Does Radio Airplay Matter?


Posted on May 7th, 2012 by Kristin Thomson in What We're Learning. 5 Comments

2. Musicians’ access to radio was stifled by deregulation.

In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act.  This law drastically changed the radio ownership landscape. It greatly relaxed the local ownership cap, allowing one owner to control up to eight stations in large markets, and eliminated the national cap altogether. This led to a frenzy of radio station sales and acquisitions, and the quick development of a few radio titans, including Clear Channel, Cumulus, Cox and Citadel.[1]

A couple Nashville-based interviewees explicitly mentioned how access to the airwaves changed after radio’s deregulation in 1996, and its subsequent impact on the music business in general:

Radio changed when the bean counters started buying up the radio stations in the form of corporations that didn’t give a rat’s ass about musicians and songs.  All that they cared about was advertising and profits.  And that was a game changer. It really crushed our culture because they put limits and restrictions on playlists and how long a song could be and what could play during certain hours. It just became homogenized.
 – Nashville Songwriter A

To me, the most devastating thing that happened to the music business is radio deregulation. It basically consolidated radio ownership into the hands of very few corporations. It caused the cost of doing business to go up 10 to 15 fold. Because of the costs incurred in buying all of these radio stations, these radio stations demanded much more from the record companies and the content providers.

In the early ‘90s you could take three acts — a Brooks and Dunn record, and a Diamond Rio record, and a Pam Tillis record…you could get them into the Top 10 for a couple hundred thousand dollars. You could spend some promotion money in Dallas, you could spend some money in L.A., you could spend some in Sheboygan, and Des Moines, and start fires in these markets and everybody, all of these independent stations in between would want to get involved and they’d jump in on it. Now with radio consolidation, you’d spend a lot more to move one artist up the charts. Basically the radio stations say, ‘Hey, this is how much it’s going to cost to get that record up, because we own everything.’

–Session Musician/Producer BB

Next: The impact of new forms of radio

[1] For additional information on the impact of radio deregulation on the public, or on independent labels’ access to commercial radio, visit Future of Music Coalition’s additional research reports.






5 responses to “Does Radio Airplay Matter?”

  1. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  2. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  3. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  4. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  5. […] of music, from live performances to digital video (especially in the noncommercial sector, as a recent Future of Music study illustrates). The presentation suggests that there are new ways for radio to expand into both […]