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Radio Friendliness

But the problem with my particular oeuvre
Is that half my songs are five minutes and over
And the wisdom here at the BBC
Is that viewers switch off if you go past three
Tim Minchin, "Three-Minute Song"

There are certain songs that simply don't fit the radio medium very well. They may be too long, too artsy, too controversial, too dark, too political, or simply, regardless of quality or merit, are just too risky to fit on a playlist when the Billboard top 40 is so much easier. As a consequence, some acts get exposure that others cannot. For music, Radio Friendliness is the opposite of True Art Is Incomprehensible. Of course, no matter how much Fan Dumb a niche-artist's audience possesses, sometimes, their music is just too boring or too bad to be played on the radio.

See also Music Is Politics.

Examples

  • Tom Waits is someone who, while highly regarded as an artist, does not get radio support.
  • David Bowie suffered the same fate in the U.S. after he moved on from the pop-rock stylings of Let's Dance and its two successor albums at the end of The Eighties. He moved on to usually harder sounds, and combined with his lyrical tendency towards dark and/or difficult subject matter rather than Silly Love Songs, he's not welcome in the adult contemporary radio format that usually adopts older rockers and their new material (Sting, Elton John, The Eagles, etc.). Yet he's not embraced by modern rock radio either, possibly due to his age. In The New Tens, classic rock radio largely neglects his work because so little of it "rocks" in the conventional sense; it's telling that the song of his that gets the most play is his collaboration with Queen, "Under Pressure". (Stations that do "flashback" weekends featuring blocks of 1970s/80s tunes might throw in "Changes", "Young Americans", "Modern Love", and a few other numbers that charted when new.)
  • Billy Joel's song "The Entertainer" discusses length as a factor in radio friendliness, based on the earlier Executive Meddling that shortened "Piano Man":
    I am the entertainer,
    I've come to do my show.
    You've heard my latest record,
    It's been on the radio.
    It took me years to write it,
    They were the best years of my life.
    It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long.
    If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit,
    So they cut it down to 3:05.
  • A lot of Pink Floyd songs get heavily edited for the radio.
  • Save for "Touch of Grey", don't expect to hear a lot of The Grateful Dead on classic rock radio.
  • Lampshaded by Nirvana's "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" from In Utero. Ironically it was neither Radio Friendly nor a Unit Shifternote . The song was originally titled "Four Month Media Blackout" to mockingly reflect the amount of time "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would play on the radio and MTV. When "Teen Spirit" lingered on for longer, the song was retitled "Nine Month Media Blackout." When it became clear the song would become a permanent fixture, the newer song would be retitled "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter."
  • Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, better known as The KLF, had a Number One hit in the UK as The Timelords with a novelty record called "Doctorin' the Tardis", and were inspired to write a book about it, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), "a step by step guide to achieving a No.1 single with no money or musical skills". One part of the advice is listen to other tunes, and the one you're making, on the most basic equipment available. If it's memorable on the crappiest car radio, you're onto a winner. The book was also prescient enough to anticipate home recording, saying "It's obvious that in a very short space of time the Japanese will have delivered the technology and then brought the price of it down so that you can do the whole thing at home. Then you will be able to sod off all that crap about going into studios."
  • Of course the length rule isn't always true. Among the most played songs on the radio all-time is Stairway to Heaven at 7:55.
    • And a song you'll almost certainly hear on Classic Rock stations on Thanksgiving is "Alices Restaurant", which runs 18:34. Of course, there's a joke/statement of some degree of fact that these are both played for much the same reasons: To allow the DJ to leave the booth unattended for 5 and 15 minutes respectively. (After all, even DJs need to crap.)
    • The 10 - 15 minute version of "Freebird" shows up from time to time on whatever channel the university's food court puts on.
    • You might also hear the seven-plus-minute version of "Hey Jude" from time to time, or the similarly-lengthy "Macarthur Park".'
    • The longest song to hit #1 in the US is American Pie by Don McLean which ran a whopping 8:33
  • Despite being quite popular and having a massive cult fanbase, you will never hear Radiohead on the radio (except "Creep" from Pablo Honey and maybe "Fake Plastic Trees" from The Bends, "Karma Police", or "Paranoid Android" from OK Computer if the six-minutes-and-change running time doesn't put it out of the running).
    • JJJ in Australia used to play them a lot and still plays their new material for a while when it comes out.
    • Averted with "Reckoner," which gets played on the radio quite often.
  • During the Turn of the Millennium Hip Hop singles became heavily regulated thanks to a combination of Executive Meddling and Music Is Politics.
  • Tim Minchin has an unusually clean, three-minute long song written especially for pre-watershed TV appearances (which make similar stipulations), and which is all about the reasons he needs to write a clean three-minute song.
  • Sean Paul recorded a song called "We Be Burnin'," which is a song about marijuana and why he thinks it should be legalized. Since Moral Guardians and Media Watchdogs would freak out (marijuana use and legalization is controversial, plus the whole Think of the Children! thing), he was forced to record an alternate version of the song that could be played on the radio without too much controversy, which is just about partying.
  • Toad The Wet Sprocket "Walk On The Ocean" suffered from this due to formatting - it lacked the usual instrumental "intro" and "outro" with the singing starting immediately at the start of the track, and the track ending immediately when the lyrics stopped meaning the DJ would have to time the transitions carefully to avoid either talking/playing another song over the lyrics, or Dead Air.
  • BBC Radio 2 DJ Richard Allinson had a regular feature on his show called Oh no, not ALL of it! where he would play a listener-requested long track in its entirety - the longer the better. Things like The Moody Blues' Legend of a Mind, at 8:45, were considered too short to qualify.
  • However, the first incarnation of music retrospective show Sounds of the Seventies foundered in that it was only given half an hour's airtime. Then-presenter Steve Harley demonstrated that one long prog-rock track could quite easily occupy the entire show. note 
  • Subverted in the case of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" from A Night at the Opera, a mini-Rock Opera released as a single uncut at 5:55, which the band knew would be a hard sell. It became a hit when Freddie Mercury begged his friend, DJ Kenny Everett not to play it, knowing full well Kenny (who loved the song) would do so anyway. Kenny would always "excuse" his plays of the song by muttering, "Oops, hand slipped!" and the like.