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But the problem with my particular oeuvre

Is that half my songs are five minutes and over

And the wisdom here at the BBC

Is that viewers switch off if you go past three
Tim Minchin, "Three-Minute Song"

There are certain songs that simply don't fit the radio medium very well. They may be too long, too artsy, too controversial, too dark, too political, or simply, regardless of quality or merit, are just too risky to fit on a playlist when the Billboard top 40 is so much easier. As a consequence, some acts get exposure that others cannot. For music, Radio Friendliness is the opposite of True Art Is Incomprehensible. Of course, no matter how much Fan Dumb a niche-artist's audience possesses, sometimes, their music is just too boring or too bad to be played on the radio.

See also Music Is Politics.

Examples of Radio Friendliness include:

  • Tom Waits is someone who, while highly regarded as an artist, does not get radio support.
    • David Bowie suffered the same fate in the U.S. after he moved on from the pop-rock stylings of Let's Dance and its two successor albums at the end of The Eighties. He moved on to usually harder sounds, and combined with his lyrical tendency towards dark and/or difficult subject matter rather than Silly Love Songs, he wasn't welcome in the adult contemporary radio format that usually adopts older rockers and their new material (Sting, Elton John, The Eagles, etc.). Yet he wasn't embraced by modern rock radio either, possibly due to his age.
  • Billy Joel's song "The Entertainer" discusses length as a factor in radio friendliness, based on the earlier Executive Meddling that shortened "Piano Man":

 I am the entertainer,

I've come to do my show.

You've heard my latest record,

It's been on the radio.

It took me years to write it,

They were the best years of my life.

It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long.

If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit,

So they cut it down to 3:05.

  • A lot of Pink Floyd songs get heavily edited for the radio.
  • Lampshaded by Nirvana's "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter".
    • Ironically it was neither Radio Friendly nor a Unit Shifter [1]
    • The song was originally titled "Four Month Media Blackout" to mockingly reflect the amount of time "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would play on the radio and MTV. When "Teen Spirit" lingered on for longer, the song was retitled "Nine Month Media Blackout." When it became clear the song would become a permanent fixture, the newer song would be retitled "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter."
  • Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, better known as The KLF, had a Number One hit in the UK as The Timelords with a novelty record called "Doctorin' the Tardis", and were inspired to write a book about it, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), "a step by step guide to achieving a No.1 single with no money or musical skills". One part of the advice is listen to other tunes, and the one you're making, or the most basic equipment available. If it's memorable on the crappiest car radio, you're onto a winner. The book was also prescient enough to anticipate home recording, saying "It's obvious that in a very short space of time the Japanese will have delivered the technology and then brought the price of it down so that you can do the whole thing at home. Then you will be able to sod off all that crap about going into studios."
  • Of course the length rule isn't always true. Among the most played songs on the radio all-time is Stairway to Heaven at 7:55.
    • And a song you'll almost certainly hear on Classic Rock stations on Thanksgiving is "Alices Restaurant", which runs 18:34. Of course, there's a joke/statement of some degree of fact that these are both played for much the same reasons: To allow the DJ to leave the booth unattended for 5 and 15 minutes respectively. (After all, even DJs need to crap.)
    • The 10 - 15 minute version of "Freebird" shows up from time to time on whatever channel the university's food court puts on.
    • You might also hear the seven-plus-minute version of "Hey Jude" from time to time, or the similarly-lengthy Macarthur Park.
  • Despite being quite popular and having a massive cult fanbase, you will never hear Radiohead on the radio.
    • Except "Creep" and maybe "Fake Plastic Trees" or "Karma Police"
  • During the Turn of the Millennium Hip Hop singles became heavily regulated thanks to a combination of Executive Meddling and Music Is Politics.
  • Tim Minchin has an unusually clean, three-minute long song written especially for pre-Watershed TV appearances (which make similar stipulations), and which is all about the reasons he needs to write a clean three-minute song.


  1. Unit Shifter is a music industry term for a song that sells albums
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