a desperate obsession that a decade after the song was released would be recognized as a song about stalking rather than loving.
That’s not the funny part, however. The funny part came near the end of the night as I was driving in for my shift and heard a "love song" that made me laugh so hard I nearly got in an accident. As Meatloaf’s "I Would Do Anything for Love" was coming to an end I hear my friend and mentor Art introduce one of the final love songs of the night, Celine Dion’s cover of Eric Carmen’s 1975 ode to loneliness "All By Myself." You can imagine my incredulity.
I walked into the studio just as the song was ending to find Art with his head in his hands and a rueful, knowing smile. Before Art could explain to me that he had no choice but to play the song as it was mandated by the boss to include "All By Myself" as a LOVE SONG, I said, “People are driving off the I-74 Bridge right now.” We both doubled over in laughter as Art pleaded for me to understand that he had no choice but to play the song.
The moral of the story: market testing works but sometimes common sense must prevail. "Every Breath You Take" is a great song filled with complex themes but calling it a love song is a bit of a stretch. More to the point, though, despite how popular Celine Dion was in 1996 and 1997, there were other Celine hits that were actual love songs and not songs so depressing that they left those who were single on Valentine’s Day considering self-harm.
Put aside the ego, put aside the notion that you and your numbers know better. Sometimes common sense must prevail and you should make decisions that go against the grain. Sometimes you should simply not play the hot new Celine Dion ballad because it’s terribly, terribly sad and not the kind of song you want to hear in what you’ve billed as a full night of love songs and dedications.