Getting It On the Radio

By Paul Moffett

The dream of every performer and songwriter is to hear his or her songs on the radio. Performers will often say that the first time they heard themselves coming over the airwaves was one of the most exciting points of their career.

So how hard is it to get a recording played on the radio?

Impossible, say some independent record companies. They argue, vehemently, that the major labels control what goes on the various stations' playlists. Without airplay, sales of records are usually dismal.

Locally produced recordings sometimes have a better chance of getting on the air because they are local, but it's never easy. Some of the difficulty is due to the proliferation of stations using programming services or automated programming, where there isn't a local announcer on the air, only a technician feeding in the appropriate tapes. Some is due to the domination of the radio market by marketing surveys.

There are other reasons. To find out some of them, LMN decided to do a survey of local radio stations to find out how many are willing and, more importantly, actually put local recordings on the air. Several program directors were contacted and asked about their station's position with regard to local product. The results contained some surprises.

· Over at the library, WFPL/WFPK station manager Gerry Weston responded enthusiastically.

"We do more remote production than any other station in town," he said. The stations broadcast the Homefront show, a locally produced live music show, as well as The Lonesome Pine Specials. The library stations are also unusual in that the announcers decide what to play on their shows rather than working from a playlist. This is in part due to the diversity of musical styles which are broadcast on WFPL. Weston added that quality of recording is of paramount importance, as well as the quality of the material and the performance.

Weston also described a new program, Louisville in Concert, scheduled for broadcast on WFPK 91.9 FM, the library's classical music station, on Sundays at 8:00 p.m.

The show will feature Louisville-area players performing mainly classical and New Age works. Recording will be at various locations, including the University of Louisville, Indiana University Southeast, the seminaries, and other sites.

The shows where local recordings have gotten air time are:

Scott Mullins, host of the Saturday Night Blues Party, occasionally plays recordings by local blues groups.

Berk Bryant, host of the Sunday Bluegrass program, has played cuts by New Horizon, Gary Brewer and the Kentucky Ramblers and other local bluegrass groups.

Jazz Tonight's Leslie Stewart just finished rebroadcasting several live concerts that were recorded in conjunction with the Louisville Jazz Society.

Joe Vincenza of Audioasis is "in favor of it." However, he doesn't get that many local recordings, due to the "eclectic" nature of his show, but says that he would love to get more.

· PD Bill May at FM rocker WQMF says that they play "any music our audience wants to hear." Last year, that included cuts by Spanky Lee and Larry Crane. Spanky Lee is a Louisville band. Crane, longtime guitarist with John Cougar Mellencamp, is from Bloomington, Ind., and has an unsigned project from which cuts were played.

The factors which determine whether or not a local recording goes on the air at QMF are: format compliance; song quality; production quality; and recording quality. May noted that the station plays CDs approximately 95% of the time and has gotten much more conscious of recording quality recently. The Spanky Lee cuts came off a CD and the Crane material was available on digital audio tape (DAT).

Airplay on QMF is particularly important because the station reports to such trade journals as Billboard, the Hard Report and Radio and Records.

May also said that QMF is currently in the process of developing a program with Marvin Maxwell, owner of Mom's Musician's General Store and Recording Studio, that will feature recordings that were made at Mom's. A date has not been set for the show to air.

· Coyote Calhoun of WAMZ says that the FM country giant has a consultant who handles all incoming material. Lee Bailey, of Dallas, listens on a song-by-song basis to whatever the station sends him and returns a recommended playlist. Coyote said that Bailey listens for production values that rank with national material and wants it on CD. Cassettes do not do well.

The station has played some local material in the past, Coyote said, but does not play everything by any means.

· Rod Burbridge of WGBZ (B96) said that his urban contemporary FM station is very open to playing local recordings, contingent upon the quality of the recording, the material and the production. He said that the station is currently playing cuts from Prince Phillip Mitchell's new CD. Jerry Green's new CD will be scheduled in shortly.

Burbridge also said that the Underground Mafia's recent tune had been played on the station.

· Maurice Harrod of AM station WLOU stated that they like to play local work "whenever we can," provided the recording is of air quality. He said the station prefers CD, although he will play vinyl records occasionally.

Currently, the station is playing Jerry Green's "Kiss and Say Goodbye." The Underground Mafia's tune has been played but Harrod said that WLOU was no longer going to play rap.

· Over at country AM WTMT, E. J. Clark said that he listens to everything but emphasized that he is not interested in demos. The station plays five or six local songs per year.

"People must be able to buy it as a single," Clark said. He also emphasized that only material by "working performers" would receive attention.

Currently a Karen Kraft tune, "Swinging Door," is being played at night.

During the Persian Gulf war, the station did play a number of demos of patriotic songs. That was an exception to the general rule of the station not to play demos, Clark commented, one not likely to be repeated.

· Skip Essick at WHAS said that they do not play much music on the clear-channel AM giant, and what they do play tends to be already established hits. He did note that on special occasions they will air some local material, such as the tunes they played regarding the Persian Gulf war.

· Andy Haines, PD of Contemporary Christian station WJIE, set national radio standards as the ones local products have to meet.

"The big sound is what we want," he said. He and his staff listen to all material they receive and assess it on the basis of its production values, vocals, message and length. They listen to independent product as well.

Recently, that station played "Side by Side," a song by Kevin Singleton of Elizabethtown. Singleton has since moved to Nashville.

· At Adult Contemporary WMIX (formerly WLRS), PD Peter Smith said that there was very little local product available in the station's format. In addition, the station's target audience of women in the 25-44 age range prefers older material.

· KISS 104's Joe Kelly said that his job is "not to break hits but to program a radio station that reaches the most people" in order to deliver audience to advertisers. To that end, the station plays core national artists and hits which are very, very familiar.

However, he would "never shut the door on a local group." He said that he would consider a strong local band with a strong following that worked a lot and that might be ready to break nationally.

· WVEZ's Jeff Leonard was somewhat more philosophical than Kelly but said essentially the same thing: his station, a "light AC" (Adult Contemporary) station strives to "please most of the people most of the time" and not break hits. Leonard noted that current radio is driven by marketing analyses provided by national companies, which means that stations across the country have lost their local flavor and tend to sound very much alike.

Although he does not "exclude locals," Leonard noted that WVEZ subscribes to a programming service, which eliminates having to dedicate a chunk of time weekly to listening to new records and the solicitations of record pluggers.

· There have been some more organized local music shows in the area.

WZZX 101.7 had the Hometown Music Hour, hosted by now-WHAS air personality Randy Davidson in 1980. The hour-long program aired every Sunday night at 9:00 and featured interviews with local groups, as well as playing their songs. Four or five songs would be played on an average show. The program got good response from listeners but was discontinued when the station changed format.

The Hometown Music Hour was followed by two hours of progressive jazz fusion, according to Davidson. He spoke with pride of having been involved in such innovative programming and said he still has some tapes of the shows, if anyone is interested.

LMN attempted to reach as many Louisville-area program directors as possible but could not contact all of them. Anyone with additional information on this subject can drop a note to LMN or call (502) 231-5559.