Why radio stations won’t play most indie music

I heard a lot of people wondering: “Why doesn’t the radio play less known artists? There are some amazing songs out there that are lesser known and need to be heard. Commercial/ClearChannel radio sucks.”

However, it’s not the radio that sucks. It’s the listeners.

Consider the following: The music director at San Francisco’s Live 105 (owned by CBS) is Aaron Axelsen (who I’m a fan of). Aaron decides what’s get played by the DJs during the day, but he also has a show of his own on the station: Soundcheck, every Sunday night. In it, he plays the kind of music we are longing to listen to during daytime: From Manchester Orchestra, to The Temper Trap, to Surfer Blood, to many local Bay Area bands that caught his ear (scroll down for his latest playlist).

However, the rest of the daytime programming is terrible: the same 20-30 hit songs are playing on a rotation. How many times it happened to me already: driving for sushi lunch, Phoenix’s “1901” would be playing on our car’s radio. Coming out of lunch, and Phoenix’s “1901” would be playing AGAIN. The rotation is so fucking short that it’s not even funny.

Now, it’s easy to put the blame on Aaron or his corporate overlords, but it’s not really their fault. They are just doing what makes sense for their business. And what makes sense is to keep the listeners from switching channels.

You see, the vast majority of the radio listeners don’t listen to music. They hear music instead. There’s a difference. They put the kids on the SUV, and drive them to school, and turn on the radio in the meantime. Or, they’re stuck in traffic, pissed off, and need to listen to “easy” music to pass the time. Or, they’re sitting on their sofa, reading a magazine, and have the radio ON as a background.

Very few people actually drive somewhere in order to turn on the radio and listen to music. Or sit on their sofa, closing their eyes, and listen to just music. Normal people instead, are so busy with their lives, their problems, the quick pace of this civilization, that simply don’t have the time to discover new music. Listening to unknown kind of melodies, or new kinds of sub-genres altogether, takes them out of their comfort zone. Listening to something like Dan Deacon instead of Lady Gaga, for example, while the kids shout at each other at the back of the car, makes it difficult to level your head. Not only you have your problems, but you have this new ‘annoying’ music playing instead of the music (or kind of music) you already know so well.

Basically, commercial radio works as a kind of a depressant for the masses. At first, it feels like music is exactly the opposite: an excitement that is, but in reality, in the large scheme of things, as far as FM radio is concerned, it’s nothing but one of the ways that helps you kept in check. No, this is not a conspiracy theory, it’s just how things work. Listeners want it that way too.

And that’s the reason why you’ll never be able to hear Fever Ray, Antlers, or Local Natives on commercial radio, during daytime, at least in the US. Unless indie bands hit it big on their own, their music will play only late at night, or at specialized radio stations like college radios, KEXP, and Indie 103.1.

So stop hating the radio stations for doing their job. Either hate the system, or the listeners, or don’t hate anyone, and listen to your favorite music in your own accord. But don’t expect the population to follow too. They won’t. They have mortgages to think about rather than HEALTH‘s awesome off-beat noise.

9 Comments »

dustinshey wrote on February 4th, 2010 at 4:01 PM PST:

The apathy in this country is rampant. I know that as a music-insane-addict-person that I’m not the ‘typical’ client when it comes to radio and TV. It’s why I’ve canceled all cable, haven’t turned on an FM dial in at least 2 years (not having a car helps) – and my god, I sound like a hippie.

BUT, I’m a hippie that actually cares what goes in my ears, eyes, and mind. Like my mother said “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” Just such a shame that the powers that be are more concerned with the almighty dollar than actually making the world a better place through things like… indie music. creative arts. etc.

That’s it, I’m starting a campaign for those that want to be conscious of what their intake is when it comes to music and the arts. I’ll call it twitter.


memson wrote on February 4th, 2010 at 4:14 PM PST:

BBC 6 Music and XFM spearhead this type of music in the UK. Any station that will play an entire “Half man Half Biscuit” album in full is obviously not kow towing to mainstream.

I think 6 Music streams, so you might want to check it out. It plays all kinds of weird stuff.


Vast Majority wrote on February 4th, 2010 at 11:31 PM PST:

You should change the title to \Why CORPORATE radio stations won’t play most indie music\.

The College radio stations in my part of town tend to operate with a different mindset (and budget), and attract an audience that \listens\ to music.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on February 5th, 2010 at 12:10 AM PST:

And you should read more carefully the article, because college radios are mentioned. The point is, the vast majority of people listen to commercial radio, therefore, the title stands. 😉


refeup wrote on February 5th, 2010 at 7:04 AM PST:

It’s true, we paint the radio stations as the bad guys (not that they aren’t, totally) but they are a business and they are catering to what will make them the most money. That’s no different than any other form of business.

However, I think it is difficult to distinguish between when radio is leading and when it is following. How much are their playlists determined by the tastes of the masses and how much are the masses’ tastes determined by the playlists?


memson wrote on February 5th, 2010 at 7:29 AM PST:

Hey E, thanks for the edit, except “kow tow” is a real word – it comes from Chinese and basically means the act of “kissing arse” or “bending over backwards”. I was basically saying the stations I mentioned were not “bending over backwards for or kissing the arse of” mainstream media.


what wrote on February 6th, 2010 at 4:39 AM PST:

hmm… what ’bout radioparadise.com?


Jim wrote on February 6th, 2010 at 12:41 PM PST:

I am 56yrs old now, but I stopped listening to the radio for music in the mid 80’s. We used to have a very cool station called KEZX in Seattle that had a rabid fan base, but they changed format and all though there were demonstrations they changed. This station introduced me to all sorts of music including many local artists. I mostly discover artists thru my kids (who are grown now) and soon my grandkids.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on February 6th, 2010 at 2:42 PM PST:

KEXP in Seattle plays good new music.


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