Those of us old enough to remember listening to terrestrial radio for hours on end probably have a clutch of songs in our memories that we know, but we don’t know–songs that could be hummed on demand, and maybe even sung for a bar or two, but that are effectively no-name tracks thanks to their being played, sometimes even in heavy rotation, but not named by the DJs breaking up the time between music and commercials. The trend away from what was called “back-announcing” in DJ parlance was pushed along by higher-ups who wanted to minimize “clutter”—basically anything that would cause listeners to flip away from the music being played, which for some reason included basic information like the titles and the artists of the songs that had just been spun and not things like that annoying squeaky-voiced ad for Raceway Park. (Ah, management!) But now back-announcing seems to be back in vogue—at least at the stations owned by CBS Radio, which has top-40 station 92.3 Now, oldies bastion CBS-FM and the horribly named “Fresh” in its local pocket.
Part of the reason higher-ups support this shift, aside from it being pretty obvious to anyone who ever listened to the radio and got frustrated about not knowing what they had heard and liked? The ever-vanishing music-retail landscape!
“At one point in our culture there were well-schooled retailers who could help people figure out what that song was, because they wanted to buy it,” said Greg Thompson, executive vice president for marketing and promotion at EMI Music. “In this day and age that doesn’t exist.”
What were the songs you most remember as knowing, but not knowing? When In Rome’s “The Promise” would top my list—I didn’t realize what it was called until some 12 years after its initial release, when I saw its video on
VH1 Classic’s MTV2’s “Every Video We Have From A To Z” marathon, a miraculous piece of music-video programming that happened in the earliest days of 2000.
Now I use either Shazam (portable! surprisingly deep in its knowledge!) or lyric-Googling to find out the titles and artists of ambient songs I’ve enjoyed. But, you know, this is a good innovation for the 99.9% of people who are not as obsessive as I am!