If Radio Charts Were Like the Old Days

In a discussion last week, a commenter posted an often-repeated observation that Southern Gospel simply doesn’t have the mega-hits it used to have. This post originated as a comment, but ended up being so long that it turned into a post of its own.

It is true that songs fly up and down the charts far faster than they did twenty years ago. Back in the day, “I Can Pray” would have been #1 for 6 months or a year, and everyone in our genre would have heard it many times before its run was done. That song, about six years ago, was the last song to even make it for TWO months!

Let’s just suppose that it had stayed #1 for about six months. What were the next five #1s?

September 2007: A Greater Yes – Whisnants
October 2007: Last Night – Karen Peck & New River
November 2007: If You Only Knew – Inspirations
December 2007: We Have a Savior – Mike and Kelly Bowling
January 2008: Get Away, Jordan – Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

Now “Last Night” is one of those songs that would probably have also hit #1. Take that chart back 20 years earlier, and I wouldn’t be surprised to have seen “I Can Pray” rule for about six months, and “Last Night” take a couple of months after that.

Or take 2011. “The Shepherd’s Point of View,” which is probably the single strongest song the McKameys have sent to radio in the last half-dozen or maybe dozen years, would have probably stayed #1 from December 2010 through April or May 2011. Then either “Never Walk Alone” or “Love Came Calling” (but not both) would have been #1 for two or three months. Then “Celebrate Me Home” would probably have ruled from July, when it hit #1, through October or November.

It has been correctly observed that #1 hits don’t have the impact they used to have. However, I’m inclined to think that the cause assigned—inferior songs—is incorrect. I lean toward the position that the strong songs we do have disappear from the charts before they’ve been at the top long enough to really establish themselves in the public consciousness.

Once a song has hit #1, most radio DJs will quit charting the song, to make room for the next #1. This has been par for the course for about fifteen years. But is this what is actually best for the songs, the groups, radio, and the genre? Perhaps the jury is out, but I’m inclined to think that the verdict will not be in the affirmative.

Southern Gospel radio is strongest when its DJs play the strongest songs—even if the strongest, most-played song also happened to be the strongest song last month.

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11 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Could it also be affected by how often groups are pushing out new material?

    • Back then, groups would do 2-3 albums per year. Now it’s one album every 18-20 months.

  2. There are a whole lot more groups out there generating many more songs for air play consideration than in the years past when songs stayed at number one for multiple months—and a lot more radio promoters working those songs. I agree that it is not about inferior songs at all. There were great songs and not so great ones back then, just like there are now. I do think we are all kidding ourselves if we try to downplay the importance of a number one song. A lot of money, time, and attention is given in the attempt to get a song to that coveted spot. So, while no group is going to come right out and admit that they are out there to score the number ones (and most are not making that their sole focus, of course), once they’ve gotten a number one with a song, the goal is to get the next one, so the push shifts to the next single more rapidly than before, especially knowing so many other groups are nipping at their heels to get to that top spot the next month. To answer your question, I do think that radio should never play a song just because it’s been released to them to do so. I agree that radio should play their strongest material, keep it current, and offer a great balance of the best of today’s hits wtih a smattering of classics thrown in, but definitely the best of whatever they play. And as a personal side note, I particularly love it when a group hits with that signature song like Midnight Cry or Four Days Late or God On The Mountain. I think the groups of the future will perhaps find it harder to be recognized as legitimate successes without that well-defined career-making signature song. Not impossible, but for so long it has been that signature song that has sort of been the stamp of approval on a group. We tend to think of a big song as what has put certain groups on the map, so to speak. So, without that, who has or hasn’t made the leap into the upper echelon of groups may be harder to distinguish as time passes–but that may be a topic for another day! LOL

  3. Another issue is that our society today has a MUCH shorter attention span than it did 10, 20, 30 years ago. Everything is “newer, better, faster, NOW!”. A song may only stay at number one for a month because people are already moving on to the next big thing.

    Even as recently as the late 90’s, if people wanted the most recent song from an artist, they had to get a physical copy. If the item wasn’t in the store, it was either ordered by the store on a standard of 7-10 days, or from the artist themselves with a turnaround time of 2-4 weeks. That means for almost a ubmonth’s time, the radio was possibly the only way a listener could hear a song until they received their own copy (either that, or pop a tape in the stereo and hope to record it off the air). Nowadays, if you hear a song you like on the radio, you pull out your smart phone, do a quick search, and you have the entire album in your hand in a matter of minutes. There is no waiting. Why would you call and request a specific song on the radio when you can pull it up on demand with a few taps on a touchscreen?

    Not only that, but with the advent of Pandora, iHeartRadio, etc., people can “create” their own radio stations based on their personal preferences. Why listen to radio, where you’ll be more likely to hear songs you don’t like, when you can listen to a majority of your favorite songs with a few clicks?

    With everything being “on demand” in some form, the monthly radio chart is basically obsolete. Within a month’s time, people’s attention spans have heard the “top song” of the month and have moved on to several more.

    • Ha, I agree, I almost never listen to the radio unless it’s playing a sermon or some other type of broadcast. 🙂

  4. It’s not that a number one song isn’t important to Artist or Record Companies ! Number one songs in Sounthern Gospel doesn’t make the impact it did 20 years ago ! This might sound kind of mean but I really don’t mean it that way ! There are artist that doesn’t need a number one song or a top 10 to be a force in the industry ! There are some artist that working the radio and and getting songs on the charts is all they got to offer to the industry ! I still say if you want to see how strong an Artist is with all there number ones book them on a 50/50 split at 20 dollars a ticket after expenses are taken from the top and that will let you know quick ! Lol let me know how many you can find that will do it ! There are some that will but not many ! Numbers don’t lie !

  5. The whole world has changed in 20 years in SG, and it’s all attributed to one thing – technology. I started with weekly gospel music show in 1989 on radio – at that time we got 45’s from the record companies – they were still “record” companies then even though most sales were on cassette. There was a BIG difference in production quality from a RiverSong release versus a WindChime release. Now with the use of computers and the lower costs in making a passable recording – the differences are not as vast to the typical ear. With improved cameras for consumers it’s much easier for the average Joe to get a decent looking project that sounds decent for a whole lot less cost – which, coupled with a glut in the market of groups and the resulting decreasing profit margin for record companies, has leveled the playing field (too much in my opinion)

    I started promoting concerts in 1991. At that time I used the Singing News radio chart not only as a guide to what was popular to play on the radio but also as a reference tool as to what groups I might want to consider having in the future. In 2012 – the Singing News radio chart is one of the few pages of Singing News I almost NEVER look at. It’s just inconsequential in my view. It’s not an accurate reflection of who is popular or what is popular. With the increase of satellite radio, internet radio stations, good stations broadcasting world-wide, etc. – I just don’t think, by and large, that the radio chart is a measure of much of anything beyond who are the good radio promoters. You can literally buy a top 10 song with a certain level of quality product and the right promoter. When I do glance at the chart for a passing glance I spend most of my time saying “who are they?” and “really??”. I don’t intend that to be negative – it’s just my view on it.

    With a glut of groups, and the resulting glut of songs, and the levelled playing field – there are very few “hits” in SG music. It wasn’t too many years ago that I could name the song of the year for the past several years. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the song of the year for the past 3 years without looking it up.

    With the advent of the internet and so much information avaialble so fast, there is very little drama (except on the buses themselves) and excitement about things. It used to be that a concert was an “event”. Now, I just look it up on the internet and see when I can see another concert soon and I just say “oh well, I missed this one, I’ll catch the next one”.

    Just a few random thoughts.

  6. There Rose A Lamb? Who remembers the early ’90s when that was played over and over?

    Also, for those that listened to CCM… 4Him’s Basics of Life and Where There is Faith? Both of those played for YEARS on the radio constantly…

    It seems like songs are only hits for a few months now and gone….

  7. “I can pray” in my opinion is the only true #1 song to come along this decade. Too many politics in charting these days and not actual radio play.

    • I respectfully but heartily disagree. Here are a few that are most indisputably among the others that are mega-hits and signature songs now:

      Mar – Apr 2000: He Said-Gold City
      May – Jul 2000: Through The Fire-Crabb Family
      Jun 2002: I Rest My Case At The Cross-Perrys
      July 2004: I Wish I Could Have Been There-Perrys
      Sep 2004: Jerusalem-Hoppers
      Feb 2005: I Know I’m Going There-Kingdom Heirs
      July 2005: As Long as I Got King Jesus-Brian Free & Assurance
      Feb 2006: He Saw it All-Booth Brothers
      October 2007: Last Night – Karen Peck & New River
      May 2008: The Broken Ones—Talley Trio

  8. Back in the day, as my son would say, most all the groups would be singing the same hit songs. The group who did it best ended up with a #1 song. By most of the groups singing the most popular songs the concert goers would learn all the songs being sung. In today’s world not many songs are being learned by the concert goers, as each group does their on thing.