In late May—just before influential radio programmer-turned-Spotify chief Kevin Weatherly returned to Los Angeles alt-rock station KROQ after a two-year stretch with Spotify—an old friend, Warner Records’ Mike Chester. At the time, thanks to the fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Thing, Kate Bush‘s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” was unlikely to become a contemporary streaming hit. “I know you haven’t started yet,” Chester, the company’s executive director of merchandising and promotion, told Weatherly. “But this is wild. And you’re one who would get this.”
Weatherly added “Running Up That Hill” to the KROQ rotation even before starting his job as the Audacy station’s senior vp of programming. Quickly, other top programmers, including KIIS-FM’s Beata Murphy in Los Angeles, KYLD’s Mark Adams in San Francisco and iHeartMedia’s Mike McCoy in Columbus, Ohio, followed suit. Within days, thanks to robust streaming and sales, Bush’s track – which had peaked at No. 30 on Billboard Hot 100 during the mid-80s it reached No. 4 on the chart. The only barrier left to it becoming a Harry Styles-level massive smash was that cross it over to radio. Chester reported to his boss, Tom Corson, the label’s chairman and COO, and said, “We’ve got one.” He adds: “It was becoming clear that this was bigger than all of us.”
Although the track’s streaming numbers have recently dipped — down 12.5% in official US streams since last week, according to Luminate — ample radio play has more than made up for the dip, making “Running Up That Hill” an even bigger hit than it was on top of Stranger Things hype in May and June. For that Aug. 6 charts, the track held at No. 3 for a second week on the Hot 100 and climbed from No. 10 to No. 7 on Billboard‘s Radio songs listing, up 17%, to 48.4 million views. The transition to massive radio success is a rarity for recent viral catalog hits—from Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” on TikTok in 2020 to Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” from Batman earlier this year to Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” in the same Stranger Things season last month, none of which have made the Radio Songs of the Decade — making “Running Up That Hill” something of a unicorn.
“We have somehow been able to cross it Stranger Things moment,” says Chester. “It has transcended and built a bridge to passive audiences.” Adds Michael Martin, Audacy’s senior vp of programming, as well as program director for pop station Alice@97.3 in San Francisco, which has played the track 1,100 times — more than any other station, according to Luminate — “This is a rarity. It’s very few and far between .”
Radio programmers continue to test “Hill” in callout research, playing snippets of the song to listeners along with other potential playlists. It’s also unusually strong on several top radio formats, rising from No. 5 to No. 3 this week on the Alternative Airplay chart, and from No. 10 to No. 8 on the Pop Airplay chart.
“Audiences aren’t tired of this,” says Martin. “I’ve heard it on pop radio as part of a Doja Cat record, I’ve heard it on Hot AC for an Ed Sheeran record and I’ve heard it on alternative recording in Glass Animals – and it sounds amazing .”
Like many radio veterans, Tom Poleman, iHeart’s chief programming officer, remembers airing “Running Up That Hill” on rock and alternative stations in the ’80s and ’90s. But the radioactivity then was nothing compared to the last few weeks. “It was a great song to start with. Sometimes you need a spark to ignite certain songs. You have to have something to bring it to the surface,” he says. “A lot of things just have to be right for the moment. Stranger Things put it in the spotlight and we just jumped on that momentum.” The track, he adds, is in power rotation, or repeat airing, on “a significant portion of our Top 40 stations.”
Although Poleman believes the song is starting to “burn a little bit” after a month and a half, like any modern smash that dominates pop culture, Warner’s Chester remains hopeful it will still rise to No. 1 on the Hot 100. “It’s got legs ,” he says. “It’s not going anywhere. It moved to power rotation on KIIS-FM. It plays every hour next to Lizzo. Kate Bush is more relevant now than ever.