Back in my formative years, the only way to hear the brand new singles chart ‘live’ was to break the rules. Smuggling a Walkman or transistor radio into school to catch the moment at 1 pm each Tuesday when the brand new singles chart was unveiled on Radio One. Yes, there was always the more detailed recap by Peter Powell or Bruno Brookes later that evening, but you already knew who was at the top of the charts. It was a recap, not a reveal.
All that changed in October 1987 when the march of technology finally meant that the weekly sales tabulations could actually be produced within 24 hours of the last shop closing. The Sunday afternoon chart show on Radio One was all of a sudden transformed from the laid-back recounting of a Top 40 list that was already five days old and which had featured on Top Of The Pops three days earlier into a dramatic, vibrant broadcast of record. As the hype breathlessly explained, both the public and the stars themselves were about to find out live just where their favourite records were. That very first “live” chart show was a significant and exciting moment in my own upbringing, and you can read my memories of that particular broadcast here.
Now for the first time in almost 28 years, the publication date of the British charts is set to change once more. As a direct consequence of the decision by the music industry to move towards a global release date for music and most importantly for that date to be a Friday rather than a Sunday or a Monday, the scope of the chart week and thus the publication date has to move with it.
So it is now official. As of this summer, it will be farewell to the long-standing tradition of a Sunday afternoon chart show on the radio. Instead, the new countdown will be compiled based on sales stretching from Friday through to Thursday with the new countdown unveiled by Radio One between 4 pm and 6 pm every Friday evening as part of what is currently Greg James’ show. Instead of beginning the week with a new singles and albums chart, we start the weekend with a brand new countdown.
Now inevitably there will be the cries of “shame” from those stuck in a mental rut, reluctant to embrace change and wedded to the idea that things should always remain the way they remember them no matter what. This is, however, something very exciting for a number of reasons:
- The Radio One chart show is now moved from what had increasingly become a graveyard slot into a high profile primetime place on the schedule. Five million people listen to Radio One in the afternoons, that’s almost three times the audience the “old” Top 40 show was pulling in. Suddenly the brand chart becomes part of the entertainment for people travelling home from school and from work. That’s a massive, profile-lifting boost.
- The chart show is also freed from the head to head battle it has been locked in for the past 30 years, moved out of the way of commercial radio’s Big Top 40 show against which it has increasingly proved to be wilting. Whilst there does exist the possibility that the radio groups could move their chart show to match, it seems unlikely at least in the short term. Sunday evening suits them nicely for a syndicated show, with most stations in weekend networking at that time already. Friday afternoons are still one of the few times radio stations have local live programming and they will be very reluctant (not to mention in many cases prohibited by Ofcom) to scale those back in favour of yet more syndicated network broadcasts.
- High profile music slots on big ticket entertainment shows suddenly become even more important than before. Whilst an appearance on Graham Norton or Strictly or X Factor was always a guarantee of a sales boost, there was a delay in this registering on the published charts. Whilst we’ll still have to wait a week to see just how much of a sales boost a single received from a TV slot, it will show up on the very next chart to be published – rather than the next but one as happens at present.
There will be other consequences too, not least for publications like Music Week which currently hit the streets and inboxes on Thursday. We’ll almost certainly see the music industry’s publication of record shift back to a Monday street date, given that it will be pointless the magazine printing a music chart the moment it is set to go out of date. Or maybe they will abandon charts in the print version altogether now that the Official Charts Company’s own site appears to have taken on the mantle of being the source of record for the data.
Either way, this is the latest step in what over the past few years has been a dramatic transformation to the way the music industry calculates, produces and presents its favourite self-fulfilling marketing tool. For the second summer running the British music charts are about to get a whole new look and feel.
Full details can be found on the Official Charts Company website.