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Nudge, Nudge: Good and bad of radio station playing shorter songs

A Calgary radio station now plays only abbreviated samples of pop songs. Why? Apparently, because our collective attention spans have become shorter than Mike Duffy’s moral code.
Jann Arden, photographed during a Vancouver concert, is scornful of radio stations that are adopting amputated versions of songs. Arden says this is butchering the work of the artists.

A Calgary radio station now plays only abbreviated samples of pop songs. Why? Apparently, because our collective attention spans have become shorter than Mike Duffy’s moral code.

A spokesman for Amp Radio told a journalist: “We’ve got less time [and] our attention spans are shorter. We are observing people with their iPods, playing their favourite songs and skipping them before the end because they get bored.”

The new and improved Amp formula allows the station to play more songs in less time, say 24 an hour, compared to 12.

This is, of course, wonderful news. I don’t know about you, but I find years of watching hilarious cat videos has badly eroded my ability to pay attention.

Gone forever is the summertime pleasure of reading novels on the beach. Even graphic novels require too much effort. Now my literary tastes veer closer to comics. (And truth be told, the three- or four-panel ones, like Blondie and Dilbert, have become too taxing, I prefer the single-panel delights of Family Circus.)

Within the musical community, there’s spirited debate as to whether playing song fragments on the radio is a good thing.

Saltspring Island’s Tom Hooper, a singer/guitarist with the Grapes of Wrath, told me he has no problem with having his songs trimmed for the radio. He figures the typical listener gives a tune 20 seconds before moving on. Hooper says abbreviated airplay ought to be viewed as “promotion” of a song, which might lead to listeners purchasing the tune in its entirety later on.

“Nowadays, with artists all competing for scraps, it’s all about getting any kind of traffic you can,” he said.

The most vocal opponent of Amp’s amputated playlist is Jann Arden, who performs at the Royal Theatre next month. Arden took to social media to vociferously complain the radio station is “massacring” the work of artists.

She notes that musicians have long collaborated with radio stations in trimming tunes, in order to keep songs at 3:30 or less. Typically, a long introduction might be cut, or a fade-out ending shortened. But Arden points out Amp is slashing songs to 60 or 90 seconds (this, for some reason, reminds me of Roy Brown’s old R&B song Butcher Pete Part II: “Butcher Pete’s got a long sharp knife/He starts chopping and don’t know when to stop.”)

And if you think Arden is vexed, the lead singer of April Wine is even more choked.

On Facebook, Myles Goodwyn wrote: “When’s the last time you said to yourself: ‘I’d sure like to hear half of Hey Jude right now?’ Or how about: ‘Listening to half of Bohemian Rhapsody would be nice!’ Or: ‘Folks, how would you like to hear Roller, but only half of it?’ ” (Roller, for those don’t know, is a 1979 April Wine song.)

Opined Goodwyn in his expletive-peppered screed: “Folks, I can’t believe this decision by Maritime mega-media company Newcap Radio. I call it Newcrap Radio.”

I sympathize with the opinions of Arden and Goodwyn (and admire the clever subverting of “Newcap”).

However, I also believe the day of the “great big long song” has come and gone. Why, this is the age of tweets, vines, “top-10-reasons” articles and video compilations of people who fall off their skateboards.

Like the good folk at Amp, I, too, believe we must keep up with the times. The notion of favouring audiences with the “best bits” of music is indeed sage.

And so, to assist broadcasters, I offer my radio edits on classic songs:

• Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter: Just play the bit at 3:02 where Merry Clayton’s voice cracks.

• Beatles, A Day in the Life: Only the part at 2:18 where the alarm clock goes off.

• The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again: Keep Roger Daltrey’s scream at 7:45.

• ZZ Top, Le Grange: Play the part at 0:42 when the guy goes: “Ah how, how, how, how.”

Next week: Why the only essential part of The Wizard of Oz is where the munchkins do that weird little Lollipop Guild dance.