Earlier today, News 92 FM—Houston’s last all-news radio station—ceased regular broadcast and began playing Beyoncé nonstop. It’s an interesting move: amusing because Beyoncé is playing nonstop in her hometown, sad because it came with the station laying off 47 employees and admitting that the change was due to “sustained poor ratings performance and significant financial losses over the past three years.” Most outlets have honed in on how bizarre the all-Beyoncé-all-day broadcast is, but this kind of sudden shift to one-trick-pony programming is a lot more common than one would expect.
It’s called “stunting,” and it’s a fairly well-known practice in radio. In March, we covered a San Francisco radio station that began playing Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” every second of the day. As Amanda Hess noted in that piece:
There’s a long tradition of radio stations engaging in a practice called “stunting” to prank audiences, drum up publicity, or signal the station’s impending doom. The stunt is usually to denote a format change: In 2010, a Milwaukee radio station played a whole day of “songs about cheating inspired by Tiger Woods,” temporarily rebranding itself as Tiger 106.9, in advance of a shift from smooth jazz to contemporary country. As Tom Taylor of music radio trade publication RadioInfo put it at the time: “Parading an elephant down the street alerts people that the [old] format is gone.” It’s like “when the circus comes to town.” But some stations have engaged in stunts for more artistic or political purposes: In 1994, a sports talk radio station in Akron, Ohio played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” 57,161 consecutive times (and made it into the Guinness Book of Sports Records) in order to protest that year’s Major League Baseball strike.
No word yet on what News 92’s new format will be, but it’s unlikely to continue the Beyoncé shtick for long. Until then, “B92 FM” will feature advertising-free, around-the-clock music from Queen Bey.