Entries in radio (5)


A reversal: more KGLT changes for David

I'd actually gotten used to the idea that KGLT's role in my life was on the downswing. I had received the very clear message that my opportunities there were incredibly limited and there was no well-defined hope on the horizon. I was continuing my Loud Rock Director activities and staying well-informed about new releases but was only scheduled to do two shows before the end of 2012, each of those as a sub for AK on Friday night.

Just like that, it's changed (again). I received word on Friday that Justin Adams, who alternates with AK on Fridays at 9pm, is leaving KGLT. The one time slot where I can do my show suddenly came available and was offered to me. It's effectively a no-brainer. I said, "Yes".

So, starting Friday, November 2nd, the "Heavy" show is back on the air, 9pm to midnight (Mountain time, like Denver), every other week. I'll actually have three weeks in a row starting on the 2nd, because I'm scheduled to sub on the 9th. I'm hoping that will very quickly get me back to full engagement at KGLT. I'll be able to play the new stuff shortly after it's released and can once again really get involved in maintaining the Loud Rock library.

I'm hoping a few of you will join me as I get the show back in full swing.


Loud Rock at KGLT - playlist analysis and demographics

Ever since I began doing my radio show at KGLT, I've been collecting playlist data and coalescing it into a spreadsheet. I've been interested in analyzing that data to answer some questions about my listening and playing habits. Early on, I just didn't have enough data to evaluate, then life got busy and I didn't have time. Now that my steady show at KGLT is no longer, I wanted to analyze the data (over a year's worth) and see what it tells me.

I've often made the claim that a "lot" of the bands I listen to are from Finland and Sweden, however, I've never quantified that. That's one area I wanted to investigate using my KGLT playlist data. I also wanted to look at my data in the context of some of the "metal demographics" maps that are out on the web. They typically show Scandinavia, especially Finland and Sweden as contributing a disproportionate amount of metal to the world per capita (see Demographics of Metal). Of course, my analysis will only be one view of the problem, specific to the music I play at KGLT, but I still think it's interesting to analyze it in the context of the bigger picture.

My data is arranged to show every band I've ever played at KGLT and how many times I've played them. The simplest version of the spreadsheet sorts that data from most often played (#1 Nightwish, #2 Amaranthe) down to all the bands I've only played once. Right off the bat, I see hints of what I already suspected: in the top 10 most played bands, 3 are from Finland and 3 are from the United States. However, Sweden only has one band in the top 10. Looking at the top 20, Finland and Sweden each show up 4 times but the US is there 5 times. So, at the simplest level, yes, I do play a lot of Finnish and Swedish bands, but not at any obvious cost to the US.

However, the US starts showing up in heavy numbers in slots 21 and below, quickly establishing a higher play count overall than even Sweden and Finland combined. In fact, the US swamps everyone else with 462 plays, with Finland the next closest at 86 and Sweden following at 77. That, however, feels a bit distorted to me. I'd spent many months reviewing the entire KGLT Loud Rock CD collection and had played any band that got my attention. That collection is fairly weak in imports, so the pool I had to pull from was a bit skewed against Finland and Sweden. Many of the bands during that library review period I only played once. With that in mind, I decided to trim down the data set and regenerate my charts. I ended up with charts just like the original except restricted to 3 or more plays, 6 or more plays and 8 or more plays. Only the most restrictive (8 or more plays) chart levels the tables, showing Finland in the #1 spot followed by the US and then Sweden, but all in comparable numbers. Clearly, when push comes to shove, the music I like to play the most is, in fact, biased towards Finland and Sweden.

I also have claimed that I lean toward new music, playing lots of recent releases and bands from the 1990s and 2000s. To test those claims, I rearranged the data to look at number of plays per year the band was formed. I was pleased to see the 669 of the songs I played were from bands formed in 1990 or later. Only 223 of the plays are from bands formed prior to 1990. Being disappointed by the prevalence of "Classic Rock" stations and the dearth of new music on the radio, I was happy to see that I've been doing my part to reveal all the recently released heavy music out there in the world.

Having confirmed my suspicions at a very high level, I started to wonder how that relates to the population size that's generating these bands. I was highly suspicious that the main reason the US dominates the overall list is based on population size. I've seen the "metal demographics" maps and know how small the Swedish and Finnish populations are compared to the US. In addition, given my own knowledge of variation in metal style between states here in the US, and relative populations, I was curious about how things would change if I treated states as comparable to countries elsewhere in the world.

The first chart I generated considering states as countries showed something that won't shock anyone. The entity that generates the most plays on KGLT is California, immediately followed by Finland, Sweden and then the state of New York. Also, as no surprise to anyone, England and Germany land in the 5 and 6 slots. The next 10 are mostly states, including a number that I would have guessed (MassachusettsFloridaGeorgia and Texas). I don't know that I'd have guessed New Jersey and Illinois would be this high in the list, but Washington makes sense considering Seattle's contributions to music. Those of you outside the US will be pleased to see Canada at #8, the Netherlands at #12 and Australia at #16, immediately followed by NorwayItaly and Greece.

I was still a little surprised to see California dominating the list but once again remembered all those single-play bands from my library review efforts. We know that California, especially the southern part of the state, churns out a ton of bands, so it might still be simply the result of excess availability relative to imports. With that in mind, I decided to try looking at bands with higher numbers of plays. Even at 3 plays, the playing field levels quite a bit, with California leading at 88 but Finland in the same ballpark (73) and Sweden at 56. Being even more restrictive and looking at 5 plays or more pulls Finland into the lead at 63, with California at 61 and Sweden at 44.


I also wanted to look at the cities spawning most of these bands. Now, at this point my data is a little less robust, since the Wikipedia, where I gathered band information, is a bit spotty on how it describes where bands are from. Places like New York City and Los Angeles often are credited for bands that were formed in a borough or nearby city. Even so, I think the table is interesting, keeping in mind that Los Angeles and New York City probably have higher numbers than reality. It's definitely interesting to see Gothenburg as contributing the second largest number of plays and Helsinki in the #4 spot (note I'm skipping the true #1 in the list which is "undetermined").

With all those questions answered, I still had a nagging curiosity. How much do the large populations of California, Germany and England help them generate large numbers of playable bands (for my show). So, I made one more table, scaling the number of plays by the population of the state or country.It's impressive that California has so many plays that it still lands in the #4 spot despite its large population. Sure enough, Finland and Sweden, with their smaller populations and large number of plays land in the #2 and #3 spots, but what about #1? I had to laugh when I saw it. I love Tyr and a played them a number of times, but they had never generated an entry anywhere near the top of my tables before this. Thanks to the tiny population of the Faroe Islands, however, it lands in the #1 slot. Basically, I can conclude that the Faroe Islands, per capita, are the most effective country for generating music I like to play on the radio. Go Faroes and Go Tyr!!

In the end, the data simply reinforces what I already know. I love Finnish and Swedish metal. Those two countries are highly efficient at creating new bands that I like, and at the same time generate a wide variety of sub-styles within the metal umbrella. The United States and California, where I was born and raised, clearly generate a ton of listenable heavy music, and I should not overlook many parts of the US for their contributions to the overall metal pool. Sadly, Montana does not even appear in the data. Perhaps I can take small solace in knowing that Oregon does not appear in the data either, and Portland is currently a lively music center. So there's always a chance I just didn't get around to playing that one metal gem from Montana.


Director of Loud Rock!

We all have had an opportunity drop out of the sky, completely unexpected. Usually, looking back later in life we see those opportunities as the key building blocks to what differentiates us. Well, a couple weeks ago, I ran into another of those opportunities. Jim Kehoe, the music director at KGLT bumped into me in the studio while I was prepping my show. Out of the blue, he said, "Hey, how'd you like to take over as Loud Rock Director?". The student who had previously handled loud rock wrapped up her studies at MSU this term and was moving on to other things. It sure sounded really cool and important but, beneath the surface, Jim's question made a ton of sense.

This summer, KGLT is down to only one DJ that focuses on loud rock. You're reading his words right now. There are definitely other DJs that play loud rock but their shows tend to mix things up more, while my show is 99% based on the content of KGLT's "Loud Rock" drawers and my own collection. Our loud rock broadcasting took a significant hit when Cara Paul and Jodi Metzler left at the end of the Spring term. I'm not sure there's anyone else that even makes sense at the moment, so Jim knew what he was doing.

So, this wasn't exactly the result of an exhaustive talent search; perhaps this is meaningless, one of those "little" titles that we take on that has no real significance. Although I've joked about getting business cards made, or many a T-shirt, I probably will refrain for now. However, there definitely is substance to this opportunity and it will immediately impact my radio show, as well as any loud rock that's played at KGLT.

Y'see, now I'm the guy deciding what gets added to our loud rock collection and what isn't. I'm the one that interacts with the radio promoters for the various loud rock labels, and I'm the guy they ask to play their current "high priority" releases. No longer do I have to questions why certain albums never make it into the KGLT collection. If it's not there, it's my fault and I'm happy to take on the responsibility of keeping us well stocked. I also need to prepare weekly Top-10 Loud Rock reports for the College Music Journal (CMJ). That way they know what we've got in "heavy rotation" even if that's currently limited to my biweekly show.

There's more to it than that. I've been thinking lately the only real way to give metal and other heavy music a fair shake here in Bozeman is take the bull by the horns and actually make it available, on the radio, in the clubs, etc. I've been talking to some of my friends about forming some type of Heavy support group here in Bozeman, one that can help make sure that Heavy bands aren't missing opportunities or being overlooked. I see this opportunity at KGLT as a chance to really make sure we're shining a bright spotlight on great Heavy music.

You might also think I'd be feeling a bit lonely these days, the lonely loud rock guy amidst an ocean of country, blues, Americana, bluegrass, electronica, hip hop, jazz, etc. When Cara and Jodi left, I benefitted because my biweekly show shifted from midnight on Fridays to 9pm on Saturdays. That made my sleep cycle a lot more manageable, but it meant I was no longer part of a solid block of loud rock DJs (Cara at 6pm, Adam Kish at 9pm and yours truly at midnight. It also means I no longer have the chance to hang out with Adam at the end of his show, talking Iron MaidenThin Lizzy and heavy music in general.

Having told you that, you're probably asking yourself, "Why aren't you lonely, David?". On the surface I've got some good reasons to be lonely but that's before you factor in my good friend and fellow guitarist, Jake Quittschreiber. Thanks to a perfect bit of timing on Jake's part, I've got more company in KGLT loud rock than ever before. Jake is taking the summer DJ apprentice class and has been spending time with me on my show. Much like Adam did for me, I was quick to get Jake on mic and behind the console. It's always better to dive in and not think/worry too much about being on the air. Jake's a star student and has added fun and excitement to my last few shows. Better yet, Jake gives me even more motivation in my new role as Loud Rock Director.

Now I'm not just populating the loud rock library for myself, I'm also doing it for Jake. I fully expect Jake to take over his own radio show after he finishes the apprentice class. When that happens, there'll be two of us loud rock DJs and that much more reason for a well-stocked collection. Better yet, Jake's taste overlaps quite a bit with mine, but he also covers areas of metal that supplement my own tastes. He loves death metal and knows that genre way better than I do. Because of that, my first week as Loud Rock Director was incredibly rewarding. Jake and I worked together to identify CDs we wanted to review and then sat together in the studio annex, reviewing songs together. Jake will join me for my show again next Saturday, and through our collaboration, around two thirds of the show will be new loud rock releases. It will also be fun because it truly was a joint effort to prepare it and I'm hoping we'll be able to present the show to all of you as a joint effort.

I am also optimistic and excited that this may just be the beginning for Jake and me. I'm really looking forward to working closely with him to raise the Heavy bar at KGLT, as well as promote heavier music in Bozeman. I also see my Loud Rock Director role as an opportunity to get you, the audience, more involved in the show. Both Jake and I believe strongly in the steady flow of new music, the ever-changing evolution that keeps us exposed to new ideas and experiences. We both like playing new music because we're sharing songs and bands with our audience that perhaps would otherwise go unnoticed. On the flip side, I hope that there will be times when you share new music with us. Comment here on the blog or send me a message and tell me about new musical discoveries you've made in the land of Heavy. Now I'm the guy who's responsible for getting those into KGLT's library...


KGLT radio: biweekly routine of a late-night DJ

My life as a DJ started mostly on a whim. It just happened that I learned of KGLT's apprentice class about two weeks for the summer session started. The timing was perfect; there was no opportunity to think too hard before committing. Because of that, I really didn't have a motive or justification for becoming a DJ. It was a chance occurrence, an interesting opportunity that I couldn't pass up.

Looking back now, however, there are a few clear reasons that I continue to DJ at KGLT despite the hours of preparation and the late nights in the studio. To better express those benefits, I need to describe my biweekly routing as I prepare for and then deliver my show.

The cycle begins when I decide on a theme for the show. Sometimes that's easy, when my show is near Halloween or Christmas. Other times, I focus on favorite guitarists or bands that have influenced me. Some weeks I just decide to play whatever feels right. That said, in this article I want to describe an approach that has kept me going for months worth of shows. KGLT has their CDs and LPs filed in different categories, much like a public library. There's an impressive array of rock, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, etc. There's also a small plastic bin for each style that houses the new releases. My category of choice is "Loud Rock" encompassing all sub genres of metal, plus some punk and heavier alternative bands. Although I have a good collection of music, KGLT's library includes a large number of bands and albums that I've never heard of. After the first few months when I was drawing mostly from my own collection, I reached a point where I needed to mix in a generous helping of new material. That's where my goal began...

I decided to make my way through every loud rock CD at KGLT and evaluate each one for use on my show. My goal was to accomplish that fairly quickly, making "Yay" or "Nay" decisions efficiently. That way I can evaluate enough albums in two weeks to prepare a show entirely out of KGLT material. The key step for me is spending 3-5 hours at KGLT previewing one CD after another. The first level of filtering is always easy. I'll listen to the beginning of a few songs, if any of them grab me, then I jump into the middle of a song, listen to some vocals and try to find a hook that gets my attention. The easy "Nay" decisions for me are songs that fail my "melodic" criterion. Generally that means musical forms with only guttural vocals (screams and growls) get nixed quickly, and that tends to remove about 50% of the albums I review with only a minute or two of review on each. Sometimes things bog down a bit, when I run across bands like In Flames, Amaranthe or the SLoT, where gutturals are used in combination with melodic vocals. I'm typically happy with a balanced approach of that sort, but quick scanning can sometimes give the wrong impression, since songs will often use gutturals at the beginning of a song and shift to melodies in the hook. Bands like that can often take more like 3-5 minutes. Melodic death metal can fool me in the opposite direction: the instrumental parts at the beginning of each song will sound great, sometimes reminiscent of heavier power metal bands, but when the guttural vocals kick in I realize the band is not in my wheelhouse.

Once a band or album makes it onto my "keeper" list, then it's a matter of picking a song. Sometimes I'll scan through the album in search of something that grabs me. Sometimes I'll look in iTunes for songs that have gotten a lot of listens or read through the band's Wikipedia entry to see if any songs played a key role in their success. Having picked one or a few potential songs, then I listen and pin down the song for my set. I keep track of band name, album, song title, track number and track duration in a form that I can quickly migrate into a spreadsheet.

After I've collected roughly enough songs for a full 3-hour show, I pull my data entries into a spreadsheet and start arranging my show. There are some restrictions that I need to factor into the playlist:

At the top of each hour, we have to announce the station ID and thank that hour's underwriters
Two other times during the hour we need to make public service announcements (PSAs) and play promotional clips
Factoring all that in, I've found that around 2 hours and 42 minutes worth of songs is what I need for a full show, roughly 54 minutes for each hour. Using that knowledge, I start arrange the songs in an order that works for my mood, trying to create three clearly defined blocks of around 54 minutes each. Within those blocks I try to find three groupings of 3-5 songs each, such that I have a PSA/promo slot around 20-25 minutes after the hour and another one at 35-40 minutes after the hour. I add some additional annotations to the spreadsheet to make the breaks stand out and make it easy for me to find the song, whether it's on my own (burned) CD or on one of KGLT's CDs. If I'm bringing any material from my iTunes collection, I burn those songs to 2 sets of identical discs. That allows me to segue between songs, even if I decide at show time to reorder some songs or skip others.

Once I've prepared my playlist spreadsheet, burned any discs from my personal collection and collected any of my own CDs that I have readily available, then I set everything aside until its time for my show. Typically I reach the KGLT studio around 11:30pm. Most nights, Adam (Kish) is in the studio when I get there. Before I do anything else, I go through the new Loud Rock bin and the Loud Rock drawers, pulling any CDs I need for my show. I stack the CDs in the order I plan to play them, inserting my own CDs as needed. After that I chill for awhile and catch up with Adam. We often talk about metal, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, etc. It's always fun talking to someone else that loves heavy music, has eclectic taste and likes talking about it.

Then, somewhere around 11:55pm, Adam starts playing his last song of the night. He clears out his gear and CDs and he submits his playlist (more on that shortly). Then I move my stuff into place, near the 3 CD players and the console. I fill out some paperwork needed from all DJs as part of having a show at KGLT and put the first two CDs I plan to play in the empty players (Adam's last song is typically in one of the players). I get the songs queued up, so that I'm ready to go. Usually Adam's last song ends right around the top of the hour and I'm on my way.

In the last minute before my show, I switch to headphones and activate the mic but leave it potted down (i.e. the gain is all the way off). I also bring up the level on the channel for my first song, usually around -5 dB on the board. Then, just as Adam's song is dying away I bring up the mic gain, read off the station ID, announce the weekend weather and thank the underwriters. The weather information is available on the main screen of the in-studio computer (a Windows PC); the underwriter info is displayed on the side screen of the same computer. At the end of my announcements I hit the play button on the console and start the music.

The console makes it easy to listen to the beginning of each song prior to playing it, using the Cue channel. So, as one song is playing, I'm listening to the next one and deciding whether a slow crossover fade is in order or the next song needs to kick off on a dime. I segue my way through the first block of 3-5 songs, while taking care of another KGLT DJ responsibility: entering band names, album names, song titles and "new or not?" into the playlist app on the studio PC. We need to track all the songs we play so that the radio station pays appropriate royalties. Those same playlists are also posted on KGLT's website. Then, as I'm playing the last song before a PSA break, I once again switch to headphones, get the mic ready and wait for the song to tail off. Then I read the PSAs, announce the last block's songs and fire off the next song.
The pattern repeats for my next block of songs, although perhaps this time I'll use prerecorded PSAs and promos, which are accessed on the studio PC. I still announce the prior block's songs myself and then kick of the last block of the hour, which takes me back to the top of the hour. At that point, my routine is very similar to the beginning of my show (station ID, announce underwriters) but I don't do the weather, and I do announce the songs from the previous block. That second hour and the third hour are very similar except as my show winds down after the third hour.

At the end of my show, no one else is coming in until 6am. As a result, less than a minute before my last song ends, I cue up SAM, the computerized DJ and crossfade at an opportune moment. SAM automatically cycles through songs, plays PSAs and promos, and carries over until the morning DJ comes in at 6am. SAM uses voice synthesis, and she sounds a little strange, but she does a good job filling time and she's happy to tell you that she plays "some smooth jazz". Once SAM is running, I refile all of the KGLT CDs I used. I also burn copies of my show to CD to take home (that way Nancy can hear my show without staying up). Then it's time to turn off all non-essential lights, back down the studio volume and the two other speaker systems in the facility, pack my bags and go home.

It's often tough to get to sleep after my show. I'm usually pretty amped. Often, as I'm trying to settle I start having ideas for my next show. And thus, the cycle repeats itself.


Pandora's pitfalls

Recently, while digging through the business news, I ran into this article about Pandora's earnings shortfall: Pandora's earnings miss. Those of you that caught my previous articles about digital streaming's unfulfilled promise and digital vs. analog search know that I have been disappointed in the past by Pandora and other streaming services. The article about Pandora's earnings announcement inspired me to dig deeper into Pandora and whether my criticism is justified.

First, a disclaimer: I submitted Scattershock's album, Wrong Train, to Pandora shortly after we completed it. Within a short period of time we received a rejection letter, with the message, "Thank you for your submission to Pandora's Music Genome Project. We wish we could say otherwise, but we have decided that this submission does not fit our collection needs at this time."

Having attended UCSF for my graduate studies and received a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Pandora's use of the term "Music Genome Project" has often nagged at me. The concept of mapping musical forms by a defined set of criteria and using that mapping to establish relationships between artists is intriguing. What bugged me, though, was that unlike the Human Genome Project, Pandora's project is mostly subjective, based on qualitative assessment of each artist's songs. Here I have excerpted the goals of the Human Genome Project (courtesy of the HGP website):

 (The Human Genome Project's) goals were to

  • identify all the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA
  • determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA
  • store this information in databases
  • improve tools for data analysis
  • transfer related technologies to the private sector
  • address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project

 Those goals are clear and are all-encompassing. The first bullet point clearly states the goal includes ALL of the genes in human DNA. Imagine if the HGP had instead opted to catalog only some of the genes? Would the resulting data be anywhere near as scientifically useful? Absolutely not. Partial data in this case would lead to skewed conclusions and lack of confidence.

So then, what does that mean for Pandora? Well, they've opted to call their efforts the "Music Genome Project", with an obvious tip of the hat to the HGP. But, we know that they chose to leave Scattershock out of their database. And that's where the article about Pandora's earnings left me with this nagging question. Is there a reason that Pandora isn't simply blowing everyone's mind and making money hand over foot? There are clearly some fundamental business reasons why the streaming business may not prove successful for anyone. I'm not here to dig deeply into that question. However, I am interested in the question, "Why are some digital music services more valuable to me than others."

As a DJ (at KGLT) and a guy with a huge appetite for new, heavy music, I'm looking for ways to discover the wide variety of heavy bands all around the world. Pandora seems like it'd be a powerful tool for that but I wanted to understand how helpful it really is. I decided to assess a number of the music content and streaming services to see which ones fared best.

I decided to ask a fairly simple question, then collect appropriate data and analyze the results. I took the playlists from two of my recent KGLT shows and identified all the bands that I'd played. Then I asked, "How many of these bands could I have discovered using each of the music services I surveyed?". I have included the raw data below, but here's the executive summary:


Total Bands Pandora iTunes Spotify MOG
74 56 74 74 64 72
  76% 100% 100% 97% 97%


And that clearly demonstrates why Pandora has never worked well for me and has. If I used Pandora, I wouldn't be able to play one quarter of the bands I play on my show. This data is for only two of my shows, meaning that over the last 8 months that could amount to over 100 bands simply left out of my show. Pandora would sweep them under the rug and pretend they just don't exist. You say, "David, but those bands are all obscure ones like Scattershock, no one knows about them and no one cares." If you look at the detailed data, you will see that Pandora's oversight includes Amaranthe, Bloodbound, Down From Up and The Slot. Sorry folks, these are serious bands with multiple album releases and videos. You might think that these bands somehow haven't submitted their works to Pandora, and that's a valid point. Maybe all these bands are boycotting Pandora for some reason. That's absolutely possible but, that just goes back to my point.

Pandora's collection is biased. It omits major name bands, many of whom have won music awards around the world. It also omits small, unestablished bands, some of whom will eventually become household words. And if you want to be an early adopter of such acts, you are much better off with any of the other services I surveyed, and especially iTunes and

So, tell me, what's your favorite music service? And, if any of you have invested in Pandora, what are your thoughts about your investment and the bands that aren't available via the service?

Streaming Service Comparison - the raw data...