Written by Radio

Poll Winners: They’re Not News

Bank Holidays at radio stations tend to mean the regular talent getting the day off. If it’s Christmas, then they may get a full fortnight away.
Listening patterns are different at Bank Holidays. People don’t get up as early since they don’t need to get to work. They’re more likely to be traveling – seeing friends and family – as anyone who spent today on a motorway or at a mainline train station can attest.
So radio stations behave differently, and an old favourite is the listener top 100 or 500 countdown. It may be tracks, artists or albums that are being counted down. It might be a broad subject (songs of all time) or it might be based on a narrow list (albums from the last ten years).
The regular playlist tends to get ditched and large parts of the day are handed over to a countdown probably determined by some kind of listener vote. Invariably the list being counted down is probably close to the usual fare. Stations aren’t trying to completely disenfranchise listeners.
The idea is to generate an event. It’s a cheap and easy way to push listening hours. It’s all your favourites, and there won’t be any repetition!
All well and good.*
But don’t mistake this for actually being important. Listeners to certain stations tend to vote in certain ways. A BBC 6Music countdown will be different to a Capital FM countdown.
So it’s always a bit irritating when, even though it’s a slow news day, the BBC somehow promotes one of these lists as being somehow newsworthy.
Today we have Radio 2 listeners voting Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head as being their favourite of all time. And this is on the BBC News website.
Now aside from clearly all having long-term memory losses, this tells us nothing of importance. This isn’t a statistically robust poll carried out by a research company. It’s a self-selecting sample of listeners to a particular radio station making their choices.
It’s irrelevant in a wider context.
Should Radio 2 go to town on their station about the results on their own station? Absolutely.
Should they put the results on the Radio 2 website? Certainly.
Should the “news” of the poll winner be published on the BBC News website (even in the Entertainment section)? No. It’s not news.
If this were a one-off, then I wouldn’t mind. But the BBC did the same thing back in February when 6 Music listeners were voting their favourite track of the last ten years. Coldplay won that vote too.
Over on Classic FM, they’re having their annual Hall of Fame countdown too (Will it be Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto again? Probably**). I rather suspect that the “winner” won’t be on the BBC News site later. Yet the results of their poll are about as relevant – or irrelevant – as the Radio 2’s poll.
And I’m sure that up and down the country other radio stations have been playing their own lists out over the Easter period.
As far as news goes, these things are no more newsworthy than the results of self-selecting online polls on websites. Fun, but nothing more.
* I say “well and good”, but I do think they’re a bit lazy and long in the tooth, although I will admit that on some stations, they’re fondly looked forward to amongst listeners, in the same way as I once upon a time used to care about the weekly charts.
** And it was. Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 has won 8 of the 18 polls that Classic FM has run since 1996, including the last three.