Radio Plans Shift in Tone as Drumbeat of War Builds

New York Times
February 24, 2003
Radio Plans Shift in Tone as Drumbeat of War Builds

FTBInMyLife.jpgAfter the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, listeners denounced many radio stations for playing songs insensitive to a nation in mourning. Now, program directors are planning to adjust their playlists if the United States goes to war with Iraq.

Expect to hear more patriotic tunes, and songs that appear right for the moment. The changes most likely will occur on stations with the broadest appeal, like those with top 40’s and country formats.

Tom Cuddy, vice president for programming at ABC’s FM stations, said playlists would probably include patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles, “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood and “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen. Other songs will evoke peace, like “Imagine” by John Lennon, while some will center on heroism, like “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler.

Mr. Cuddy said that many of the songs were used heavily after Sept. 11, when listeners called top 40’s stations like WPLJ-FM, 95.5 in New York City, where he also serves as program director, to request songs that emboldened listeners’ spirits. He said that he expects the requests to crop up again and is ready to play them. Usually, WPLJ plays pop and rock songs by artists like Bon Jovi and matchbox twenty.

“Listeners responded to the switch in a very strong way,” Mr. Cuddy said of the feedback back then. “They requested songs that wouldn’t ordinarily be heard. You have to respond to the moment and be sensitive to what’s going on in your environment.”

Mr. Cuddy added that his station played several songs that were lyrically softer to New York. “We took some of the harsher songs off for a period of time,” he said.

In response to criticism, programmers around the country pulled songs like “Click Click Boom” by Saliva and “Bodies” by Drowning Pool, said Tom Taylor, executive editor of Inside Radio, a trade publication.

Other songs that were pulled included “Burnin’ for You” by Blue Öyster Cult, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. and “Crumblin’ Down” by John Mellencamp.

” `Bodies’ has words like `Let the bodies hit the floor,’ ” Mr. Taylor said. “Program directors decided that they needed to give that song and others a rest.”

It is hard to say what might offend people if the United States attacks Iraq. After Sept. 11, people were particularly sensitive because the attack had been on American soil.

Tom Poleman, senior vice president of programming at the top-40 station Z100 in New York (WHTZ-FM, 100.3), said that after the terrorist attacks, listeners requested songs like “Hero,” an Enrique Iglesias love song, and another “Hero,” this one about finding inner strength, by Mariah Carey.

Michael Saunders, program director at Power 105 (WWPR-FM, 105.1), the New York City hip-hop and rhythm and blues station, said that he would respond to listeners requests, without going overboard.

“You are not going to hear Whitney Houston singing `The Star Spangled Banner’ at the top of every hour,” Mr. Saunders said.

Music stations will also increase their news reports if war breaks out. Because radio has become so segmented in the last 15 years, news had vanished from many music stations. But since Sept. 11, stations have added feeds at the top of every hour.

“We’re certainly stepping up our news coverage,” said Gabe Hobbs, vice president of news for Clear Channel Radio, part of Clear Channel Communications, which owns 1,200 stations. “We have all sorts of plans and they vary from market-to-market. But overall, we’re prepared to offer news twice an hour on our music stations.”

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