Monday, August 26, 2013

An analysis of radio song play frequency for 102.9 WMGK

Recently I had to drive a car with only a radio for music.  After just a few days I was annoyed at the variety, or lack thereof.  I decided to scrape the station's web site for recently played data and see what the long term trends were.

The local classic rock station is 102.9 WMGK.  They have a recently played page which is easily scrapable.  This is contrasted to other classic rock stations that I wanted to scrape for a comparison that only listed the last few songs, or embedded it in flash.

I began scraping on June 26th and August 24th makes 60 days worth of data.

Thanks to my recent post, we know classic rock songs average 4:48 in length.  There are 86,400 minutes in 60 days.  That would be enough time for 18,000 songs.  If we assume only 75% of the time is actually music that's 13,500 songs.  During these 60 days WMGK played 14,286 songs.

I won't speculate about what this means about the actual percentage of music on the air.  Slight changes in average song length have a big effect on numbers.

So, now it is time for the interesting questions.  How many of those were unique songs?  How many songs would be needed to represent 25% or 75% coverage?

In case it isn't clear what I mean by coverage, I mean how many songs represent 10% (or whatever) of the total songs played.  For example, if a station played 1 song 10 times, and then 10 other songs 1 time each, for a total of 20 plays, that 1 top song would give 50% coverage.

So, without further ado here are the stats:


924 unique plays out of 14,286 means about 6.5% of songs were being played for the first time in 60 days.  Honestly, that's not bad.  However, the 50% and 75% coverages are awful.  I have 30k unique songs in my playlist, and that's not even particularly impressive.  Admittedly, they aren't all one genre, but Led Zeppelin has 86 studio songs, all of which would be suitable for a classic rock station.

The key take away is that there are about 300 to 350 songs that get played at least every other day.  Then, they occasionally toss in a deep cut.  There is no middle ground; either a song is played every other day, or once every few months.  I made some (read: over 100) graphs that illustrate this, but for now let's stick to tables.

Want to guess what the most popular bands or songs are?

Top songs:
Plays per 30 daysBandSong
27.5Warren ZevonWerewolves Of London
27CarsJust What I Needed
27Blue Oyster CultBurnin' For You
27Steve Miller BandRock 'n Me
26.5SupertrampThe Logical Song
26.5David BowieChanges
26.5Pink FloydAnother Brick In The Wall
26.5Electric Light OrchestraDo Ya
26J. Geils BandCenterfold
26WarLow Rider

Top Bands:
Plays per 30 daysBand
356.5Rolling Stones
334.5Led Zeppelin
183Pink Floyd
169.5Van Halen
138.5Billy Joel
135.5Tom Petty And The Heartbreaker
135.5Steve Miller Band
135Electric Light Orchestra
107.5Bad Company
105.5Creedence Clearwater Revival
105Elton John

I would not have guessed most of those top songs.  Note how much higher the top three bands are than the rest; there is a second smaller drop off after Foreigner.  Also interesting is that none of the top three bands have a top 10 song.  I would have also guessed Beatles to be the top band.

Let's start looking at the graphs.

Here we have two graphs of bands.  The first is limited to the top 50 and has labels.  The second is all bands, and without labels, just showing the general trend.

These next two graphs really show the tendency to play the same songs.  The first shows how many songs were played various number of times in 60 days.  There are three clusters.  First, songs that were played once or twice.  Then there is a wasteland from 11 to 26 plays in 60 days.  After that, there is the main group of songs that are played every other day.  That tapers off, and leads to the last group of songs which are played almost every day.  Keep in mind that the number of plays compounds the number of songs in that group.  20 songs each played 35 times is a lot more plays than 200 songs played once.
The second graph that illustrates this point is this one of every single song.  It is a bit confusing as there are way too many songs to see individual bars, but you can look at the slopes to see the same three groups as before.  The top songs as the peak on the left.  Then the plateau of the normal roster, followed by a steep drop off to the songs played a few times.  The steep drop off illustrates the lack of a middle ground.

The last general WMGK graph is this one that shows the average daily plays in a given hour of the day.  It shows there is a drop off in the morning hours from 5am - 8am.  The night hours of 12am - 4am are the highest.  It's interesting that there is a clear rise at midnight.  I don't think WMGK has a morning show, so I'm not sure why there is the drop off.  At first I thought they increased ads during peak commuting hours, but there is no drop off in the evening.  My guess is they must provide short news and traffic conditions during those hours.

I made that graph so that I could compare individual bands to see if different bands were being played more at certain times (eg longer songs being relegated to the middle of the night).  Unfortunately, I don't have enough data to really answer this.  A typical band might have a few plays in a given hour for the entire 60 day period.  I suppose I could have increased the buckets to 6 hour windows, but was too lazy to code this.

The rest of the graphs compare WMGK plays to plays for a given band.  I'll post a few here.  All of the graphs are in this gallery on my site.

I had a hard time with the comparisons.  First, there was the fact that some of the titles had subtle differences.  This meant I had to hard code the differences in a hash.  There is also the problem of songs with multiple versions on, this will tend to change the order slightly.  Also, the api only gives play data from the last 6 months.  For most classic rock this doesn't matter, but, eg, David Bowie had a recent album, and thus his graphs are hugely skewed towards it.

Then I couldn't decide which songs to show.  I ended up making two graphs for each band.  One shows all the WMGK plays and the other shows the top 20 songs.  Each has the other's plays on them, but are sorted differently.  I think the graph is more interesting, as it shows which popular songs WMGK doesn't play.  In their defense, some songs simply aren't classic rock.  On the other hand, the WMGK sorted graph shows the sharp drop off when you go from the frequently played songs down to the deep cuts (that aren't that deep).

For example, here are the two Billy Joel graphs:

I think they both show the vast difference of opinion of what good Billy Joel songs are.


A very different Genesis:

Led Zeppelin, showing the drop off:

A not-that-surprising Pink Floyd.  Except, why does WMGK love Young Lust?

Not big Rush fans:

WMGK doesn't seem to know where the Styx CD gets good:

A crime against humanity:

Finally, I used this as an excuse to learn some git and github use.  All the code, text files, and graphs are available there. Here are some files of interest:

Text file of all plays

Text file of all songs, with play counts

Text file of all bands, with play counts

Perl script to scrape WMGK site

Perl script which provides general stats and graphs for all WMGK

Perl script which provides specific stats from one band passed to it on command line


  1. Really good post.

    First, WMGK does have a morning show - it's still DeBella - but they play more music than average (which is good, in a sense, because he is intolerable).

    Each of the top 3 artists has their own "feature" where they play "deep" tracks - Breakfast with the Beatles, Jonesing for the Stones, and Get the Led Out. This also explains why those bands have so many songs with 1 play.

    Its kind of surprising at the lack of variety given the immense back catalogs of artists. From the data here, it certainly seems like they're just lazy and on cruise control, so I was trying to think up some reasons. This of course is largely speculative, but what do you think the distribution of listeners is? It could be something like 1/3 an hour/day (commuters), 1/3 all day (job sites, stores), 1/3 flipping through. So perhaps even though some songs get played every other day, they are played at different times to capture these demos? Then again I really don't think they're that smart. My second reasoning was perhaps the "key" songs from the top artists are cheaper from a royalties perspective.

    I agree there are many travesties on this list. Rush's song is called "The Spirit of Radio" for crying out loud and got no plays. We Didn't Start the Fire got no plays? As for Young Lust it's one of a few rare "catchy hook" Floyd songs. I know it's one of my mom's favorites.

    I think just on the whole terrestrial radio only exists because of it's ubiquitous (everything has an FM dial) and the broadcast towers are long since paid off. They know they'll never win listeners back from Satellite or Internet radio. So it does essentially become dumbed down to the cheapest/easiest/simplest operation possible.

    1. I really am at a loss for why they are so focused on a so few songs. While I can certainly understand not wanting to play 10 minute Yes songs, consider the other Led Zeppelin graph.

      Communications Breakdown, and Good Times, Bad Times are both about 2:30, and clearly quite popular. They seem like ideal radio songs.

      I thought the same thing about Spirit of Radio, although it is rather critical of radio.

      For breakdown of listeners I'd replace flipping through with people listening in social situations. I know it's my family's goto station for every gathering. Of those groups commuters are probably the most fickle (I know I'm constantly scanning the radio for anything good). Workers and parties are probably not going to change the station much. Still, there is no way I could listen to 102.9 playing the same 300 songs every day at work for months and then years.

      I though perhaps they only play totally 'safe' songs. That is, songs that they feel no classic rock fan would not like. Staying with Led Zeppelin, Dazed and Confused and Babe I'm Going to Leave You are quite popular on, but have a kind of blues feel that I could see some classic rock fans not liking. Even if 70% of listeners would be happy to hear them, it could cause others to not listen. And, since everyone probably has a pet peeve, playing more variety could drive lots of people.

      However, to counter that, look to the aforementioned Communications Breakdown, which I can't imagine being any more polarizing than Kashmir.

      Your royalties idea is an interesting possibility. I don't think it's that likely, but it would certainly explain data well.

  2. Follow up post idea: Find the peak chart position and see if there is any correlation. Find other "classic rock" songs which were Top 10 but do not appear on this playlist.

  3. I wonder how the distribution would fall now, since in recent years they've curtailed 70s album rock in favor of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi.