Short songs at AMP Calgary radio station draw polarized feelings

AMP Calgary has been airing a new format that edits songs to half the length. The Calgary radio station says it has been getting mixed feedback so far, but it has been "generally quite favourable."

AMP Calgary has been running a new format that edits songs to half the length to avoid boring its listeners

Calgary radio station shortening songs

8 years ago
Duration 1:51
Station is getting mixed reviews for new format of shortening the songs it plays on air

A Calgary radio station says it is getting mixed feedback about its decision to run shorter songs on air.

"Now twice the music," is the new slogan for the AMP Calgary radio station. (CBC)

Since last Friday, 90.3 AMP Calgary has been running a new format that edits songs to half the length — meaning it can run 24 songs an hour instead of 12. The goal is to keep listeners engaged.

Steve Jones, vice-president of programming for Newcap Radio — the Halifax-based parent company which runs AMP and roughly 90 other stations across Canada, says there is no denying there has been some negativity. 

"Certain listeners have said, you know, I don't want to hear the music like this.... So we understand this isn't for everybody," he said.

'Generally quite favourable'

"But overwhelmingly the listener reaction has been, 'I love hearing this much music.' I mean it's really cool you can listen to a radio station for 15 minutes and hear six or seven songs in that short period of time. So listener reaction has been generally quite favourable."

But not all Calgarians are on board.

"Songs per minute is kind of a pointless metric. I think it's more about the quality versus the actual how many songs you can cram into an hour," said Erik Peach.

Jones says the change was sparked by two-and-a-half years of consumer research. He said society is changing the way we digest media — from audio to video to the printed word.

AMP Calgary was chosen for a few different reasons. Jones says it is not part of Newcap's long-term strategy, but if it works then the company may consider rolling it out in its other centres.

"Our radio station there is in a very competitive situation with a number of other Top 40 radio stations and we thought we needed an advantage to differentiate us from the other stations. We also chose Calgary because it's a progressive, young forward-thinking city," he said.

Modern communication

Jones says the logic of having three- to five-minute long radio songs is from 60 years ago when radio broadcasters played 45 rpm records. The average song on AMP now runs somewhere from 1:45 to 2:30.

"It struck us that we are using logic that's 60 years old in an era where communication has changed dramatically in all its forms," he said.

So the company decided to look at how radio can adapt to a world obsessed with quick communication, like the 140 characters provided by Twitter.

The radio station now uses the program Quickhitz, which comes from a Vancouver-based company called Sparknet Communications, to shave down the songs.

'An insult,' says Jann Arden 

Jones says for years radio stations have been editing songs or playing different versions, but this takes it to the next level.

Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden agrees edits are common in radio, but she says half a song is an "insult" to musicians.

But Jones believes the songs have maintained their integrity, and said many listeners don't even notice it has been edited.

The way AMP Calgary plays ads has also changed.

"Instead of stopping for five minutes of commercials, we never stop for more than two minutes and we do shorter bursts throughout the hour," he said.

Jones says the ad companies are happy with the change, but there has been a "muted excitement" from the music industry. He says the shorter songs allow for better exposure and more royalties for the musicians.

But Spencer Brown, a music promoter and radio host at the indie CJSW station, says musicians will not be happy.

"Everyone is pretty much shocked and anyone who values music as an art form is pretty disheartened by it," he said.

He thinks the radio station will be a hit with people who have short attention spans, but it's not something for those who love music.

It's not the first time AMP Calgary has made national headlines. It came under fire last March for burning $5,000 in cash on air after holding a contest that asked listeners to vote on whether to raffle off the cash or incinerate it. 

With files from CBC's Devin Heroux


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