Keep Your Station on the Tracks


Whether Pop or Country, radio programmers are disappointed with the state of current music. In fact, Guy Zapoleon, who has extensively studied the Popular Music Cycles since 1956, recently declared “we are in the worst doldrums period ever.” There are many opinions for the lack of hits and interest in new music today, but what matters is what programmers need to do to navigate the current down cycle and make it to the next phase – The Rebirth.


My wife is a “Trainiac,” a big fan of the band Train, and raves about their live shows. So, I decided to join her to experience Train in Bend, Oregon a few weeks ago. Train has been making music for over 20 years, has won a few Grammys yet has charted only 5 songs on the Top 20 Billboard Radio chart, not exactly the catalogue of hits you would expect from a headliner.


How does Train, with only a handful of hits, headline a tour year after year?


  1. They have name brand opening acts. This summer Blues Traveler and Jewel opened most of the shows.
  2. Train lead singer, Pat Monahan, keep fans engaged by:
  3. Throwing T-shirts out to the crowd
  4. Taking selfies with fans when phones are lobbed on stage
  5. Tossing Beach Balls into the audience
  6. They make up for their limited hits with endless musical surprises:
  7. Pat brought his 13-year-old daughter on stage to sing a duet, and later invited his 10-year-old son out to rap.
  8. The setlist includes several covers and mashups. This show featured a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream-On” and a mashup of Train’s “Meet Virginia” with Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”
  9. The opening acts were brought back to the stage to perform. Jewel sang a Train song with Pat before breaking into a mashup of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” & Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music,” which instantly became a massive crowd sing-along.
  10. Blues Traveler’s Popper popped back to play the harmonica on a mash-up of Train’s “Bruise” and “Love the One Your With,” the Stephen Stills classic.


The contemporary music train falls off the track every ten years or so, according to Zapoleon. During the doldrums part of the cycle when there aren’t as many hits available, programmers tend to reduce the quantity of new music on their playlist and rely more on familiar recurrent and gold songs to fill the void. But that’s only part of the solution. Highlighting morning shows and personalities, creating interesting and surprising content, and emphasizing your promotion and marketing muscle will keep your listeners engaged and coming back for more until the Rebirth cycle arrives at the station.


Ken Benson is a multi-award-winning contemporary radio and music television programmer. Today, Ken is a co-founder and partner of P1 Media Group, providing insights and strategies to leading media companies around the world. He can be reached at