Radio Airplay 101 - Specialty / Mixshow Radio
A specialty show or a mixshow is a one or two hour show on a commercial station, usually late at night, and many times on the weekends, which plays music that the station normally does not play. A disadvantage of these shows is that you get only one or two spins per week on any particular station (which is even less than some college stations give you.) The advantage of these shows, however, is:
(1) The number of listeners to these commercial stations is much higher than with college stations, since commercial stations have promotional budgets which they use to attract listeners (billboards, vans, bus benches, TV ads, etc.)
(2) Commercial stations have a steady listenership level year round (compared to college,) although listenership does peak somewhat in the spring and summer because of increased outdoor activities.
(3) A song's prominence on commercial stations is higher, due to most commercial stations' higher visibility.
(4) An often-overlooked asset of specialty/mixshows on commercial radio is the fact that the folks who host these shows, many times also sit in on the music meetings with the station's music director and program director. So if your long term goal is to be in regular rotation on these stations, the specialty/mixshow route is a great preliminary step.
Speaking of long term goals on commercial radio, if you envision any type of radio advertising or indie promotion for your project, then starting out with the specialty/mixshow circuit (on these same stations) might be a good idea.
The specialty and mixshow circuit is about as far as you can expect to get without getting into some heavy commercial promotions. With college radio, heavy promotion is not required, but since specialty and mixshows are on commercial stations, you should start looking into serious promotion at this point.
Specialty/mixshows are generally alternative, rock, techno, dance, urban, jazz or blues, and there are separate charts for each of these. Relative to college radio, specialty/mixshows are fewer in number (usually less than 100 per genre,) but are more difficult to obtain. Relative to regular rotation on commercial stations, specialty/mixshows are far less costly to work.
Regarding your CD type, specialty/mixshows require fully-manufactured CDs (with lithographed graphics)...not the computer-printed CDRs. Fortunately, however, CDRs can still be used for college radio.
How do you choose between promoting to specialty/mixshow and college radio? Well first of all, larger labels would do both, and possibly commercial regular rotation on top of this. But most brand new projects will need to choose between specialty and college. Here's how (genre permitting)...
Have limited CDs? Go with specialty...the most you'll need will be 100 for a charting campaign.
Have only CDRs? Go with college...they'll take almost anything.
Hate commercialism? Go with college.
Wanna be visible to larger labels? Go with college...you'll generate more "paper" chart results to put in your press kit. For the same number of dollars, you won't get as far in commercial.
Wanna build your own label, sell records in stores, and add other artists long-term? Go specialty...it will prepare you for commercial regular rotation...which is what reaches the most listeners (and helps you sell records, provided you have a retail promoter/salesperson.)
Wanna do some regional appearances? Do college, because there are many more stations to pick from in any particular region. But if you are going to eventually try commercial regular rotation, then go ahead and choose specialty now.
These are, of course, just rough guidelines, but the most important aspect to any radio campaign is that whatever you choose, stick with it and see it through to the end. Stopping a 10 week campaign at 5 weeks (or an 8 week campaign at 4 weeks) will guarantee that you will get almost zero results.
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