When I was a kid, radio was everywhere in my life. It was my alarm clock every morning. It was my backup band throughout the day. It was my lullaby going to sleep every single night. The weekly pop radio shows, like Casey Kasem's American Top 40, were church for me. Saturday or Sunday afternoons, I'd sit in front of my parents' fancy stereo in their room ('cuz it sounded a LOT better than my little clock radio in my bedroom), listening to the top hits of the day, noting which ones were on the rise, which ones were dropping, rolling my eyes at the cheesy long distance dedications, and sometimes playing along on my Mom's baritone ukulele. (Note-- Bryan Adams songs sound particularly good on a bari uke!) And always singing. Singing singing singing. Didn't always remember all the words, but after the first time you hear the Doctor Demento Show late on a Sunday night, you realize the words can change but the music's still amazing.
Fast forward to 2010. I'm a full-time professional musician, eking out a living in a fascinating but fickle industry. I release an album titled "Strangest Places" to a very enthusiastic local response. I sell over 100 copies at the release party (and sign nearly every darn one of'em!! Such a fun night!) and hope to continue selling a few at shows. I also bring a few down to the Record Exchange in hopes that, realistically, I'll sell a couple each year and at least get to see it sitting on the shelf next to my other local heroes.
Secretly, I have to admit that I had higher expectations. I poured a lot of heart and soul into the writing and recording of that album, and feel that there are some really strong songs on it. I continued, as I had been doing for months before the album was released, submitting what I felt were the best tracks to songwriting contests, soundtrack placements, commercial use... nothing. Still trying as I type this, but still nothing. I've spent a significant amount of time trying to boost the web presence of the album as well, uploading it to a half-dozen different internet radio stations and indie musician sites, but with all that effort, I think I've made a grand total of $33 from online sales. That's since February of this year. Something's better than nothing, mind you... but... sheesh. Come on. I can't even get more than a couple REVIEWS on iTunes, let alone sell anything. (but just in case you're itching to write a review for the album... here's the link to it on iTunes.)
However, the Record Exchange has sold dozens of copies of it over that time period. Somehow, people that aren't coming to my live shows and hearing me play those songs are still hearing them, and wanting to hear them again, and seeking them out from our community's favorite local music store. And I know exactly the single biggest factor of why this is happening. I say it without hesitation, without a doubt in my mind: radio play.
A couple weeks after the release of "Strangest Places," I brought a copy down to KBSU, thinking my friend Rick Overton was covering for Carl Scheider on the "Private Idaho" show, Saturdays on 90.3fm, and that he might be able to sneak a track into the playlist. It turned out that it was not Rick, but Curtis Stigers who was filling in that weekend, in town for a few weeks with some shows lined up at the Fulton Street Theatre. He was game for it too, though, and played the song "Strangest Places" that day. I was listening to the program when he played it, and I remember Curtis announcing that it was the title track to the new album, and that, describing the guitar work, "geez... it's like he has 15 fingers."
And then my phone lit up like a Roman candle. No exaggeration, at least ten people called or texted me in five minutes, saying, "Hey, I just heard your song on the radio!!" I was amazed to realize how many of my friends, family, students, and listeners tuned in to the Private Idaho show on KBSU every single Saturday -- just like I do, and just like I used to listen to those Top 40 shows every weekend. Forgive the sappy sentiment here, but I experienced this really touching, beautiful realization that the radio had, in a way, brought us all together that day, and we were sharing in something wondrous and magical, something unique (at least as far as we know) to the human race.
When Carl came back the next week, he saw the new album and played a track that day as well. Then Linda Laz, who has the earlier Saturday time slot, saw it and listened to it, and played a track... pretty soon I was getting at least one play each Saturday. Talking with John at the Record Exchange later, he noted that almost every person buying the album mentioned they had heard a couple different songs on it from listening to KBSU. Carl has been especially supportive of the album, and has really taken a shine to "Song for Mowby," a sort of eulogy song I wrote for the late Mowbray Davidson.
So... Each month, I've had three or four radio plays total, all on the same day of each week, all on the same station. And from that tiny footprint on FM radio, it's translated into a steady trickle of sales at one local record store. I'm almost certain I've sold more of this album at the Record Exchange than nearly all other albums I've ever been on combined there. Now if that's not a clear expression of the power of radio, I don't know what other example I could use to convince you.
I have more to discuss on this topic, but for now to you, I say-- Viva la radio!
And, as good ol' Casey Kasem would say... "keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."