Does Radio Airplay Matter?


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

3. New forms of radio are providing airplay opportunities for more musicians.

While commercial radio airplay remains highly coveted, it’s no longer the only game in town. A number of radio-like alternatives have emerged in the past ten years, from stronger noncommercial radio stations, to webcasting services, to Sirius XM. Many are now serving huge listener populations and playing music that wouldn’t fit easily into today’s commercial radio playlists.

Returning to the top-level data from the survey, we see a measurable difference between respondents’ experiences receiving “frequent” or “some” airplay on these newer forms of radio. While only 10% of survey respondents reported frequent or some commercial airplay, 27% reported frequent/some noncommercial airplay (NPR, college radio), while 26% said they get played frequently or sometimes on internet radio.

Overall, the numbers are still quite small, but a greater number of survey respondents reported getting “frequent” or “some” airplay on noncommercial, internet and satellite radio than on commercial radio. This also shouldn’t be a surprise. Getting radio airplay is still difficult but, unlike commercial radio, these other radio types have more programming flexibility, can program more diverse formats, and have more capacity for more music; think of Sirius XM with its hundreds of music channels, or Pandora with its limitless, personalized radio structure. In other words, there are more opportunities for a greater array of musicians, and music types, to be played on these new formats, and the data may reflect these changes.

Interviewees also talked about the alternatives to traditional commercial radio. Some artists focused on the difference in accessibility:

[I get played on] independent, non-commercial radio, so either college radio stations or independent freeform radio stations in the US. In Europe I do get radio play on the state stations and that does generate some [PRO] income, not much, $500 to $1,000 a year.  When I’ve done tours [in the US] they do a radio feature and it probably brings out a dozen people to the show.  But again these are college and freeform radio stations so there are probably a dozen to two dozen people listening at any one time.
– Jazz Bandleader B

Others highlighted the characteristics of the noncommercial radio’s audience:

So right now [I get played] more NPR than anything, but I think it’s critical—that’s a decision on my part because the audience that appreciates the music that I play is generally not a pop audience but has a slightly higher education, and more eclectic music tastes, and generally is more of an NPR kind of a crowd. So that’s where I invest my money for visibility.
 – Jazz Bandleader C

Additional quotes further on in this report underscore a point made here; that the very definition of “radio” has changed in the past ten years.  Whereas commercial airplay used to be a singular goal for many musicians, today’s landscape now offers a lot more opportunities. As a result, musicians working in a huge array of genres ­– everything from experimental, to classical, to metal – can often tailor their PR strategy and promote their music to genre-specific outlets and channels, or services like Pandora that build customized stations. We suspect that the higher percentage of survey respondents having “frequent” or “some” success getting airplay on these platforms is partly due to this expansion in opportunity.

Next: The characteristics of those who get airplay





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 […]