CINCINNATI -- Today, music lovers can carry a virtual music library on their smartphones, allowing playback of any favorite whenever the mood strikes. But not that long ago, home phones played a major role in determining song selection.
Throughout the 1980s and early '90s, Q102's Top 10 at 10 p.m. relied on calls from listeners to determine which artists would get airtime during the coveted nightly slot.
The concept was simple: Fans called the station to request their favorite song, be it by Styx, Prince, Madonna or John Cougar (before he started using his given Mellencamp name and then dropped the Cougar). The calls were tallied, and the 10 most requested made the play-back list. A weeknight, slimmed-down version of Casey Kasem's Top 40 that focused only on the interests of the Q102 audience, the Top 10 list served up 10 straight fan favorites to an audience that helped decide the programming.
Listeners then tuned in each night, fingers primed to hit record on their cassette players as they waited to hear their requested songs and hoped the DJ didn't talk over the beginning. The top 10 was a sure way to hear the most in-demand songs and record them for later playback – an '80s version of music downloads.
"I remember when my sister and I were little we would go to her room and listen to the Q102 countdown," said Jennifer Fritsch, Q102 morning show producer, who joined the station staff in 2001. "We would get our cassette tapes out to record our favorite songs because we knew we would always hear them on the countdown. We even had a notebook, too, that we would write down all the songs from 10 to one.
"For some reason, MC Hammer always sticks out in my mind when you talk about the countdown. I remember my dad would yell out, 'It's Hammertime!' when MC Hammer was No. 1 on the Q102 countdown."
Mark Sebastian, a longtime DJ for the station, was one of several over the years who delivered the list. And while he did occasionally talk over the songs, most fans seemed to approve his ad-libbed additions.
"I don't remember what my bedtime was, but I do remember it was before the Top 10 countdown ended every night. I couldn't miss the countdown. I would listen to the whole thing with the volume turned way down and my head pressed against the mesh of a big box speaker," said Michelle Poston Combs, formerly of Cincinnati, in her blog Rubber Shoes in Hell. "Every single night, for months, the number one song was 'Stairway to Heaven.' And every night, at the end of the song just after Robert Plant sings 'and she's buying a stairway to' and before he sings 'heaven,' Mark Sebastian would whisper 'bite me'. Every night."
Countdowns are still part of the radio programming because everybody loves a countdown that leads to their favorite song -- or so says Q102 Program Director Patty Marshall -- but new technology has changed the process.
Listener input is used today, but gone are the request calls and the tally sheets. The Shazam Top 7 at 7 is compiled using localized analytics from Shazam, a music-identifying app used to tell users the title and artist of a song.
But use of the app does not necessarily imply fondness for a song.