In the beginning, there was no radio. And then, Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor and electrical engineer, won the Nobel Prize for inventing wireless telegraphy. That was 1896. In America in 1920, an engineer who worked for Westinghouse Electric in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania saw the value of wireless transmission, which is what we now call radio. KDKA’s Dr. Frank Conrad realized that just sitting in front of a microphone and talking was not an efficient use of his time or the sacred airwaves, so he started playing phonograph recordings, the sound being picked up by the microphone. This was the birth of entertainment on the radio.
During the Cox-Harding presidential elections, the new radio station broadcasted the voting results and this was the genesis of news on the radio. Sooner or later, someone had to schedule the live bands that now played during the broadcasts. It was logical that when radio began relying more and more on recorded music in the 1950s, one had to figure out which song went after another, just like they had to schedule the live commercial copy that had to be read on the air for revenue.
Dr. Andrew Economos, a mathematician, who was recruited by NBC to work up models for election coverage and help with the computer programming for their traffic systems, tapped his mathematical skills for scheduling music just like the radio and TV business had been scheduling commercials and promos. Andrew started a company named Radio Computing Services, nicknamed RCS, to develop and market a computerized music scheduling system known as Selector.
Radio in the U.S. had some interesting ways of rotating music. In the earlier days, DJs stacked the records in a pile and played from the top to the bottom, a system that was later transferred over to tape cartridges. But this system was prone to presenters skipping songs they didn’t like. Some crafty programmers came up with a system of typing song information on 3 x 7, then 5 x 7 cards with the cards being separated into categories. One played the song represented on the first card in a given category then moved that card to the back of the stack. If you wanted a song to play more, you moved the card halfway back.
Then someone else took it to the next level by adding a seven-column grid, one for each day of the week, where DJs wrote the date and time of plays into the boxes of the grid. This helped separate the music, if the DJ took the time to think about the plays noted on the card to determine if it was time to play that song again. This lead to adding more columns for dayparts, so the talent could easily see when the song most recently played in their daypart. This was the birth of daypart rotations. But no human being can precisely calculate on the fly the best time to repeat a given song, so it was now time for technology to help.
Rotations have always been based on smaller categories playing faster, with larger categories rotating at a slower turnover. A control mechanism named Pass Order defined the order in which the categories would be scheduled. Typically, smaller categories get scheduled first throughout the whole day so they can be scheduled unfettered from rules. The songs in these smaller categories, known as powers, were the primary reason people listened to your station, so of course, they should rotate faster. The plotting of these “hits” as they were called from the beginning of Top 40 radio determined how all the other songs would be scheduled around them.
Artist separation was a natural progression. Who wanted to hear an artist repeating too frequently? And then of course, the old daypart rotation mechanism was applied so that all the important songs would be played for the different tune-in patterns. We also adopted the evergreen concept of daypart restrictions. For example, not playing long songs in morning drive when the audience is eager for information and entertainment by the disc jockey. For some stations we had to think about Album separation. It wasn’t long before the idea of Artist Group separation kicked in. Each time a rule was conceived by a programmer, RCS developed computer code to deliver the kind of scheduling control the PD wanted. As we tried to separate certain styles of genre of music, Sound Codes were introduced. The more we added to the mathematical equations, the more powerful the computer had to be. The hardware industry never let us down, with almost annual improvements to keep pace with the evolving computer code.
Today, we take it for granted how fast we can schedule hours of music logs while getting other things done. The good news, with manual scheduling always part of the business, the human element has never been taken out of good music scheduling. We went from making sure a record didn’t play too much, to making sure each song was precisely placed in the best daypart, the best hour and even the best quarter-hour. We print music association reports, we make sure we don’t violate content requirements in certain nations and we have a history of what we actually played. We know how often each song played.
Music Scheduling was invented by RCS. And that is only a part of the story.