Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

Imagine you and your friends are taking a road trip. No road trip would be complete without music, so you spend the trip blasting the radio. As you turn from station to station, you notice a lot of the same songs are playing. Have you ever wondered why this happens? Or maybe you’ve wondered how songs even get on the radio at all? Well, turn the volume up on this station, because you’re about to find out.

Firstly, all radio stations have a music director. They work with the program director to pick the songs that get airplay as well as networking with artists, record labels and other music industry representatives. The program director is ultimately the person who picks the music that gets played.

Second, there’s two sides to getting a song on the radio: the record label and the radio station. Record labels look at a song’s success by the number of sales and the number of spins (the number of times a song is played on the radio). Record labels know that the most effective way to boost a song’s sales or an artist’s popularity is through radio airplay. The more frequently a song gets spun on the radio, the more people hear it. This prompts people to possibly buy the song or become interested in the artist.

So, record labels take careful consideration into picking what song(s) from an artist’s new album could guarantee the most commercial success, as well as what type of radio station a song gets sent to. For example, if a song fits into the genre of pop, the song will get sent to a pop contemporary hit and/or rhythmic (cross between pop and urban contemporary) stations. Once the record label picks the song, the promotional representatives of the label present the song to radio stations in order to persuade the radio’s program director to play the new song. If the program director agrees, the song gets added to an ever-growing list of songs that will get airplay on the station.

The third step is where the music director comes in. After a list of newly released songs gets developed, a playlist for the station gets developed. The music director listens to the new releases pitched by the promotional representatives and decides which songs will get airplay. Much like a company, each radio station has a “brand,” a target audience to appeal to, so they’ll only play songs that fit the brand of their station. From there, the selected songs are taken to a meeting with the program director, who gets the last say in which songs are added to the station. Then, the approved songs are uploaded into Mediabase, a program for storing all the songs a station plays. Finally, a short playlist is made, composed of a select number of new songs, recent popular songs and some popular older songs, which is played all day, every day. A new playlist is made every week, so songs get switched in and out every week, which is why as time goes on, some songs aren’t played as frequently on a station.

Another really important aspect of radio airplay is what time of day a song gets played. At commercial radio stations, the music and program directors have studied the habits of their listeners, so they know what times people are tuned into their station the most. Many people listen to the radio on the way to work in the morning, so they’ll be able to curate a playlist of songs to play specifically for the morning, or have certain programs play at that time. Another time people listen to the radio is in the evening, usually when they get off from work. Much like the morning, they will play certain songs and/or have certain programs on during that time.

So next time you hear your favorite song on the radio, you’ll understand the journey it took.

Jessica Wilson is a student at West Chester University. ✉

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