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RADIO AIRPLAY 101 - The Stations

The Stations

New for 2013: No conversation about music marketing would be complete without the word RADIO coming up. Few songs sell well at retail without it. None sell millions without it. You've got your songs what can YOU do about it?

Radio is one of the mass media that record companies use to promote songs to a wide-spread audience. It is the only medium that gets songs to an audience on a REPEATED basis (meaning, one 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.) As of 2013, online methods such as Youtube, Itunes, Pandora and Jango have completely failed at promoting new music; meaning, not one "hit" song was made using them. Instead, they follow what was already promoted on commercial radio regular rotation weeks or months (or years) earlier. So the question stands: How do you get your songs on commercial radio? With this and following installments of 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 to do it.

The Total Number of Available 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 probably is a non-commercial station. The two types of stations are treated very differently as far as airplay is concerned, and as of 2013 we only recommend commercial radio for most purposes.

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


Adult Contemporary
Hot Adult Contemporary
Modern Adult Contemporary
Soft Adult Contemporary
Adult Album Alternative
Hip Hop & R&B
Urban Adult Contemporary
Rhythmic Top 40
Top 40
Rock and Modern Rock
Country (all forms)
Black Gospel
Southern Gospel

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

All styles on one station
Christian and Gospel
Jazz (straight)

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


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" 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.

As of 2013, Billboard contains most of the charts that most people will want to chart on. There are two type of charts: monitored and manual; Billboard calls their monitored charts "Neilson BDS", and their manual charts (online only) "Indicator". The changes in the music business in the last 10 years have made it much easier for indies to chart on Billboard, especially on the Indicators.
There are several other online charts, such as Music Row for country, and FMQB for adult contemporary, and several others for Christian and Gospel. They are all manual charts. The most important thing to understand, it that sometimes you will want to chart, but other times, attempting to "chart" is not what you want at all. Airplay 101 will try to teach you the difference.

Next topic: Which Stations to Choose

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