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How to get non-commercial radio stations to play your music

Click here for Part One

In the last issue, we detailed the differences between commercial and non-commercial radio stations. We now focus solely on the "Non-Comm's": Why, and how, they should be chosen for airplay.

Non-commercial stations are comprised of three groups: College, community, and "NPR" stations. The "NPR" and "community" stations are mostly the same ones, and are owned by community non-profit organizations. The community stations that are contracted to carry the NPR (National Public Radio) programs are the ones that are often called "NPR" stations. Community and NPR stations, in general, have few paid staff (perhaps just the manager and program director.) The majority of the "labor" comes from community volunteers who love a particular type of music or talk-subject; they program their own shows (for music shows, they choose their own music,) in cooperation with the management. In general, these stations are big on Jazz and other softer genres.

College radio is by far the biggest non-commercial group, with about 1,000 stations in the U.S. and Canada. A college station is part of a college's Communication or Media department, and is almost always comprised of hundreds of separate one-hour music shows, each being done by a different student taking a broadcasting class at the college. In general, college radio likes the harder, louder music that you like. Indeed, alternative and punk/ska/industrial comprises 75% of all the music at these stations.

The biggest advantage of college radio is that it is the easiest and fastest way to get airplay, and with it, the comments, favorite tracks, interviews, and reports in CMJ and other magazines, all of which become great tools to build the buzz. The biggest disadvantage... actually the two biggest... of college radio is that college stations are very difficult to reach (by phone and fax, when you are promoting to them), nd they have a limited listenership (because they are non-commercial, and have no promotion budget.) To "work" college radio properly, you have to work a lot of them at the same time in order to get the results you need (at the very least, 50 stations.)

Overall, airplay on non-commercial stations should be used as a developmental tool for artists or bands. It should *not* be used as a way of selling CDs; there are just not enough listeners at these stations to sell any real quantities of CDs or tickets (besides, that is what commercial radio is for.)

With non-commercial radio, you are looking to generate a tool (results on paper) that can be used to obtain gigs, get articles, get CD placement in stores (maybe with store performances), find out which single the stations like, practice doing station interviews or I.D.'s or visits, and of course, learn how the "charts" work, either at the individual station level, or at the trade-publication level... all stuff which is of interest to bigger labels, management, bookers, lawyers, publishers, and TV-film people.

The toughest part about working your CD to non-commercial radio is that there are so many volunteers/students running in and out of the station, and there are so many stations which need to be worked, that it becomes very difficult reaching the stations. They need to be reached every week by phone and fax (along with some email,) so that you can tell them what's up with your CD, and so you can ask them what's going on with your CD (the latter task is called "tracking"). If you are trying to "chart" your CD in CMJ, you will need to service and contact *at least* 300 stations *each* week if your genre is Metal/Techno/Jazz/World/Urban, and at least 500 stations each week if your genre is Alternative/Punk/Ska. This has to be done for a minimum of several weeks in order for a new act on a new label to have any real chance of charting.

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

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Get radio stations to play your music. Indie bands, musician tips