89.3 The Current: Variety in Decline
Lots of people complain that our MPR affiliated music station, 89.3 the Current, lacks the programming variety that it once did. If you have ever tuned in at different points in a day only to hear the exact same Arcade Fire/Hold Steady/Etc song over and over you know the feeling.
Rather than just complaining, Twin Cities resident Clint McMahon recently decided to actually do something about it. He decided to demonstrate statistical evidence that proves that the Current’s programming variety has in fact declined dramatically during the station’s nearly a decade of existence. He did this by building a crawler that automatically logs every song the Current has ever played, using it to build a giant searchable database of song history.
He has posted some preliminary results of the data trend over at http://thecurrenttrends.azurewebsites.net/. The analysis is relatively simple, numbering the total of unique songs the station plays in a given year. So when a new song is played once, it is marked as a unique song – when it is played again it is not logged. Songs are only counted as unique when they have been played in the year the first time. While we should be cautious not to draw too much inference from this dataset, what is fairly obvious is between 2007 and 2009 the number of unique tracks dropped dramatically and has since stayed at the same level. Coincidentally 2010 is the year when the Current officially started automating their playlists, making the consistent level of variety from that time on unsurprising.
Some fair warnings: while it might be tempting to call the current’s level of programming “low” in terms of variety, without any normative comparison data set it is impossible to set a benchmark for what should be considered a “normal” level of variety for a radio station. Secondly, the dramatic drop in the 2014 data should be ignored – since this set measures unique plays, and the year is only about a third of the way through, we can reasonably expect a number of unique plays to be added to the 2014 total in the future.
Still, the 2007 – 2009 drop is reason enough to take this chart seriously. We have long suspected that the Current dramatically reduced the variety in their programming and here is the statistical evidence. This data set also doesn’t include the data from the station’s first two years – back when the DJ’s could select their own playlists. One can assume that the drop in variety from 2004 – 2006 would be even more dramatic.
if you are interested in finding out more about McMahon’s project or helping out he invites you to reach out to him via twitter or at on Twitter or email me at clint dot mcmahon at gmail dot com.