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Radio Airplay - An Introduction - By Bryan Farrish (
No conversation about music marketing would be complete without the word RADIO rearing its ugly head time and time again. Few songs sell well at retail without it. None sell millions without it. You've got your CDs what can YOU do about it?

Radio is one of the *mass media* that record companies use to promote CDs to a wide-spread audience. It is the only medium that gets songs to an audience on a *repeated* basis (meaning, a person can hear a song on a particular station 20 or 50 or 100 times...just compare that to TV, film, print...or even touring.) So the question stands: How do you get your songs on the radio? With this and following installments of *Radio Airplay 101*, we will look at what radio avenues are realistically available to indie bands and indie labels, whether or not you use an independent promoter.

The Stations

Radio is broken down into two main categories: Commercial and Non-Commercial. If your favorite station promotes itself on billboards and TV, and if its commercials are "in your face," then it is a commercial station. But if it never seems to have blatant ads for itself, and if its "commercials" are very "soft sell," then it is a non-commercial station. The two types of stations are treated very differently as far as airplay is concerned.

There are approximately 10,000 commercial stations, and 2,500 non-commercial stations, in the United States. Here is a rough breakdown of the ones that have new-music formats:


Adult Contemporary  -  692
Hot Adult Contemporary  -  335
Modern Adult Contemporary  -  59
Soft Adult Contemporary  -  376
Adult Album Alternative  -  75
Urban  -  176
Urban Adult Contemporary  -  103
Rhythmic Top 40  -  61
Top 40  -  292
Spanish  -  495
Rock and Modern Rock  -  306
Alternative  -  103
Country (all forms)  -  1,990
Jazz  -  85
Smooth (contemporary) Jazz  -  80
Classical  -  32
Kids  -  36
Religious  -  1,067

Non-Commercial (consists of college, community, and NPR stations):

All styles on one station  -  1,000
Religious  -  500
Classical  -  272
Jazz  -  120

The stations that are *not* listed here are either news/talk, oldies, foreign language (besides Spanish), traffic info, or some other non-new-music format.

The Charts

Regardless of what you were thinking were the "charts," you should familiarize yourself with radio-only publications that "track" airplay (as opposed to tracking retail or ticket sales.) Also, you need to be careful of the word "chart," because confusion will inevitably occur if you do not specify what chart you mean: "Charting" in the "trades" or magazines is what most people mean when they use the word "chart," but it is constantly mistaken as meaning charting on an individual-station's chart, or "playlist". The first chart is an average of many stations, while the second chart is from just one station.

A long-standing entry-level publication for this purpose is CMJ. With the variety of genres that it covers, and with its acceptance of up-and-coming projects, you can get a good feel for what you are competing against in the radio airplay world. If you are hiring an airplay promoter, then you do not need to subscribe to CMJ or other charts, but you do need to know how the charts work.

CMJ (College Music Journal, is the starting point for non-commercial (mostly college) stations. It comes in two versions...the consumer's monthly version (found on some newsstands) which is called the New Music Monthly, and the professional weekly version (available by subscription only) called the New Music Weekly. The professional version is the one that is of interest here.

With its six different weekly-airplay charts, the weekly version covers the six basic areas of music heard on college radio. They are Alternative (called the TOP 200 chart,) Metal (called the LOUD ROCK chart,) Electronic (the RPM chart,) Hip Hop (the BEAT BOX chart), New Age/World (NEW WORLD chart,) and Jazz (JAZZ chart.) There is also a AAA chart, but it is a subset of the Top-200 chart, and has strong limitations.

Forget Billboard...For an indie act with a limited budget, its charts are impossible, since they incorporate sales. Other charts are possible, however, and we will get to them later.

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