He Shall


Deborah Smith Pollard, Ph.D., is the host and producer of "Strong Inspirations", a weekly Gospel radio show airing Sundays, 8 to 10 AM on FM 98 WJLB in Detroit, Michigan, won the prestigious Stellar Award for "Announcer Of The Year" in 2005, and authored the book "When The Church Becomes Your Party". Smith Pollard writes "Static Free" for GOSPELflava.com, a regularly-appearing column in which she addresses all and any matters relating to Gospel radio.

The Gospel Recording Artist, Radio and the New Marketplace

(Or, How to Get Airplay Part 2)

June 24, 2008

Recently, I received an email from the manager of a gospel group asking how to get airplay for the singers. The group is not from my broadcast area and is not (yet) a household name.

I explained that her group's music was good, actually very good, but that for several reasons I would not be placing her CD in rotation. "Would having listeners call in to request the group's music make a difference?" she asked?

"Actually, you should ask them to buy the product," I replied. Real requests are about to be a fleeting thing on many stations. In fact, my colleagues on most secular stations play "coincidentals."

If you "coincidentally" request a song that is already programmed, you get your request played. But if that song is not in rotation or not in the computer system used by that station, chances are slim to none that you will hear that song.

Should gospel radio or gospel shows on secular stations operate the same way? That answer is probably related to whether you're listening to commercial radio or to a show where the announcer is not expected to deliver ratings.

The multiple "delivery platforms" —iPod's, satellite radio, etc. —have forever changed the game for commercial radio. We've been told that whatever we learned in RADIO 101 back in the day is over. A new day demands new ways of programming.

You'll probably hear less "hype" about contests unless the prizes are really big. The interviews will be condensed in many cases. And the songs that are aired will more likely be the ones that sales have proven are the most popular with the core audience for that station.

So for ten straight months, Marvin Sapp's "Never Would Have Made It" has been the most played song on gospel radio, and now, it is being heard on adult contemporary (AC) radio as well. Is this a case of radio programmers falling in love with a song and creating what used to be called a "turntable hit," that is, a song that radio loves but is just so-so with listeners?

Not hardly. According to multiple sales charts, including download sites, as well as the videos that were being posted on video sites like YouTube and what is being sung on Sunday morning, Pastor Sapp's song deserves to be played two-three times inside of a four hour radio show. The demand has been real, not manufactured by well-meaning friends and family members of the artist blowing up the phone lines. The continuous buzz was from gospel music lovers who were touched by that song enough to buy it, sing it, mime it, and dance to it in churches.

So what does this mean for new artists (and for some not-so-new artists, if the truth be told)? The new marketplace requires new ways of doing business for the artists as well. They just might need to create a buzz before they solicit radio airplay. I recommend they take advantage of the vast number of on-line opportunities available-social networks, including Myspace and Facebook, their own web pages, and Internet radio— and create such a stir on the street that commercial radio would look completely out of touch NOT to play them....

Let me remind you of a secular, old school model for this. MC Hammer (that was his performance name before he became simply Hammer) worked the venues and streets and had reportedly sold 50,000 units before he even signed a major record deal or got major airplay. Granted, that number is unusual, but it does speak to the possibilities that exist if one does not look to radio as the sole way of getting one's music noticed these days.

I'm not trying to push my commercial radio colleagues (or myself!) out of the loop, but since our way of programming is undergoing changes, the artists' way of selling units and getting noticed will have to change as well.

My heart really does go out to the artists who aren't getting the spins they feel they want or deserve. But I have always believed that God is still in control and that everyone who is to be placed before thousands or millions will get there because it is in God's plans for it to be so.

So... if it really is about the souls and not how many CDs or MP3's are sold, then give God your all each time you minister live or make a recording, and know that someone will be blessed.

Years ago, the Reverend James Cleveland told a standing room only crowd at the Gospel Music Workshop of America to do the following: "Open the mic and say what thus saith the Lord, and hit records will take care of themselves."

Now that advice is worth heeding by recording artists even today.

Until next time... .Godspeed!


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— column by Deborah Smith Pollard
June 24, 2008

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