6 Keys to Programming a Great Year End Countdown Show

6 Keys to Programming a Great Year End Countdown Show

by Tracy Johnson

Many music based stations air a year end countdown show. Most of them are ordinary, without much sizzle. It’s almost as if they just put them on because they think they should, and it fills a few hours on what is usually considered a “dead” time period for radio.

But that’s a mistake. With some sparkle and sizzle, the countdown show can be exciting, and turn into a great feature that gets attention. It’s all about how you approach it.

Programming a Year-End Countdown Show

Here are some key suggestions to gain maximum impact from your countdown:


New Year’s Eve is a common time for a countdown, but it may be the worst time to program it. Nobody’s paying attention. They’re at a party, and if your station is on, it’s the wrong mood to portray. Those slow songs and ballads that were huge in March and April sound dated and out of place on New Year’s Eve. Your countdown will be lost. A better time? Air it on New Year’s Day, and probably the next day as well.


Listeners aren’t tuning in for extended periods, even for compelling countdowns. So repeat it. That’s part of a good recycling strategy. If your countdown is four hours (typical), play it from 8am to midnight on New Year’s Day. Play it over and over. Even better, if New Year’s Day is on or near a weekend (Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday), play it all weekend long. Really? All weekend? Yes! Over and over! It stands out, you’re playing only the best songs, and will have a much better chance of making an impression.

You might also like:
Validate Your Contests By Following This Model to Promote Your Winners

Number of Songs

Play at least Top 20, but not more than 50. If you’re playing 20 songs in the countdown, they’ll repeat about once very 90 minutes. That’s probably close to how you turn over the powers anyway!

Don’t stretch the list to match your dial position. The Top 103 ends up being two hours of stiffs to get to the hits. Think about it. If you play 50 songs, that means an average of one new song per week that is still worth playing. That’s generous. Play the hits! If you want to reference those secondary songs that missed the countdown, you can always feature hooks of those songs when playing a countdown song by the same artist.

Produce it

It’s not about just picking the right songs. Prepare it with great content. Add some personality (produced or from talent) between every song. Be sure that when listeners tune in, they know it’s on and it’s special. Invest time to provide details and color about the songs making the countdown. Channel your inner Casey Kasem and turn those songs into entertainment value.


Use your most high profile talent on the countdown. That’s usually the morning show. Keep it music intensive, but add personality and style to make it a show! Be sure they are dropping in music-related promos for regular programming and what’s coming up when life gets back to normal after the holiday.

You might also like:
Personality Profile: Howard Stern: Emotional Connections [video]


Including listener input for the final list is a good idea, but requires advance planning. Get ahead of it and invite voting for their favorite songs of the year. This should happen before Christmas!

Include a full list of all the songs you played in the past year, and let them choose their 5 or 10 favorites. Gather their contact information and send an email on January 2 with the full list of songs as voted by listeners!


Year-end countdown shows can be great programming, if you get started on it early enough and devote some resources into making it great. What are you doing for your station? Share your ideas and audio. I’d love to feature it.

By the way, New Year’s Eve is also a great opportunity for special programming. Need an idea? Try this one.

Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

Opt In Image
Tracy Johnson's Audience Magnet Course
Become a Wildly Successful Personality Without Depending On Your PD, Station or Company

The industry's first online video course is a complete training program for radio personalities.

This is the breakthrough you've been waiting for.


Morning Radio Revisited ebook
eBook, $24.95

Get the book Scott Shannon described as “The best book I’ve ever read about radio…period.” Every programmer, manager and air talent interested in the art of personality radio should read this book. Tracy Johnson's […]

The Topic Tree
Webinar, $19.00

THE TOPIC TREE. Discover a fun, interesting way to generate more effectective show prep without spending as much time in boring, unproductive meetings.   Tracy Johnson's Audience Magnet Course Become a Wildly Successful Personality Without Depending On […]

Join the TJMG Newsletter

The New Insiders Radio Network

Is This Really Radio's Most Valuable Resource For Personalities Programmers and Promotion Managers?