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Radio Airplay 101 - Why Stations Have To Be Called

To the person who has not worked with (or even heard of) promotions departments or independent promoters, the concept of making continuous phone calls to stations may seem like overkill, or even downright strange. After all, "If the station liked what they heard on my CD, they would play it and then call me to let me know." Not quite.

Take a look at the promotion department at a major indie label: Even small projects (less than $30,000 marketing dollars over three months) will have at least three full-time people doing nothing but calling stations. Larger projects have more people, including people in every market who visit stations personally every week. Songs which do not get into this promotional cycle do not get into regular rotation on commercial stations.... they are relegated to test spins, specialty, or college stations.

It works like this: If you are a PD, and you are talking with someone on the phone about a prospective song/album, you know that this person is also calling many other stations like yours this week too. And since he has your attention on the phone, and since you are looking at his CD while he is telling you what is going on, you have to assume that the other PDs will be listening and looking too. Your job as a PD is to get listeners, and nothing does this like creating a mass-media "hit" (many stations airing the same song by the same artist at the same time). So you have to take seriously the fact that many other stations may start airing the song/album that this person is calling about.

Then, you realize that while you were on the phone with him, you were not browsing through the stacks of other CDs from other artists; you were not surfing around websites looking for other great song possibilities; you were not listening to other stations in your market to check for songs which may also work on your station. You instead were focusing on the one song that the guy on the phone was calling you about. And now that you know all the basics about this guy's artist, it becomes one of the CDs you will be reviewing.

That was one phone call... maybe five or ten minutes long. As a PD, how many of these calls do you have the time to take each day?... Three, four, ten? However many it is, these calls will be the songs/albums that you end up knowing something about, and they will be the ones that you know other PDs will know something about, too. So these become the projects that will get a full listen.

But wait! What about the stack of CDs on your desk that no one called about?... The ones still in their wrappers, or still in their mailers? And what about all those emails? Why aren't you taking extra time to read through all their details, to request CDs, or to go click and listen online? Are the other PDs checking into these other projects? Are other PDs even aware they exist?

So that's it: The amount of phone time that you (as a PD) spend is taken up by certain folks describing certain projects, and these projects are the ones you review. The other projects either we're not reviewed, not opened, or not requested. After all, how many of those other projects can you review, especially when they stand no chance of mass growth because they are not being promoted?

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Comparing Stations to Touring

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