Radio Myths and Misconceptions

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When it comes to getting on the radio, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions to wade through.  The glitz and glamour (or lack thereof), the procedures and people involved, the dos and don’ts, the weight of labels — from A to Z, the outside world has racked up a considerable catalog of false ideas when it comes to just how radio really works.  To combat this problem, we’ve compiled a handy guide to some of the most common and persistent radio myths and misconceptions.  Knowledge is power, so before you embark on the long and arduous journey to the airwaves, educate yourself!

Myth #1: Getting On the Radio is Easy

It’s easy to see where this mentality came from.  After all, between the digital and physical worlds, there are tens of thousands of radio stations, and more emerge with each moment that passes.  On a daily basis, each of those stations plays hundreds of songs.  Everyone and their mother seems to either be in a band or spinning as a DJ on weekends, not to mention the millions of iPods tucked into America’s jean pockets.  Music is absolutely everywhere, so it can’t be that hard to break in — right?

Very, very wrong.  While all of the sentences in the above paragraph are true (excepting the last one), the abundance of music is not an indicator of how easy it is to get on the radio.  On the contrary, it simply demonstrates how much competition new and emerging acts must constantly and diligently battle against.

Both commercial and non-commercial radio stations receive dozens or even hundreds of new music submissions every single day, and these stations are staffed by human beings who need to sleep, take breaks, and meet deadlines.  Music and program directors are already inundated with submissions, and if those submissions happen to be incorrectly formatted, packaged, or labeled, they slip even further down the priority totem pole.

Some musicians think that because non-commercial radio is more accepting of offbeat and genre-bending acts, college and other non-commercial stations “will play anything.”  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  While non-commercial stations may be free from the financial pressures of commercial stations, they are still extremely discerning when it comes to quality, artistry, and originality.  The world of radio can be brutally competitive, and new musicians need to be aware going in that the path to success isn’t going to be a cakewalk.

Myth #2: Radio is Only About Commercials

It’s true that commercial radio, well, lives up to its name.  Commercial radio stations make their money off of deals with advertising companies, so yes, the ad spots tend to be laid on a little thick.  However, commercial stations aren’t all that’s out there.

There are thousands of non-commercial stations broadcasting across the United States.  These non-commercial stations are legally obligated to forego running advertisements, which means they have more time (and more flexibility) for the actual music.  Because of this, non-commercial radio is indisputably the starting point for new acts.

Myth #3: Commercial Radio Judges Quality Only

Ah, the most tragic misconception of all: “It’s all about the music, man!”  In a perfect world, this would be true.  But unfortunately, in the real world of dollars and cents, sheer quality — no matter how impressive — does not supply enough fuel to reach the land of commercial radio.

You have to understand that commercial radio is, first and foremost, a business.  Regardless of what their jingles may claim, commercial radio is not focused on “bringing you today’s hottest new artists” — commercial radio is focused on making money.  If you don’t already have a loyal following, positive reviews, and a sizable chunk of spare money to spend on aggressive promotion, commercial radio won’t be interested.

Fortunately, commercial radio is not the end-all-be-all of the broadcasting world.  Because non-commercial radio is not preoccupied with making money and appeasing corporate sponsors,  non-commercial radio does judge artists based on quality — the way artists should be judged.  College stations gave chances to bands like Camper Van Beethoven, Bauhaus, The Replacements, Public Image Limited, and The Jesus And Mary Chain when commercial radio wasn’t interested.

Myth #4: All I Have to Do is Make Requests

On the surface, this seems like a foolproof tactic.  You get your music into a station’s library, you have your friend call in to request it, the DJ plays it, and everyone listening at home hears it.  Some of those people like it, and then down the line, they request it.  It snowballs bigger and bigger, until bam, you’re a star!

If only it were that easy.  In reality, radio station personnel are actually trained to deal with this issue specifically.  At best, the chance you can outsmart them is slim, and even if you can, your request isn’t going to make as big of a dent as energetic promotion, networking, and constant refinement of musical craft would make.  Don’t think about cheating the system so much as constantly improving yourself as an artist.

Myth #5: Small Stations Are Useless

For some reason, non-commercial stations have come to suffer from the persistent misconception that commercial radio stations are somehow “better” or “more important.”  On the contrary, non-commercial stations are known in the music industry as the last bastion of true artistic quality and musical integrity.  Non-commercial stations are not dictated by the need to rake in advertising profits, which means that their staff members put more stock into musical innovation than dollar signs.  As an artist, that’s exactly what you want to hear.

Furthermore, in many cases, “small” non-commercial stations aren’t necessarily that small.  Many non-commercial stations boast thousands or hundreds of thousands of listeners on a weekly basis — not exactly a negligible audience.

The radio industry is competitive and fast-paced, and working based on myths is only doing yourself a disservice.  The more you understand about the true nature of the radio world, the better equipped you’ll be to reach your goals as an artist.