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Radio Friendliness

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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.

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See also Music Is Politics.


Examples

  • This trope sparked the development of the Progressive Rock radio format in the mid- and late 1960s, which featured music from across - and beyond - the spectrum of rock and roll regardless of radio friendliness. The owners of such stations believed that Top 40 radio stations had become too concerned about ratings and making money to take chances on playing anything that didn't fit the typical pop-song template, and that there was a need for a format that played rock music from albums the way people were listening to them at home (including, since most of these new stations were on the FM band, in stereo). As such stations grew in popularity, Top 40 stations began incorporating more album versions of hit songs into their playlists to various degrees. Eventually even the Progressive Rock format became commercialized and evolved into Album Oriented Rock and its various commercial spin-offs (Classic Rock, Modern Rock, Adult Alternative, and so on), and today most of the stations that epitomize the traditional Progressive spirit are non-commercial broadcasters, particularly college- or university-owned stations.
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  • Tom Waits is someone who, while highly regarded as an artist, does not get radio support.
  • David Bowie saw little U.S. airplay after he moved on from the pop-rock stylings of Let's Dance and its two successor albums at the end of The '80s. He moved on to usually harder sounds, and given his lyrical tendency towards dark and/or difficult subject matter rather than Silly Love Songs, he wasn't welcome in the adult contemporary radio format that usually adopts older rockers' new material (Sting, Elton John, The Eagles, etc.). Modern rock radio wouldn't play him either, possibly due to his age. In The New '10s, Classic Rock radio largely neglects him because so little of his work "rocks" in the conventional sense; tellingly the song 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 other numbers that charted.)
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  • 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. Also, don't expect to hear many of their songs outside "Money", "Another Brick in The Wall, Pt. II", "Comfortably Numb" or "Learning to Fly" on classic rock radio.
  • Save for "Touch of Grey" or "Truckin'", 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; if a DJ at a rock station needs to buy some time for other matters (such as taking a rest, grabbing some food, or doing some business), they'll often put on "Stairway to Heaven" (7:55), "American Pie" (8:33; also the longest single to ever be a number-one hit in the U.S.), or "Free Bird" (9:08). "Free Bird", however, sometimes gets cut short just as the singing stops, and the guitar solo that comprises the last third of the song starts.
    • You might also hear the seven-plus-minute version of "Hey Jude" from time to time, or the similarly-lengthy "Macarthur Park".'
    • And a song you'll almost certainly hear on Classic Rock stations on Thanksgiving is "Alice's Restaurant", which runs 18:34.
  • 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.
  • The Carpenters version of "I Just Fall in Love Again" was thought to have hit single potential, but was too long for Top 40 airplay at the time (the late 1970s) and couldn't be edited without butchering the song. A few years later, a considerably shorter version of the song did become a hit for Anne Murray.
  • 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 gave his friend, DJ Kenny Everett a copy, telling him 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.
  • BTS's music has had a history of getting little to no airplay in US radio stations regardless of requests, with several reports of radio stations ignoring requests or asking for ridiculous amounts of Twitter interactions just for a play in the middle of the night, even after they were getting top 10 singles on Billboard Hot100, to the point that "ON" managed to get to #4 despite minimal radio play. Main causes? Reluctance to play non-English songs, as well as songs by acts perceived as "teen pop" (nevermind the many journalistic pieces dedicated to the diversity of the fandom or the mature themes present in BTS' music).
    • The songs by BTS that got the most airplay were "Mic Drop" (the remix featuring Desiigner), "Waste it on Me" (where BTS is a featured artist, and mostly in dance music stations), "Boy With Luv" (feat. Halsey), and "Make It Right" (feat. Lauv). It was only with "Dynamite", BTS' first fully English single, that BTS finally got noticeable radio support.
    • "Boy With Luv" (which debuted at #8) stands out as a song that by any other criteria would be considered BTS' radio-friendliest single, but got heavily edited for radio and only managed to stay on Top 40 stations for a few weeks.
    • It's worth noting that songs 100% in English by other Korean groups received more radioplay despite not having charted at all on Billboard, with radio director Erik Bradley saying that K-pop songs in English made it easier to play them on radio - this, only a few months after BTS stated that they would not change their identity by making an entire English album solely to make it to US charts.
    • This was reflected again when BTS released the Korean single "Life Goes On", which got almost non-existent radioplay compared to their English single "Dynamite" (released months prior). Both songs reached #1 on Billboard Hot 100, but "Life Goes On" did so despite the lack of the radioplay that helped "Dynamite" top the chart.
  • Some singles used screwy timings in an attempt to trick DJs into playing tracks they would otherwise reject as "too long", such as Simon & Garfunkel's "Fakin' It" being "2:74", the short version of Rick Nelson's "Palace Guard" being "3:70" or Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonite" being "3:67".
  • Many of Taylor Swift's early songs, when played on pop radio stations, had overdubbed electric guitars to make them seem like pop songs as opposed to crossovers from country music. The pop version of "Teardrops on My Guitar" has a single acoustic guitar strum in the intro as opposed to a longer mandolin intro, and it has a cello instead of a steel guitar after the chorus.
  • Evanescence's "My Immortal" simply has Amy Lee's voice accompanied by a solo piano and a string orchestra on the album, but when played on the radio, a guitar solo comes in after the bridge and the rest of the song continues with full rock band instrumentation. This version is listed on streaming services as "band version." It also has more vocal dubbing where Lee sings harmony vocals with herself.
  • Between his purposefully button-pushing subject matter and fondness for heavy Audio Drama elements in his production, this has been a constant battle for Eminem's work.
    • "My Name Is" had a radio edit which replaced the more extreme violence, drug references and suicide jokes with more harmless antics (example: "Well, since age twelve, I've felt like I'm someone else/ 'cause I hung my original self from the top bunk with a belt" becomes "Well, since age twelve, I've felt like a caged elf, who stayed to himself in one place, chasing his tail"), though even this edit was considered far too rough for radio play and was often censored further. The line "I just drank a fifth of vodka - dare me to drive?" was especially controversial, despite being replaced with "I just drank a fifth of Kool-Aid", and the whole line is usually played backmasked on radio.
    • The album version of "Guilty Conscience", a concept song where Dr. Dre plays various characters's consciences, with their bad side played by Slim Shady, has audio drama segments that play between each of the three scenarios, in which we hear each character going about their life until the moment when they have to decide whether or not to do something awful. The radio edited version underscores these with a rather lazy hook sung by Eminem - "these voices, these voices, I hear them, and when they talk I follow, I follow, I follow, I follow...". There's even an obvious edit in the track when the hook repeats. There are also significant lyrical changes in the second verse (in which Slim attempts to persuade a young man to rape a fifteen year old girl) and some less significant ones the third verse (in which Slim attempts to persuade a man to murder his wife for cheating) (e.g. "still wanna stab her?" becomes "still wanna grab her?")
    • After the success of these singles, Eminem had wanted to release "My Fault" as a single - a Black Comedy about giving a girl mushrooms at a party, causing her to flash back to her sexual abuse at the hands of her father and kill herself - and re-recorded a radio-friendly version which changed it to be about her having an allergic reaction to mushrooms on a pizza. The record company intervened, saying that Eminem releasing another comedy song in a row would make him seem like a novelty artist, a decision that Eminem later credited with saving his career. (Instead, the record company released "Role Model", an Anti-Role Model song which is still comedic, but certainly darker than a song about a girl having an allergic reaction to a pizza.)
    • One radio station got fined by the FCC for playing the Clean radio edit of "The Real Slim Shady", as the song was considered to be too filthy for broadcast. (Modern listeners, not living in the peak of the Eminem moral panic, might not understand what the fuss is about.) Eminem grouched about this particular incident on two later singles - "The Way I Am" ("radio won't even play my jam!") and "Without Me" ("the FCC won't let me be, or let me be me...").
    • While Eminem stopped doing significant lyric rewrites for his singles after The Slim Shady LP (apart from a video version of "Without Me" which softens the homophobic slur to "you 36-year-old bald-headed Stan, blow me"), his songs usually still faced heavy edits due to the intensity of the language and violence. One significant exception is "We Made You", the lead single from Relapse and one of the only Eminem songs with no swear words in it. However, the content of the song is still utterly foul, containing references to adult breastfeeding fetish, premature ejeculation and plenty of lesbians-only homophobia, with an lurching, swung burlesque beat which Eminem raps across in an absurd, heavily-accented machine-gun rattle. For this reason, it did not get a lot of radio play. Eminem switched to a much more radio-friendly, straight-laced pop-hip-hop crossover sound after Relapse, with a lot of inspirational ballads that went into heavy rotation, and noted on "Guts Over Fear", a song in which he debates the future of his career, that he'd "rather make "Not Afraid 2" than release another "We Made You"."

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