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Radio airplay for Michael Jackson: Off the chart

June 29, 2009 |  3:03 pm

Just how heavily did radio turn to the music of Michael Jackson after the news of his death? In the three days before Jackson was pronounced dead Thursday at age 50 at UCLA Medical Center, the title song from his “Thriller” album had been played 22 times on U.S. radio, satellite and cable music channels; by Sunday night it had logged more than 3,000 spins, according to the Nielsen BDS radio airplay monitoring service. That's an increase of more than 13,000%.

Eight Jackson songs registered more than 2,000 plays each from Thursday through Sunday evening. An airplay report issued Monday by Nielsen BDS tracked 20 songs by Jackson, either solo or when he was a member of the Jackson 5. All 20 exceeded 1,300 plays apiece through Sunday.

The most popular: “Billie Jean,” which registered 3,916 spins, followed by “Thriller” (3,548), “Rock With You” (3,343), "Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (2,984) and “Beat It” (2,810), edging out “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” by just two spins.

A breakdown of airplay on Thursday showed, not surprisingly, that stations almost immediately deluged listeners with his music. The 20 most frequently played Jackson songs logged a combined 147 plays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., shortly before news of his death became widely known.

In the four hours from 3 to 7 p.m. after word spread, those same songs registered 3,664 plays across the country. That figure almost doubled during the 7 p.m. to midnight period Thursday, during which stations reported playing those same 20 songs 6,413 times.

— Randy Lewis