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Radio Song

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Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free
-Rush, "The Spirit Of Radio"

A Radio Song is any song about the medium or culture of radio itself, or that incorporates it as a central metaphor.

Radio as a technology and as a medium has played an indispensable role in shaping our popular culture and consciousness—especially so in the world of music. For decades before the advent of streaming services and widely available digital music, radio was the arbiter of public taste: who got played on the radio (and at what time of day) dictated who got popular and sold records, ranking systems like the Top 40 decided who was the best of the best, and station identities helped codify modern genre classifications.

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As such, many artists over the years have had a . . . complex relationship to this medium that could make or break them on a whim. And, as musicians tend to do when confronted with complexity, many have written songs about it.

Since most of these songs were themselves written to be played on the radio, this is a subtrope of Heavy Meta. However, these can forfeit their own Radio Friendliness if they overlap with Protest Songs written by Disillusioned Artists about how Music Is Politics. Compare Hymn to Music. Sister-trope to Rock Star Song.

Not to Be Confused with Radio Friendliness, about songs written for but not about radio.


No Zero-Context Examples, please!

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Examples:

  • "Ain't Misbehavin'", first published in 1929, is an early example. The song in general is about staying home, waiting for your baby, and one of the verses discusses listening to the radio instead of going out dancing.
  • The Blasters' "Border Radio" describes a woman who calls up a radio station and requests a song that she and "her man" used to enjoy, in hopes that it'll console her and her child. It's left indeterminate why exactly the father can't be reunited with them.
  • The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" is about the falling out of the use of radio in favor of music videos, silky-voiced radio personalities replaced by beautiful, often less talented celebrities.
  • "Yesterday Once More" by The Carpenters, where the singer reminiscences about her favorite song on the radio.
  • "On the Radio" by Cheap Trick, which Rick Nielsen described as "about being fourteen years old and wishing you had a car, riding out, where your best friend was the guy on the radio."
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  • "Listen to the Radio" by The Corrs, where the singer listens to the radio to remedy her loneliness.
  • Donna Summer's "On the Radio," about how a man's letter to The One That Got Away is found by someone and read on the radio. The woman hears it and reunites with him.
  • One of Elvis Costello's most beloved songs (and the one that got him banned from Saturday Night Live for a while) is the iconoclastic "Radio Radio."
    Radio is a sound salvation
    Radio is cleaning up the nation
    They say you better listen to the voice of reason
    But they don't give you any choice 'cause they think that it's treason
    So you had better do as you are told
    You better listen to the radio ...
    I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
    I wanna bite that hand so badly
    I wanna make them wish they'd never seen me
  • "Midnight Radio" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, about the magic of radio and rock 'n roll.
  • Joe Walsh has "The Radio Song," about finding a quiet place alone and listening to music on the radio.
  • Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio," which she wrote after being asked for a catchy love song to play on the radio.
  • LL Cool J: "I Can't Live Without My Radio," about his love for his boombox.
  • "I Radio Heaven" by Over The Rhine uses the radio as a metaphor for a would-be lover struggling to make a connection.
  • Queen's "Radio Ga Ga," an unabashed ode to the radio.
    Let's hope you never leave, old friend,
    Like all good things, on you we depend
    So stick around, 'cause we might miss you
    When we grow tired of all this visual
  • The Ramones' "Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?" laments the rock stations of the 70s straying away from the genre's roots.
  • Rush's "The Spirit of Radio" is half a delightfully verbose celebration of the medium and half a lament on FM radio passing into more regulated, commercial formats during the late 70s.
    Invisible airwaves crackle with life
    Bright antennae bristle with the energy
    Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength
    Bearing a gift beyond price almost free
    For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall
    Concert hall
    And echoes with the sounds
    Of salesmen, of salesmen, of salesmen
  • Shemikia Copeland's "Who Stole My Radio?" discusses the general decline of radio-music quality.
  • Sloan: "Listen To The Radio" where the singer listens to the radio but there is just static.
  • The Smashing Pumpkins: "I of the Mourning" is told from the perspective of a man who seeks comfort in his radio and hears voices within that inspire him to start a band.
  • Steely Dan: "F.M. (No Static at All)." Created as the opening song for the film FM, it song sings the praises of Blues, Reggae, Elvis Presley and the lack of static when compared to AM.
  • Twenty One Pilots have "Car Radio," about a man whose car radio has been stolen discovering how much he's been using music to block out uncomfortable thoughts.
  • "Radio" by Vienna Teng depicts the aftermath of a suicide bombing in a major American city through the perspective of a first responder. The speaker alludes to a time when such events were only a distant reality reported on the radio, at which she could easily "turn away to another station" to hear a love song.
  • "Mexican Radio" by Wall of Voodoo is a tribute to the powerful AM radio stations located near the U.S.-Mexico border known as "border blasters."
  • R.E.M.'s "Radio Song" seemingly blames the radio for destroying society with monotonous low-grade crap, featuring a rap by KRS ONE.
    DJs communicate to the masses
    Sex and violent classes
    Now our children grow up prisoners
    All their life, radio listeners

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