Shane Nackerud needed to know: Does 89.3 the Current play the Replacements every day?
That thought gripped Nackerud, a data/tech librarian with the University of Minnesota, over Christmas break. Determined to discover exactly how often the St. Paul radio station plays the Minneapolis alt-rock faves, he set out on a data-mining quest. Eventually, Nackerud scratched that initial itch—yes, the Current plays the ’Mats almost every day—though his fleeting curiosity would snowball into an “obsession to get everything.”
Well, at least everything since 2009. That’s when the Current, which was launched by Minnesota Public Radio in 2005, activated @currentplaylist, a Twitter account that tweets out every song the station plays in real time.
Armed with a third-party app called Twint, Nackerud was able to extract data from all 1.1 million @currentplaylist tweets from 2009 through last December. He funneled the resulting artist and song info into sprawling spreadsheets, and, ultimately, provided play-count ranking, all to the delight of local music and data geeks.
The top two artists didn’t prove all that surprising: Prince (6,900 plays) and David Bowie (6,132).
“If you ask anyone who the No. 1 played artist on the Current is, they would probably guess Prince,” Nackerud says. “And with the deaths of Prince and David Bowie in 2016, the Current has spent entire days playing their songs.”
"If we had patron saints," adds Jim McGuinn, the Current's program director since '09, "Prince and Bowie would be them."
The most-played song is also by a Minnesota artist, but not one you’d expect. “Not the Kid,” a wistful, chug-a-chugging 2010 track from local indie rockers Communist Daughter, claimed the top spot with 541 spins. “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (533) and “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by the National (532) charted next.
The top 10 artists are overwhelmingly white, male, and indie rock-aligned, as are the ones who produced the top 10 tracks. In fact, between the two lists, only Icelandic folk-pop band Of Monsters and Men (No. 6 song, “Little Talks”) features a woman on the mic; the first woman-led artist doesn’t emerge until No. 12 with U.K. rock band Florence + the Machine.
Minnesota acts are well-represented. Nackerud notes that he was pleased to see four locals among the top 20 artists—Prince, Atmosphere, the Replacements, and Bob Dylan—and “surprised and very happy” to see St. Paul’s Communist Daughter snatch the top song.
“You would think it would be a bigger-name artist” he says. “I think it demonstrates the Current’s commitment to independent, Minnesota artists; they help local bands find an audience.”
Communist Daughter frontman Johnny Solomon is feeling the love.
“It’s not easy to define success as a musician,” he tweeted last week, referencing Nackerud’s work. “But this feels pretty good for that guy who wrote a song he didn’t think anyone would hear.”
Curiously, only two of the top 10 artists have performed at the Current/Walker Art Center’s annual Rock the Garden music festival: No. 3 Wilco in 2003 and No. 4 Spoon in 2014; JD McPherson, the man behind No. 10 overall song “North Side Gal,” performed in 2015.
Nackerud is quick to point out that his passion project is “for entertainment purposes only.” The data may not be perfect, he acknowledges, due to Twitter outages, potential extraction glitches, and several other factors that may have contributed to a slightly distorted picture of what has hit the Current’s airwaves over the past nine years.
“It’s super flattering that he took the time to crunch the numbers," McGuinn says. "The source data he used isn’t complete, but he’s definitely in the ballpark on what we’ve played since 2009, and it’s inspiring us to dig thru and try to put together a more accurate picture of our entire history -- now we really want to compile the stats."
Diving into the numbers is certainly entertaining. How else would we know the Current has played Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles a total of 623 times? Or that “When the Tequila Runs Out” by Dawes notched 204 plays? Or that, at just a hair under 3,000 appearances each, Poliça and Foo Fighters are equally popular in the Current’s universe? Or that the Muppet Barbershop Quartet, famous for their cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” has delighted Current listeners a grand total of four times?
And, of course, Nackerud was able to answer the question that sparked this entire adventure: With 3,845 plays since early ’09, the No. 17 overall Replacements averaged a bit more than one play per day.
Nackerud has made Google spreadsheets of the airplay stats publicly available: top artists are here, top songs here. For the number-crunching music fan from St. Louis Park, providing listeners a data pool to splash around in was the whole point.
“I did the best I could and I had a lot of fun doing it,” Nackerud says. “I encourage people to play with the data themselves.”
Top artists since 2009
1 Prince: 6,900
2 David Bowie: 6,132
3 Wilco: 5,524
4 Spoon: 5,271
5 Arcade Fire: 5,252
6 Beck: 5,145
7 The Black Keys: 5,066
8 Radiohead: 4,970
9 Atmosphere: 4,552
10 R.E.M.: 4,291
Top songs since 2009
1 “Not the Kid” by Communist Daughter: 541
2 “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: 533
3 “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by the National: 532
4 “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers: 526
5 “Pumped up Kicks” by Foster the People: 501
6 “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men: 492
7 “How You Like Me Now?” by the Heavy: 489
8 “My Girls” by Animal Collective: 488
9 “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem: 484
10 “North Side Gal” by JD McPherson: 476