August 7, 2019

Callout Summer School: Which songs should I test?

Your callout hooks are due in a few hours. You’ve got 30 slots. How can you know the songs you choose to test will have the greatest impact on your station?

It’s not a question you should take lightly.

Consider that for a typical CHR station:

  • Your six most-played currents account for 25% of your station’s weekly programming (including the commercials).
  • Your 20 most-spun songs make up over 50% of your programming.

Percentage of weekly airtime for a typical CHR

With so much of your success riding on so few songs, it’s critical you’re testing the right ones.

As a most basic rule, test the songs you play the most. The more often you play a song—and thereby the higher percentage of your airtime that song occupies—the greater impact that song has on your ratings.  Generally, that means 1) Start your list with your currents; 2) Next, test those recent recurrents that still receive significant spins on the station; 3) Finally, choose new titles to test.

Construct your callout test list to reflect your spin counts


Here are some guidelines for each category:


It can be tempting to skip a week of testing a song that’s been #1 for weeks. “I know it’s going to be #1 again. Why not use that slot for a checkup on a gold title?”

Don’t give in to this temptation! Listeners’ interest in a big hit can change rapidly.

Think about the typical song of the summer: It’s dependably among your top-testing titles all through Labor Day. But in the immortal words of Exposé, Seasons Change. By late September, that reliable #1 has tanked to #27. Listeners have moved on to fall, a new school year, and seek out a new soundtrack for a new season.

Had you skipped testing that song, you would have missed the moment where listeners moved on.  Don’t skip testing a current simply because it’s been big for weeks. Currents can change quickly.



The biggest question clients ask us about compiling their test lists is if they can use callout research to test a recurrent. If you’ve recently moved a song from a current to a stay-current or power recurrent category, it’s likely still getting enough spins to warrant continued weekly testing.

What if you want to use an extra slot to make sure your listeners still like an older recurrent, however? Go for it! Test those titles for a week or two and then drop them if you have the room.

However, don’t compare recurrent and gold titles to currents. If a song has made it to a gold category, it’s already hit a home run with your listeners. Meanwhile, your currents are still working their way around the bases.

More importantly, just because listeners still love an older song doesn’t mean they still want to hear it as often as they did when it was new.


The second biggest question clients ask us is when it’s okay to start testing a new song. How long does it take for enough listeners to have heard the song to get meaningful data about its appeal from your new music research?

Back in the day, many programmers learned it took 100 spins before a song became familiar.

Today, though, that approach is too simplistic. On the one hand, “Old Town Road” went viral on Tik-Tok and Billie Eilish first became big on Spotify long before receiving airplay. On the other hand, if you’re the only station playing a song, 100 spins may be insufficient for exposing your audience to a new song.

For these reasons, we offer these three guidelines instead of spin counts:

1) Have you been playing the song for at least a couple of weeks in all daypartsOvernight and even nighttime exposure no longer reaches most of your station’s cume audience. Unless you’re playing it in middays and afternoons, you’re not really playing it yet.

2) Has a major competitor played the song a lot?  If your competitor is giving significant exposure to a song that you’ve avoided, but you want to take a second look, go ahead and test that song.

3) Has the song become a cultural phenomenon online?  Testing the next “Old Town Road” can tell you if the trend is truly resonating with your audience, or is merely meaningful in its corner of the internet.

Now that we’ve outlined what you should test, our next Callout Summer School class will reveal the one song you should never test in your new music research.



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