One from the Programmers: Radio now and in the future

The third in a series of music research articles from Xtra Insights.

The past few years have seen a change in the audio consumption landscape. While music continues to be intrinsic to radio, for many listeners, it’s the content provided by radio that sets it apart from alternatives.

While listeners represent one type of radio expert, how do industry experts perceive the importance of music to radio and the current audio landscape?

As part of a wider research project involving radio and audio consumers, Xtra Insights also sought the views of music programmers from around the world by posing a series of questions regarding the current state of radio, as well as their perceptions of the future of music and radio.

When asked “how important is music to radio, now and in the future?”, programmers agreed that music is still as important as ever to radio. In some instances, the programmers’ responses echoed the sentiments identified by radio listeners.

Aaron Pinto, Network Content Manager at Astro Malaysia said: “Radio is a companion that connects with listeners using entertainment and information… and the music is very much integrated into that value proposition.”

While the importance of music hasn’t gone unnoticed, the degree of its importance is often dependent on the strength of the other elements; “…[music] is really important. Determining how important comes down to the strength of our shows…”.

Although programmers tended to agree on the importance of music to radio, when asked “can an algorithm replace a Music Director?” the responses returned various opinions both for and against Artificial Intelligence.

Ultimately, the consensus was that while an algorithm can assist in the curation of playlists, by itself, it could not replace an MD. According to Guy Zapoleon, Senior Adviser for iHeart Radio: “A gifted music director can review the logs for tempo, genre flow and balance. Programming music is an art and it can paint a picture, paint a mood. A computer can’t do that.”

As it stands, AI doesn’t have the ability to respond emotionally to music. While it may be able to predict some hit songs, it will likely miss others that could go on to change the course of popular music. For example, could an algorithm have predicted that Lil Nas X with Old Town Road would have topped the Country Charts?

For many stations, well researched music can be a source of diversification from not only competitors within the market, but also streaming services and other audio options. Often, listeners turn to radio for curated playlists as trying to pick from a streaming service can be overwhelming and inconvenient.

For Music Directors, AI may be of some assistance when building a playlist, but ultimately music curation is about getting the balance of art versus science right.

About the Author


Hannah joined the team at Xtra Insights in 2016, bringing with her a passion for data research and analysis. Since joining Xtra, Hannah has worked on a number of research projects in Australia and overseas and enjoys applying her skills within the media and entertainment industry.

As Project Coordinator, Hannah is involved in many facets of the company from marketing to music research. She is an integral part of the regional radio surveys team, helping to coordinate the release of multiple ratings surveys each year.

Xtra Insights specialise in media research. Xtra translates data into actionable insights. As an innovation leader, Xtra works with some of the biggest media companies around the world, using cutting edge methodologies to engage with their audiences. For more information head to






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