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How Pop Radio Programming Defines the Music Essay

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Updated: Jul 28th, 2022


For this paper, I have chosen Sky FM’s Top Hits Music and have listened to the likes of artists and tracks: Kelly Clarkson’s “Because Of You”, Goo Goo Dolls’ “Better Days” (Album Version), Lifehouse’ “Whatever It Takes”, Taylor Swift’s “Teardrops On My Guitar”, Killers’ “When You Were Young”, Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You”, Bowling For Soup’s “Ohio (Come Back To Texas)” (Radio Version), Linkin Park’s “Breaking The Habit” and Christina Aguilera’s “Hurt” (Album Version).

As may be readily surmised, the list is a mixture of a lot of music genres with the understanding that rock and pop have other divisions that include punk, hardcore, alternative, ballad, soul, reggae, hip-hop and everything else beyond and in-between. Likewise, it is very notable that the list contains currently promoted singles from albums of the said artists, basically, their latest albums. This paper shall proceed to analyse how the radio programming of popular music defines the music. It will have a premise in how it uses the popular music that it selects with “This is our definition of popular music.”

Issues for consideration in this paper shall include inquiry and the argument on details, commentary and conclusions about the nature of the music programmed; a statement of methods and purpose in the listening; connections made in relation of music selection to perception/ creations of intended audience; presentation of commercials and other extra musical broadcast elements; manipulation techniques; among others focussing on the activity concerned with insights into the station’s definition of popular music, as illustrated by your critical consideration of its play list.

The method I have chosen was to log in to the online version of Sky FM choosing Top Hits Music program. I have chosen this program since “top” would always mean current or contemporary hits that are recommended by music companies through their artist and repertoire coordinators, picked by deejays and requested by listeners. Nevertheless, the case may not always mean in that order or the presence of each factor. This paper shall assume that top or current hits are always influenced by several other factors which shall be discovered or presented in this paper.


Pop Music

It is generally understood that popular or pop music changes and evolves with traditions reflecting sub-cultural influences at the same time registering the creativity of artists and social movements. According to Hill (1986) pop music is concerned with two things: audience enjoyment and commercial success, and not so much with category, so that it is quite difficult to dissociate pop with top contemporary music. I have included pop music in this discussion so as to clarify how the play list of Top Hits Music program such as Sky FM has come up with the mentioned above. Nevertheless, as a category, there are a lot of pop music genre that failed when it comes to audience acceptance and commercial success.

Pop and Radio

Hendy (2000) in his close analysis of UK Radio 1 of BBC was able to conclude that there are ways in which the music selection and scheduling processes of a radio station may be used to lead as compared to follow public preference. The study included a small-scale comparative analysis of the “airplay” of certain tracks on Radio 1 as well as its commercial rivals.

An examination of Radio 1’s recent scheduling and programming changes were also noted of which Hendy (2000) argue that there is some support for Radio 1’s rhetorical claims to have changed the British popular music environment in the mid-1990s. Hendy added that the patterns of programming on Radio 1 were consistent with many of the BBC’s stated public-service commitments, despite a popular and commercial perception of pop music being inappropriate for the firm. He suggested that the public-service role was a success, by allowing permeability between the traditionally separate domains of daytime or mainstream and evening or specialist music programmes.

It has previously been suggested that commercial radio is part of the cultural consumption process and not in production (Burnett, 1996). Grenier (1993) likewise stressed that the role of radio was generally under-appreciated in research on popular music production such that focus was on the recording industry as the site for cultural production determination. Negus (1993), however, suggested that “the requirements of radio do not simply limit the music that audiences hear; they directly affect the priorities and repertoires of record companies,” (p 66).

Direct acknowledgment of the role of commercial radio in producing shifts in the organization of the recording industry and altering levels of musical innovation and diversity came from Lopes (1992). Several studies also provided that increased competition with the deregulation of competition, or privatization, yielded ownership consolidation as well as increased music programming standardization (Miller, 1992 and Turner, 1993).

It has also been called “Americanization” of radio involving the adoption of a system based on demographically defined music that,” makes explicit the underlying attitude of all commercial broadcasters: they are not in the business of meeting the demands of a music-loving audience already out there; they are in the business of putting together a radio-listening audience for advertisers and of using music to define their demographic,” (Bennett et al, 1993, p 100).

Radio programming had been viewed to be oriented toward the radio industry to generate more standardized music programming. Those who tend to recording industry needs and their local audience are seen to produce less standardized music programming as Negus (1992) suggested of which programmers get clues from each other also called chart watching.

It has also been suggested by Rothenbuhler (1992) also suggested that focusing on record companies’ promotional agenda could make programmers neglect their listeners although this may in turn promote innovation as record companies always provide for what is considered as new and with the probability to appeal to a large audience. Rothenbuhler and McCourt (1992) also claimed that responsiveness to local audience is presumed to reduce music programming standardization and are in tune with the diverse and changing needs of listeners.

Ahlkvist and Fisher (200) provided the path chart for program standardization as follows:

Chart for program standardization

In a study conducted by Ahlkvist and Fisher (2000), they were able to conclude that “commercial music radio is a segmented industry in which the major companies (group owners) profit primarily by having their stations in large market areas use a generalist programming strategy in which large audiences are targeted with more standardized programming.” Smaller markets on the other hand use specialized approach targeting a niche market for certain type of people and their music, such as hip-hop, or heavy rock genres with specific group of listeners.

This generalized programming was very evident in Sky FM’s Top Hits Music program. It had a play list that included mostly popular artists with their albums or singles currently being promoted and of which no particular music genre is prevalent. To say the least, it includes ballads, dance, soul, heavy rock, alternative, among others in the time I have spent listening. As a person who prefers a certain type of genre, this is easily notable.

One other programming or station having a niche market would play mostly music that are connected or done by a certain color, or race, such as rap or hip hop with samplings of dancehall, jazz or soul, and a mixture or evolution of these genres. Another may only include rock from punk to alternative, to heavy, while another may simply play classical music, and others still, classic hits that have proved to be timeless.


I conclude with the above premise that Sky FM’s Top Hits Music definition of pop or popular music has something to do with popularity or craving and acceptance by a wider listener group, which may or may not be belonging to a certain limited form or genre of music. Its intended audience is the general audience, without any specific choice or genre preference but an audience who may simply want to know what’s new, what’s up, and what is currently accepted and listened to among music consumers.

Noted here are the variety of artists and the genre they represent, as Goo Goo Dolls and Linkin’ Part are easily recognized as rock bands, and Cristina Aguilera or Alicia Keys as soul as soul or ballad artists. The program, too, had commercials or advertisements that promoted the station and its website, as well as paying advertisers targeting more than one age, race, income, or class standing of listeners. This could only mean that this FM station somehow uses manipulation tactics to sway its listeners that it is upbeat, in current with what’s new whatever may be the classification of music, as well as promoting certain albums and artists through its play list.

While the programming considers its audience’ needs, it is also understood to have consulted record companies’ current outings as surely, listeners are interested about what is new with their favorite artists. This style of radio programming definitely helps to define pop music, but I cannot totally agree it is the strongest factor in making a music popular. As history of pop music showed, there is always a new beat, a new sound or melody that struck a chord among listeners of all kinds of genre. One genre may be popular at one time, but another will soon come out totally different from its pop predecessor.


Ahlkvist, Jarl A. and Gene Fisher (2000). “And the hits just keep on coming: Music programming standardization in commercial radio.” Poetics, Volume 27, Issues 5-6, Pages 301-325.

Bennett, T.S. Frith, L. Grossberg, J. Shepard and G. Turner (eds). (1993). Rock and popular music: politics, policies, institutions. Routledge.

Burnett, R. (1996). The global jukebox: The international music industry. New York: Routledge.

Grenier, L. (1993). “Policing French-language music on Canadian radio: the twilight of the popular record?” (In Rock and popular music: politics, policies, institutions, pp 119-141). Routledge.

Hill, D. (1986). Designer Boys and Material Girls: Manufacturing the 80’s Pop Dream. Blandford Press.

Hendy , David (2000). “Pop music radio in the public service: BBC Radio 1 and new music in the 1990s.” Media Culture Society 22, pp. 743-761.

Lopes, P.D. (1992). “Innovation and diversity in the popular music industry, 1969-1990.” American Sociological Review 57, 561-71.

Miller, J. (1992). “From radio libres to radio orivees: The rapid triumph of commercial networks in French local radio.” Media, Culture and Society 14, 261-279.

Negus, K. (1992). Producing pop: Culture and conflict in the popular music industry. Edward Arnold.

Rohthenbuhler, E. and T. McCourt (1992). “Commercial radio and popular music: Process of selection and factors of influence. In Popular music and communication, 97-114 (ed. J. Lull.) Sage.

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