You believe your song should be playing on the radio. It doesn't appear to be too complicated a task. To get your song played on the radio, either you or your radio promotion company approaches program directors/music directors at radio stations.
You'll then need to promote your song to them using a combination of press releases or one-sheets, phone calls, and faxes. The stations that are interested in the song will play it. While this sounds easy, the truth is that it is much harder than that.
Radio promotion is anything but easy. Getting your song played on the radio is incredibly competitive.
When it comes to large commercial radio stations in major radio markets, getting on the playlist may be downright impossible for musicians outside of the major label system. That doesn't mean that some radio play is out of reach if you don't have a big budget, with big movers and shakers behind your song.
It does mean that you should understand a few things about the world of broadcasting if you ever hope to turn the dial and hear your song coming out of the speakers.
There are two kinds of radio: non-commercial radio (non-comm) and commercial radio. Non-commercial (non-comm) radio encompasses college radio, and community radio stations (including NPR stations) and commercial radio is everything else (stations with commercials).
Non-commercial radio is the most likely starting place for an up and coming independent artist. College radio is very friendly to such artists, and community radio stations often are as well.
You shouldn't feel as if getting plays (your music played on air) on this kind of radio is somehow "less" than getting played on a commercial station. Some non-comm stations are hugely popular, and furthermore, succeeding in the non-comm arena can lead commercial radio stations to take notice.
After non-comm, independent artists often turn to small commercial radio stations. In this way, getting songs played on the radio is a bit like stacking blocks. You develop a foundation of plays on non-comm radio, which you use to build up to small commercial stations, which hopefully leads to airtime at medium stations.
However, it is important to note that there is more to the process of moving up the radio ladder than just getting plays at smaller stations. Radio stations want to see your entire music career progressing along with your radio plays.
If you aren't touring, picking up more press and selling an increasing amount of music, then larger stations aren't going to want to play your song. Large stations judge your songs on their ability to increase their ratings by playing your music, not on the song quality itself.
Keep in mind that radio stations are businesses trying to make money. If you are not showing the potential to increase revenue for a station, your music will not be selected.
Your songs might be amazing to your fans, but on a larger scale, they may not be able to generate revenue if you are not booking shows, not active on social media, nor making an effort to promote yourself as much as possible.
You should start at least four weeks in advance of your add date (also known as "adds", the date a station can add your music to their playlist) to run a decent campaign, and a few extra weeks may be in order if you're new to the game.
During the start of your radio promotion push, you'll mail out promo CDs to all the program directors of the stations that you're targeting. After that, you'll spend about a week confirming your packages were received, soliciting initial feedback and re-sending any promos that didn't make it to their intended recipient.
The next few weeks will be spent soliciting feedback about the single while trying to get commitments from stations. All the while, you'll be updating the program director with news about the musicians relevant to that market—shows, sales and so on.
At this stage, you may also place ads in radio trade publications announcing the single and that you're going for adds—especially if you're going for plays in larger markets. During the last week of the campaign, you'll do a final push for adds and then wait for the results to come in.
That's a short rendition of the process, but that's it in a nutshell—and that's the same process used to promote non-commercial radio up to the top major station in a large market.
The Bottom Line
The best way to get your song on the radio is to approach the radio stations that are appropriate for the stage your career is in. If you're just starting to break into radio, focus on the non-comms and take it from there.
Some artists may never get played anywhere but college radio and still thrive in their music careers. Build a realistic, easily managed radio campaign, and you'll begin to see success on the airwaves.