Radio Airplay 101 – CMJ magazine

In the previous articles we focused on the stations themselves. Now, let’s focus on a chart…the CMJ college airplay chart, which is a great place for most new artists and labels to start.

CMJ is the “College Music Journal” or “College Media Journal”, depending on whom you ask. For us, it stands for music. And we are focusing here on the professional *weekly* version (available by subscription only), not the consumer *monthly* version (which is available on newsstands.) You can get a feel for CMJ by looking at their site, but most of the real material is in the magazine only. Your promoter should provide you with all the CMJ info you need.

The beauty of CMJ is that is that it lists (on a weekly basis) a huge number of playlists of individual stations around the U.S.; these lists (being that they are from college, community and NPR stations) actually show music mostly from new artists. Thus CMJ is subscribed to by most managers, labels, booking agents and music press who want to be informed of upcoming “trends” in music.

CMJ (and college music in general) is about 75% alternative. Indeed, the first chart we want to look at (and the main chart in CMJ) is the “Top 200”, which is 200 listings deep of alternative charting artists (compared to 40 or 50 of other charts). 200 might seem like a lot, but on any given week, over *2000* artists are *attempting* to chart (and don’t.) There are about 1000 college stations which are eligible to send their playlists to CMJ to be included in the Top 200 chart. About 350 to 600 do it on any given week.

It works like this:
A college radio station’s programming is made up of many one-hour segments, each one being programmed by a student who is taking a broadcasting class, or by a volunteer that comes from the local community. Each student or volunteer presents his/her one-hour playlist to the music director, and the music director then compiles a “top-30” for that station…the 30 artists that are getting the most airplay from the different DJs at the station. The “top-30” for that station is then faxed/emailed to CMJ. CMJ then averages all the individual top-30 charts for that week, and this is what makes up the Top-200 chart for that week (and *that week only*.) Any top-30 received before or after that week cannot count for that week’s Top-200 chart.

The stations that report to the Top-200 range in size from huge to tiny, and as you might imagine, the larger stations count for more than the smaller ones do. Whether or not you appear on the Top-200 chart is dependent upon how many stations put you on their top-30’s *that week*. To make it onto the bottom of the Top-200 chart, you will need anywhere from 5 to 40 individual top-30’s for that week, depending on the time of year.

A companion to the Top 200 chart is the “Radio 200 Adds” chart. An “add” chart is different from an “airplay” chart, because at non-commercial radio, an “add” just means a station “added you to the music library”…it does not mean they gave you any spins (airplay). Getting an add is usually the first step to getting spins, however.

Another companion to the Top 200 chart is the “Core Radio” chart. This chart only accepts playlists from the largest 100 or so college stations, so theoretically, having an artist appear on the “core” chart is worth more than having the artist appear on the “regular” chart. This may or may not be true, and is fuel for further discussions. Your promoter should be able to shed some light on the value of core stations.

The next chart to look at in CMJ is the “Loud Rock” chart. This is where all your metal and hard rock shows up. This chart is divided into the “Loud Rock College” chart and the “Loud Rock Crucial Spins” chart. The “college” one is 40 artists deep, and has a most-added section that is 5 deep. About 400 stations report to this chart. The “crucial” one is 50 deep, also with 5 most-added. The thing that makes the crucial one different is that it is comprised of about 100 commercial specialty shows, instead of college stations.

Next up is the “RPM” chart. This is where your techno/electronic stuff is charted. It also 40 deep, with 5 most-added spots. About 350 station report to it.

“Hip Hop” is your next largest chart; all your rap and hip hop fit here. It is also 40 deep with 5 most-added. About 300 stations report.

“Jazz” is next, but it is only 25 deep, and has no most-added chart. About 250 report to it. Note that it is mostly traditional jazz, and not “smooth” jazz.

“New World” is the chart where new-age and world music fit in. It also a smaller chart…25 deep…and with no adds. It has about 200 reporters.

“AAA” (Adult Album Alternative) is your singer-songwriter chart, and is 40 deep with 5 adds, but it has only about 50 reporters. This chart has a lot of major labels on it.

“Latin Alternative” is a newer chart…it is 25 deep with no adds, and it also has only has about 50 reporters.