...where we will share secret tips to create great radio playlists.

Anyone who ever built a playlist knows that they are tough beasties to get right.

Some turn out to be boring.

In radio broadcasting, play the wrong song and listeners will flee.

Flee to competing stations — in search of better music. You never want to lose ‘em listeners. Right?

So, you're going to learn:

  • What radio playlists are? (the basics)
  • Hard vs. soft rotations
  • 10 sure ways to make your playlists suck
  • 9 tips to make your playlists rock!
  • Playlist tools and generators

It’s the most comprehensive post around. Sorry to honk our horn, but it is true.


Part One: What is a playlist?

Part Two: Things to avoid when creating your playlists

Part Three: Best tips on creating your radio playlists

Part Four: Where to get radio playlist ideas (tools)

Part 1 - What is a playlist?

A playlist is a list of songs to be played. These songs may be selected based on their popularity. The songs may belong to a specific format, for instance, Urban.

Radio stations have a core playlist where they draw songs. For instance, during the Christmas holidays, Cloud Radio may have one hundred holiday songs in its core playlist.

When the holidays draw to a close, the station will revert to its broader core playlist of up to 4000 songs.

If a radio station has a small number of songs in its main playlist, for instance, a couple of hundreds, it has a “tight playlist.”

Running order

In broadcasting, it’s arranging songs and other broadcast items in the order they are going to be played.

Random playlists

Songs in a playlist may be carefully ordered in running order. Alternatively, the station may choose to shuffle songs.

Most playout programs have a shuffle or “autodj” function. The software will select tracks randomly and play them back.

You can find this feature in our Autodj Radio at CloudRadio. It has a default random mode to help you broadcast random playlists.

You can include pre-recorded links, the station’s IDs, or sweepers in your random playlists to replicate the feel of radio.

Creating radio playlists in two steps

Step 1: Select the music

At small stations, the owner is in charge of selecting the music tracks. They play what they like.

At big stations, the song selection is a major undertaking that often requires meetings, research, music previews, audience testing, etc.

Step 2: Schedule the music

Once you select your tracks, you can schedule them in your radio automation software.

Alternatively, you may let default random mode take over. You can still retain some order by defining the playlist rules.

Radio broadcasting software like Sam Broadcaster or NextKast have this feature.

For the playlist rules, you can choose how often a particular song gets repeated, artist spacing, etc.

High-Rotation vs Low-Rotation

When a song is on high-rotation, it gets played more often. Songs receiving less air-play are in low-rotation.

Popular songs—songs listeners like —will be in the high-rotation category.

Reasons a song may be in low-rotation include:

  • It ‘s losing ranks in the charts.
  • It’s still brand new.
  • Research or audience testing has shown that it’s not as popular with the station’s main demographic.
  • It’s a hit song being introduced.

Reasons a song may be in high-rotation:

  • It’s popular.
  • It’s current.
  • The station's listeners are requesting it heavily.

Play popular songs more often. But not in such a way that it annoys the listener. If you overfeed them, they will get fed up!

Holding a playlist meeting

If you work at a commercial radio station, chances are you have heard about playlist meetings.

The may weekly. And the programming team meets up to decide the songs that will be played on-air.

If you have a smaller station just set a time at least once a week, where you’ll make changes to your main playlist.

Add new songs and remove less-popular songs.

How is music selected at radio stations?

Music selection is done considering the target’s audience tastes and likes.

For instance, if you run a soft rock station that targets women of ages 18 to 30, your songs must appeal to them. Anything less or different might turn them away.

Big stations know which songs to play by consulting actual people.

They carry out audience testing through holding listening events. Participants are selected based on their target demographic.

Short clips of songs being considered for air-play are played, and the test audience rates them.

Songs with the highest ratings make it to the week’s heavy rotation, while lowly-rated songs receive less airplay.

Some stations carry out audience testing via phone calls. Nowadays, it is even possible to hold audience testing online, and potentially save thousands of dollars.

Mass appeal

Radio stations draw listeners from all backgrounds. They must have a mass appeal to keep everyone happy.

If a station is appealing, it attracts more listeners. Advertisers then come knocking.

Part 2 - Things to avoid when creating your radio playlists

1. Playing unpopular songs

It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s vital not to get this wrong.

2. Not knowing your audience’s tastes

Making assumptions might be detrimental. You may like a song, only to find out that others don’t like it.

Good playlist creators know what’s hot, play what’s hot, and know if their listeners like it.

3) Blaming listeners for not listening

If you see your audience numbers diving, listeners are not to blame.

It is your responsibility to hook 'em. You can only do this by playing what they like and arranging songs in your playlist like a pro.

Take this to the bank:

If someone goes through the trouble of finding your stream, they are there to listen. Lift their mood or get them dancing it's your call :-)

4) Not warming up listeners

It's tempting to play all the biggest bangers from the start of the show.

But you can't go from zero to a hundred with one song.

Begin with slower songs, then advance to fast songs. That's the sure way to raise your listeners' energy.

5) Striving for perfection

Occasional mistakes are good. Don’t strive to be 100% perfect.

6) Not saving your playlist files

Keep your playlists saved and always ready to go. It helps to save them in a separate folder on your computer.

Carefully label them. Go as far as uploading copies to your online drive for safekeeping.

7) Only playing what’s new

Do listeners only want to listen to the new stuff?

"No." It's good to have a mix of the new and the old.

Some tracks have stood the test of time. Hearing them once in a while might even make your listener happier than listening to new music.

8) Not sharing your weekly playlist

After creating a duesy radio station playlist, why keep it all to yourself?

Good radio Djs share their creativity with the world.

Publish a ranking of your favorite songs for the week. Some stations are already doing it. See this BBC 2 example:

9) Not being spontaneous

After creating a playlist, it doesn’t have to be set in stone.

Give room for some spontaneity! For instance, if you’re interviewing a guest who recently had a break-up, those listening might feel a bit despondent.

Say, you scheduled an upbeat or cheerful song.

Be spontaneous. Switch it up and play some heartbreak music.

It’s what the listeners will be screaming for at the moment.

10) Not improving on your mistakes

Mistakes are great. It’s even better when someone points them out.

Often, you might be too blind to see your limitations. But when they are made apparent, look for ways to improve.

Part 3 - Best Tips on Creating your Radio Playlists

Thanks for making it to the final section of this article.

Get your radio creator’s hat on because things are about to get spectacular! Use these tips and you will be sorry if you don’t create the most ear-catching radio playlists.

At the end of this section, you’ll also find some playlists generators and sites you can visit for radio playlist inspiration.

#1. Create radio playlists that evoke “mood”

Moods are temporary states of mind. You can have pleasant or unpleasant moods.

You may be in a happy, relaxed, calm, excited, drinking, party, prayer, truth-telling mood.

Moods are usually brought about by stimulus. For example, an upbeat song can be a stimulus to a happy mood.

So tailor your playlist with a mood in mind.

#2. Ensure listeners catch their favorite song regardless of the time of day

Radio stations divide their broadcast day into parts:

  • Breakfast or morning drive
  • Mid-morning
  • Afternoon
  • Evening
  • Graveyard

Joe might listen to your morning drive show, but not listen in the afternoon. Pete may tune in for the afternoon drive only.

When they meet up at their favorite coffee shop or tavern, they should discuss the same popular songs.

#3. Slow to Fast

Rookie mistake:

Don’t transition from a slow song to a fast song. Even DJs know this.

Instead, arrange songs starting with a lower BPM until you build up to a fast tempo.

For a smooth and gradual build-up in your playlist, you require a program that displays the song’s Beats Per Minute.

In case your radio broadcasting software lacks this feature, just use a djing program, for instance, Virtual DJ, Mixxx, etc.

#4. Be consistent with the station’s style

Stay true with your station’s format. Your main content has to make up 50%+ of your overall programming.

For instance, if you’re a talk radio, most of your content has to be in the talk format. That’s 50%+.

Can an oldie or classic radio station play current hits? YES. Many classic radio stations play a few hits.

But the songs have to be popular with the audience. Though keep your promise to your listeners and your station's main format.

If a particular format is not working, then re-brand.

#5. Kick Start the Hour

What’s the best song to play after the top of the hour news bulletin or a 5-minute break?

Well, it should be an upbeat song. The song must also reflect the station’s format.

#6. Play songs people love

You know what. It’s better to shoot for quality over quantity.

Some stations aim for the widest selection of songs. But they might be songs that don’t excite the listeners.

People tune in to catch songs they like.

If you’re aiming for more variety, play one popular song → one unfamiliar song → one popular song, and so on.

#7. Keep your ear out for new music

How do radio stations find new music?

Big stations get pitches from record companies who want new songs promoted on the radio.

At a small station, you proactively find new tracks. Keep checking the charts from these sources to know what’s hot:


#8. Space the artists

It’s a basic playlist rule. And spacing an artist well helps avoid repetition and boredom.

For instance, the good stations do it by playing the same artist after 1 to 3 hours

#9. Play songs as per the dayparts

You have your mornings, mid-morning, afternoon, and evenings to plan for.

They are all different.

Listener Joe wakes up in the morning ready to face the stark drive to work. Play home some upbeat happy music to lift his spirits.

At 9:30 a.m. he is at work. Some chill music will help him focus.

At 5:00 p.m. he is off work and driving home. Help him relax and shed off the stress of the 9 to 5 with upbeat tracks.

Evenings are the time to wind down. When he listens to the radio at night, he is probably looking for slow music to ease him off to sleep. Or a show that talks him to sleep.

On Friday evening, Joe is on his way out to his buddy's house party.

Party music is ideal.

On Sunday afternoons, Joe is feeling lazy. It’s the laziest spot of the week, play him some soothing music.

Where to find radio playlist ideas (Playlist tools)

Looking for some inspiration for your next radio playlist?

Here are some great resources to try:

Social Music Playlist

What is it?

It’s a platform that helps you find good music. It’s like the social media of playlists. Everyone gets a profile. You can see what your friends like.

How it can help you:

Visit their website, and click "Popular on Playlist" to find curated songs.

Currently, they only have an iOS app.

Website link: https://www.playlist.com/


What is it?

It is an online platform that allows you to create a playlist based on a song you like.

How does it work?

You type in the song's name and instantly get a playlist generated for you. It’s great that you can choose the duration of your playlist, either 1 hour, 2 hours or 3 hours.

The site is not a streaming provider. You’ll have to link MagicPlaylist with your Spotify account, in order to save your playlist.

You can play it on Spotify Web or in the App.

How was the playlist I created?

The playlist was great. And if you need a quick way to build your radio playlists, I would definitely recommend it.

Website link: https://magicplaylist.co/


Spotify gives listeners access to millions of songs.

Despite giving radio stations some competition, it can be a great way to find curated playlists, trending, and popular songs.

How to find playlists?

You’ll need be to living in a country covered by Spotify. Next, create an account. But you can also sign up with your email or login with Facebook.

On open.spotify.com, you’ll see recommended songs, recently played songs, album picks, popular playlists, mood playlists, popular albums, trending songs, fresh music, happy music, Today’s Top Hits, etc

Website link: https://open.spotify.com/

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