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Click to Email BryanThe Number of
Radio Stations in the U.S.
by Bryan Farrish

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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 manufactured...now 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 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 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 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-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
Urban Adult Contemporary
Rhythmic Top 40
Top 40
Rock and Modern Rock
Country (all forms)
Smooth (contemporary) Jazz

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

All styles on one station

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

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 (College Media Journal). 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. Note: Your music MUST fit what college stations play, in order for CMJ to be of use to you.

CMJ 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 seven different weekly-airplay charts, the weekly version covers the seven 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,) New Age/World (NEW WORLD chart,) Hip Hop, Latin Alternative, Jazz, and Singer-Songwriter (AAA chart).

Forget Billboard...For an indie act with a limited budget, its airplay charts are impossible, since they incorporate sales. Other charts such as R&R and FMQB are possible, however.

Bryan Farrish is an independent radio airplay promoter. He can be reached at 818-905-8038 or at radio-media.com

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