Radio stations retool playlists after attacks
By Thurston Hatcher
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- On a country radio station in Phoenix, Arizona, listeners can again hear Garth Brooks crooning "This heart still believes that love and mercy still exist."
In Boston, Massachusetts, Moby's back, asking "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?"
The Moby single and Brooks' "The Change" are both a few years old, but they have resurfaced in the past week as radio stations retool their playlists in reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"We're trying to get a feel every single day from our listeners exactly what they need and what they would like from their radio," said George King, program director for Phoenix's KNIX-FM station.
For every song added, several more have been jettisoned.
"We made a decision immediately last Tuesday to remove several titles from the radio station that we thought would be too dark or possibly way too upbeat and happy, and songs with lyrics that may refer to crashes of some kind or death," said Greg Strassel, vice president of programming for WBMX-Mix 98.5, an adult contemporary station in Boston.
Company denies banning songs
Among the discarded songs: Live's "Lightning Crashes," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2, "Crash into Me" by the Dave Matthews Band and Lenny Kravitz's "Fly Away."
"This is the first time radio has had to react to an emergency of this scale on our home soil since 1941," Strassel said. "We are all trying to learn as we go, program as we go, and try to be sensitive to listeners and what they're going through."
Along with the Moby song and others by Jewel and U2, the station has worked several patriotic songs onto its playlist, including Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A.," Whitney Houston's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Ray Charles' "America the Beautiful."
While KNIX is playing "The Change" more frequently, it has removed from its playlist Mark Wills' "Wish You Were Here," about a woman whose lover has died in a plane crash.
"We're not going to play that song. It doesn't make sense," King said.
KNIX is part of Texas-based Clear Channel Communications, which came under scrutiny earlier this week over a list of 150 potentially sensitive songs that circulated among some of its 1,170 radio stations across the country.
Clear Channel spokeswoman Pam Taylor said the list resulted from a grass-roots effort among program directors in its Western division to identify the songs. But there was never an attempt to ban any songs, and it was left to local stations to decide whether or not to play them, she said.
Not taking chances
Some singles that were getting relatively heavy airplay have fallen since the attacks, although some of the drop could be attributed to stations shifting to news coverage after the attacks.
Playings of Drowning Pool's single "Bodies" -- featuring the lyrics "Let the bodies hit the floor" -- dropped about 50 percent in the week after the attacks, falling from No. 6 to No. 20, according to Kevin McCabe, director of charts for R&R Inc. in Los Angeles, California, which covers the radio industry.
Jimmy Eat World's "Bleed American" airplay also dropped, but not as sharply.
"Certainly a lot of artists might be unfairly judged as a result of this, but I think that given the high level of shock and sadness that permeated the country, nobody is willing to take any chances," McCabe said.
96 Wave, an alternative rock station in Charleston, South Carolina, reviewed its playlist after the attacks but hasn't dramatically altered its programming, program director Greg Patrick said.
It's playing "Bodies," but only at night, along with "Bleed American."
"I think our listeners are savvy enough to know we're not making fun of the attacks," said Patrick, who noted the station has been working actively to raise money for the American Red Cross. "For us just to drop songs because this happened, I don't necessarily think that's the right thing to do."
In New York City, adult top 40 station WPLJ-FM initially tried to avoid playing overly upbeat music, along with a few songs with lyrics that might offend. But it's trying to gradually, gingerly shift back to its regular music rotation.
"This is going to be on everone's mind for a long time," music director Tony Mascaro said. "On the other side of the coin, I think people want to get back to being a little uplifted again."
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WBMX, Mix 98.5
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