There aren’t many music directors willing to let their listeners take over the airwaves for days at a time. But that’s just what Dan Reed proposed at WXPN last year.
Hired as the station’s music director and operations manager just as WXPN was moving into its new studios at the former Hajoca Building on Walnut Street, Reed proposed celebrating the big move with a daring promotion: The 885 Greatest Songs of All Time Countdown.
The countdown, like those Reed put together while working at Louisville, Kentucky radio station WFPK, would be determined by votes from listeners, who would submit their personal Top 10 lists. Which meant that WXPN would be letting its listeners—and, probably, some interested non-listeners—determine what music the station would play for an entire week. “I pushed it because I know how much fun the listeners had with it in Louisville,” Reed says. “It got people talking.”
It did the same thing here. The countdown was such a success, in fact, that Reed and his colleagues at WXPN recently followed it up with another one: The 885 All Time Greatest Albums countdown.
The countdown, which started on Sept. 27 and was set to end Oct. 17, had Reed frantically seeking out some rather obscure albums that somehow made the cut.
Q. Where did the idea for the countdown come from, and how did your colleagues respond to your pitch?
A. We did these countdowns in Louisville and they were always huge. They really got people talking and it was just a fun thing to do. The good thing is that they get people listening that may not normally listen, and it’s always a good thing to have people come down to the left side of the dial and listen.
So once I told everyone the plan, [they liked the idea]. We ’XPN’d it and set it up to fit what was going on here. It turned out to be a great thing last year and we decided to do it again this year.
Q. The difference between the albums and songs countdown is, of course, time. This one is going to be about three weeks, right?
A. Roughly, yeah. It’s hard to tell because of the length of the songs and stuff. But it will be roughly three weeks—give or take a day or two or three. We’re not really sure. But again, the evidence we have from listeners and members is that they enjoy it. We have message boards up on our web site, and people are talking about it. They’re really into it. The jocks seem to really enjoy it. It’s just fun.
Q. How did you compile the list?
A. We had over 5,000 people vote. We did most of the legwork online, and we had a lot of ways of calculating the votes there. But that’s not foolproof, because some people call them “Beatles” and some call them “The Beatles.” Some people spell it “Beatles” and some spell it “Beetles.” Some people call it “Sgt. Pepper’s” and some call it “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” But our computer people went through a lot of that stuff, and that made our job a lot easier. And then we just had to go out and actually find a lot of these records, which isn’t always easy.
Q. I’m curious—how many votes did album No. 885 get?
A. I think every record on the countdown had at least three or four people vote for it. But once the votes get tallied, I just look at the list. The points and that stuff I don’t look at too closely. But, to make the list, you had to have some people vote for you.
Q. Here’s a big question: How did you break ties?
A. Our first thing was points, but once there were ties in points, we went to whichever album had more people vote for it. And then after that, you know what? I’m not going to get into it (laughs). We really, really work hard to make sure the votes are accurate. It is what it is. We didn’t do a lot of finagling. If we did a lot of finagling, you wouldn’t have heard three Metallica songs at 6:45 a.m. this morning. The songs fall where they fall. We want to have integrity, so people know this is an accurate countdown.
Q. How is this list different than what you saw in Louisville?
A. The difference between the markets is that … Philadelphia loves their prog rock. They love those 15-minute long songs about witches and dungeons and stuff. It’s an East Coast thing, I think.
And last year I was very surprised that [Bruce Springsteen’s] “Thunder Road” was No. 1. I never thought that would happen. And I think, this year, there are some surprises too. And also some things that aren’t so surprising.
Q. So you’ve done the best songs ever, and now you’re doing the best albums ever. What can we expect from WXPN next year?
A. Maybe we’ll do “Best Riffs of All Time.” You know, like, “And No. 42 … da-da-da-da-da.” I don’t know. They’re already talking about [next year] but I can’t even think about it. That’s disturbing that you would even ask me that question.