There’s a scene in the movie Ray where a record label executive slips a couple of bank notes into the pocket of a radio producer. I have heard at least one Nigerian radio DJ make reference to that scene to justify his own policy of collecting money from artists to play their records. Collecting/accepting/demanding… It gets confusing, still the general industry term for this is Payola.
Having spent over 15 years working in radio as an On Air Personality, Disc Jockey and programmes manager, I have some opinions on this controversial topic. Is it right? If it’s wrong, is it wrong in all cases? Walk with me.
It is part of a radio DJ or OAP’s job description, to play music by local artists. But is it covered in his salary? Erm…yes. The thing is, most artists want more than just airplay, which is determined by the station’s policy as well as the OAP’s discretion. Mr OAP/DJ is expected to fit your song in somewhere, and that is covered in his paycheck. However no artist wants to be played only whenever the station deems fit. Play it every time you’re on. Can you play it twice during your session, artists often say. And artists make these requests while hinting a willingness to bribe their way past whatever policies govern airplay.
It’s not surprising that this lobbying exists between artists and radio staff, looking at the culture of compromise in Nigerian culture. Nearly every sector in the country has a black market/backyard entry. Still, every human being has to have principles right? So what about the honest people working in radio, how do they do their job? Let’s sort it out with a little Q and A’
1. Should an artist try to influence his/her airplay?
I would in their shoes. Some of these stations have no policies and I need my music played as often as possible. However it would be better to cultivate relationships with radio staff than to create a budget for paying OAPs and DJs. Artists aren’t rich.
2. Should the OAP accept money, artist branded items, wines, gifts etc?
You are in a position of authority, so be careful when accepting thank you gifts. It affects your reputation and could force you to comprise your playlist. You should definitely not demand for these gifts as a condition for playing someone’s music. If the music is good enough to be played on your station, play it amd go home whether the artist says thanks or not.
3. What if the music is wack and the artist is enticing the OAP with money and other gifts?
No, and this is often the scenario. If a song is really great, an artist doesn’t have to leave his house; the strongest songs and artists don’t do anything to get airplay. Many artists disagree with this and that’s because their songs are somewhere between wack and great. Radio is not the place for okay songs. I’ll say it again because it is the biggest reason why a lot of artists don’t do well. Only bring fire to the radio. Some songs are meant to be heard while a loyal fan is playing your CD. A radio single is a monster that doesn’t require a dime for promotion.
At the end of the day, radio stations aren’t as powerful as they used to be. Research shows that the younger folks, born after 1992 currently prefer streaming and other on demand platforms to radio. A radio station is now more of a taste making platform.
Speaking for the radio staff, the pay package in most stations is pitiful and encourages comprise. It cuts across the entire industry. If that welfare problem isn’t another sign for you to see that radio as we know it is dying then let’s discuss this again in about three years. You’ll see.