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Hey radio deejays, I want more back announcing!

Laura Steele at KFOXMan, of all the things that commercial radio has dropped over the last decade or so, I miss back announcing the most. Yes, that lost courtesy of actually telling you the name of the song you just heard, and maybe even the one before that too. Apparently in this time-is-money-to-the-nanosecond age of broadcast radio, back announcing just too much to ask. There’s an urban legend out there that Clear Channel offered to back announce songs for money in 2001. I hope that’s not true.

Some deejays still back announce, such as Zeb Norris and Laura Steele at KFOX in San Francisco. But they’re the exception that seems to prove the rule: If you know the song, congratulations; if not, tough.

I first noticed back announcing’s absence some years ago when the 92.7 FM signal in my fair city went to its first dance format. Actually, I think it was called “Dance 92.7” then (it subsequently became “Energy 92.7,” and now it’s KREV).

Anyway, Dance played a lot of fun cardio style tunes, while never back announcing them. But the station did constantly run a track announcing its telephone number and asking for feedback. So I called and asked why they didn’t say the names of the songs being played.

“Honey,” the lady on the other end the line told me, “just call me and I’ll always tell you what’s on the air.”

Now, as a guy in my mid-50s, I have to admit that I like being called “honey” by sultry sounding women. But I also value my life enough not to use my mobile while driving to call some radio station and ask for the name of the last tune. More often than not, that’s what ya gotta do these days to find out what’s playing.

To be fair, it’s gotten a little more sophisticated than that. Lots of stations put up their playlists on their websites; or let you text them for station information or song requests. But, again, I’m not going to text or surf the web on my BlackBerry while I’m on the road.

The place where deejays still back announce, of course, is college and community radio (see my profile of my two favorite community back announcers: Bonnie Simmons and Derk Richardson). At those kind of stations, however, on air staff sometimes go way overboard. Not only do they back announce the songs, they pontificate about them until they’re blue in the face. And then comes the music community calendar about their chosen genre—ten to 15 minutes about every concert, show, and appearance in every auditorium, club, and bar in town. Snooooze.

But I’ll take that any day over the screw-you-if-you-want-to-know-what-we-just-played attitude of commercial radio. C’mon everybody . . . back announce!

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5 Responses to Hey radio deejays, I want more back announcing!

  1. Jennifer Waits March 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    I think back announcing is really important for music discovery. At the college station where I DJ we were trained to back announce and it’s suggested that we don’t go more than 3 or 4 tracks without announcing what was played. It’s really hard for any of us to remember songs more than a few tracks back…so it’s helpful for listeners to hear what was played pretty soon after. We also just implemented a “now playing” feature on the station’s homepage…which I think is great for people who are listening online. It links back to the online playlist for the show (always great to refer back to later when trying to figure out what one heard even if one misses a back announce).

    When I visited a commercial radio station last fall, I noticed that they didn’t back announce every track. They did so selectively and purposefully and behind the scenes I heard them talk about “back selling” particular songs (probably those that were in heavy rotation and maybe not as well known to listeners I’d guess). So, for them, back announcing serves an entirely different purpose.

  2. Zeb Norris March 23, 2010 at 5:23 am #

    Hey, thanks for the mention. But c’mon… you don’t already know the names and artists for every single song played at KFOX? It’s Classic Rock!

    I love telling stories about the music, but I don’t think many people need me to tell them that I played “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones.

    Although I once did get a call from a young sounding guy raving about the song I played and asking what it was. So I filled him in… “Stairway To Heaven”.

    The current thinking is to keep it brief and build forward momentum. So much back announcing has been eliminated, and jocks focus on “teasing” what is coming up in an effort to keep you listening through the spot break.

    I guess everybody has to hear things for the first time at some point.

    I’ll fill you in on a little secret. I actually live in Vermont these days where I program a AAA station. Check it out!

  3. Matthew Lasar March 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    No problem about the mention, Zeb. Truth be told, though, it’s sort of discouraging to hear a deejay come pretty close to boasting that his station’s playlist is so obvious and predictable that there’s no point in back announcing the songs.

    As for the tip on the “current thinking” at FM, yeah . . . that’s why here at RS we mostly listen to college, community, and Internet radio.

    And on top of it all, you don’t even live in KFOX’s San Jose signal area? Great. So the next time we have an earthquake during your stint, what are you going to do, read us updates from Google news? Or will you even know it’s happening?

    Anyway, thanks for the honesty. It is what it is, as they say in Hollywood.

  4. Zeb Norris April 3, 2010 at 6:45 am #


    KFOX isn’t a station I program. I didn’t make the decision to use some voice tracking there. I also didn’t invent the ultra-familiar Classic Rock format. But really, there’s no use in objecting to hits. They’re hits because more people like them than do non-hits. It really is that simple.

    Also, stating the current thinking in programming doesn’t mean I endorse it. I merely thought your readers might like to understand what the rational is.

    If there is an earthquake my tracks will be pre-empted for a live local person. The station is mostly staffed by local folks.

    KUFX uses my work in the absence of such an emergency for a couple of reasons. I have multiple years of heritage as a Bay Area Rock DJ (KSJO and KRQR), so I know what I’m talking about vis a vie the localities, and I get decent ratings.

    The station I DO program is AAA. More like KFOG, although without their reliance on Classic Rock. We DO play deeper tracks and new music. This is my main gig. While I enjoy Classic Rock, AAA is the “format” I am most passionate about.

    Non-com and college radio are great for what they do, but for me, what they do doesn’t include the opportunity to earn a living doing what I love.

    You know, it’s a lot easier to bitch about radio than it is to actually work in it trying to improve it.

    That’s what I do.

  5. Matthew Lasar April 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    Followers of this thread would never guess that it started out with me offering kudos to Zeb Norris and KFOX. Apparently my compliments weren’t unconditional enough. True, it’s easier to bitch about radio than to make it better. It’s also easier to praise radio than to make it better. But most deejays never complain about being praised. Zeb breaks new ground in this area.

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