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Memo to WCBS-FM: Please Pull Back on the Countdowns

There was a time when hearing a countdown on the radio meant something special. No matter whether the countdown was created by management or listeners, it was enjoyable radio. It was usually set aside for a long holiday weekend, one time or maybe twice a year.

For most stations, that’s still the case.

But WCBS-FM has ruined a good thing. The popular Classic Hits station is a well-oiled machine during the week, there’s no denying that. Some of the city’s best DJs play the familiar hits from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (although the accent is clearly on the latter two decades). 

Into the weekend, the station changes gears. At first earshot, though, it appears that nothing is different. The regular DJs are on the air (“Broadway” Bill Lee and Ron Parker among them). Even the music is the same, or at least, primarily within the usual parameters.

However, this highly professional, and successful (consistently number two in overall Arbitron ratings) station, almost becomes a caricature of itself.

Apparently, CBS-FM research indicated that listeners can’t get enough of countdowns. Instead, the excitement and urgency once attached to them are now non-existant.   

Weekends are the chance to get more experimental with the programming. But with countdown overload, CBS-FM is adhering to the same routine.  

Not only will you hear a countdown on most weekends, but many times, it appears, that the list is repeating from a previous weekend (How many times can the top songs from each decade be done?). In addition, CBS-FM is committed to Dick Bartley’s four-hour countdown block each Sunday night.  

I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch from 2000 where guest host Christopher Walken was a producer for Blue Oyster Cult, who was in a recording session.

“I gotta have more cowbell,” Walken’s character famously said in between tracks.

Specialty or theme weekends would be fine (like the always fun one-hit wonders), but please, “I gotta have no more countdown.”

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