DMA - Dance Music Authority Magazine
March 1999

Letters to the Editor

When I opened my copy of December's DMA and saw something titled "Radio Alert!," I expected to read - considering the timing - an account of Groove 103.1's demise or, perhaps, a piece about Beat Radio's latest farewell. Instead, I read a report of a radio conference [Billboard/Airplay Monitor] comprised of the radio status quo, of the industry's conventional wisdom, the constituency of radio mentality that doesn't understand dance music. The article lamented the lack of dance music on radio.

When I think of "dance" music, I don't think of Brandys or Aaliyahs, cited as examples of the industry's idea of "dance." These aren't "dance" acts; they (and similar acts) are successful and popular R&B/pop artists who have dance-leaning songs that alternate with their typical R&B/pop ballads. When I think of dance music, I think of a variety of music, much not top-40 inclusive: house, euro, freestyle, trance, techno, their various subgenres, and other variations. Music that is in many cases just as mass appeal and hooky as pop-40 tracks, if only given the same chance. "Dance," as an entity of its own, isn't understood by the radio powers that be, so why should we be perplexed about the lack of true dance music on radio?

Ignorance of the music and its audience by the radio industry, in addition to the consolidation of the radio business over the last few years, are the reasons dance music can't get a break on the air. I've heard "radio people" refer to dance as a "black" format(!) an exclusively teen/20s format(!) a "gay" format(!). Such limiting and inaccurate labels ignore the universal appeal of positive, energized, uplifting and unifying music. I'd laugh about such ignorance if I wasn't shaking my head in amazement and frustration. If a mainstream dance format is given an opportunity with a sincere commitment and a competitive signal in appropriate markets (don't try it in Podunk, Nebraska or on a rimshotter with a spotty signal and then cry failure...not even the successful smooth jazz and modern rock formats, to name a couple, work everywhere), I believe we'd see surprised radio experts, lots of happy listeners and pleased radio bean-counters. To skeptics, I suggest looking back less than a decade when KROQ in L.A. was about the only commercial modern rock station, when the format was the exclusive domain of college radio. Who would've thought that, in the span of a scant few years, not only would the format spread to medium and small markets, but that it would go on to spawn offspring: the modern AC and AAA formats. The same potential exists for dance radio.

Unfortunately, commercial radio isn't about music. It's about dollars. Until the radio industry understands that dance radio is a mainstream format with wide appeal and that not every station can be #1 (it's ok to be #2 or #3 and still be profitable), dance music will continue to be ignored as the stepchild of the airwaves.

Alan Freed
Beat Radio
Minneapolis, MN

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