The one about getting national airplay – and how hard it is!

Let’s talk about getting played on national radio, shall we? It’s something I hear a lot from the musicians and bands that approach me about plugging their music to radio.  And in their minds, it’s how they measure the success of a radio plugging campaign.
And I get it. You’ve worked hard on your single, spent a lot of time and money on it, and you want it to be heard by as many people as possible.  But let’s look at how radio works – especially national radio – and maybe you’ll get a lot more out of a PR campaign if you flip your way of thinking – because NOT getting played on national radio doesn’t mean you’re not good enough or you or your plugger has failed in any way. It’s just how it is.
It’s really, really hard as an independent artist or band to get on national radio.
First up: We actually don’t have many proper “national” radio stations in the UK.  We’ve got BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2, BBC 6 Music (there are other BBC stations, but these are the mainstream music ones), there’s also Absolute Radio, Virgin Radio, Kerrang! Radio, Planet Rock Radio – and specialist stations like Absolute Country for example.  And you may also be thinking of big radio brands like Heart, Capital, Smooth, Magic, Jazz FM, Radio X, Heat Radio, and Hits Radio UK. They’re not officially national radio stations, but they’re on DAB, or regional stations scattered all over the country, and most of these are owned by Global Radio or Bauer Media Group – the two biggest commercial radio brands in the UK. Heart is the UK’s biggest commercial radio station, reaching 11.1 million people every week (according to RAJAR listening figures ending June 2023)
Now, I don’t want to crush dreams or blow the wind out of anyone’s sails, but the chances of getting playlisted on any of the above stations as an independent artist or band is pretty much ZERO. These stations are usually 100% playlisted with no presenter free choice.  So unless you’re on a major label, it ain’t gonna happen. Listen to the stations to hear what I mean;-)
However, out of that list above, there are DEFINITELY chances to grab a “spot play” or two.  This means, certain presenters have a little bit of free choice, and they may be up for playing something from an independent artist.  If it suits their show.
There are certain shows on BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music, and it’s well worth uploading your music to the BBC Introducing Uploader as this can lead to plays not only on your local BBC radio station, but the national BBC stations, too. You don’t need to hire a plugger for that by the way – that’s down to the artists and bands to create their own profile.
Most of the other stations will only be interested in playing big names on major labels. This goes for the Bauer- owned Kerrang! Radio and Planet Rock Radio. Sadly, the New Rock Show on Planet Rock ended in December 2023 – which is pretty gutting news.
So, it’s time for a re-frame on what you see as being a “radio success”, because even small community stations can be heard all over the world – so you can actually be heard globally, instead of just nationally here in the UK.
And maybe you can get played on 100 community, local or even regional stations – all of those listeners may add up to more than you get with one spot play on a national radio station.  You might pick up plays in lots of different countries across the world, and not just in the UK. How amazing is that? The internet has opened up so many opportunities to get heard on the radio. Even in the UK, a local radio station in Scotland can be heard in London, thanks to Smart Speakers, websites, apps and places like Tune In or My Tuner-Radio, and if you are being played by that station in Scotland – you can tune in yourself and share with your followers on social media, too.
Also, it’s not just about the number of people listening to a certain show or station. It just takes ONE person to hear your music, and like you that much that they’ll come and see you play live, or buy a T shirt from your web store, or stream or download your music, buy a CD and tell all their friends about you. And that’s how you grow.  That ONE person becomes TEN, that TEN becomes a HUNDRED, and that HUNDRED becomes a THOUSAND.  And you only need 1,000 true fans to make a decent living out of your music. You can read more about this theory here by the way.
See, that’s a much better way of looking at things.  And you get to hear your music on the radio so many times!  That feeling never gets old, let me tell you.
You can also create lots of social media posts about your airplay – especially if you are using a radio plugger that gives you updates and airplay reports telling you which radio stations are playing you. You can also do it yourself and use a radio monitoring system without spending a lot of your hard earned cash.
I hope this gives you a bit more of an insight into radio in the UK, and how hard it can be to get on national radio, but don’t give up – there will always be presenters that want to play your music, and radio play creates more radio play.  You will build on each release, and if you’re sending out your music yourself, you’ll start making friends with the presenters, and soon they’ll be asking you for your music to play on their shows!
If you have any questions on anything in this blog, feel free to email me: emma@plugginbaby.com

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