You may think all Top 40 radio sounds the same, and for the most part you’re right. Yet the phenomenon of regional hits — a regular feature of rock & roll in the 1950s and ’60s-still exists, albeit to a smaller degree. If you live in Boston, Hartford, or Providence, you’re probably satiated with Salt-N-Pepa’s pop-rap ”Do You Want Me,” a No. 1 hit there. But stations in Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Miami prefer the mid-tempo pace of ”Place in This World,” the debut hit from Christian pop singer Michael W. Smith. Yet that song is barely heard on Top 40 radio in New York or L.A., where more dance-oriented singles like Corina’s ”Temptation” reign.
The difference between ’50s and ’60s regionalism and its current variant, according to Ken Barnes, editor of the trade newspaper Radio & Records, is that the classic local hits of the past — ”Louie, Louie,” for instance, a Northwest favorite — were geographically based; the artists came from that part of the country. These days, Barnes says, a song’s popularity has more to do with what kind of radio stations are bigger in which markets. As Claire West, national director of Adult Contemporary promotion at Geffen, Michael W. Smith’s label, says, ”In the Midwest, they seek (Smith’s) kind of music. And Tuscaloosa is going to react later to an urban act like Bell Biv DeVoe.”