Academic Writing,

The Evolution of Airplay.

August 30, 2016 Rebekah E. Goodall 1 Comments

I am going to discuss the role that technology has played in the change that airplay has observed over time, specifically in the areas of radio, online music streaming and YouTube. For each of these areas, we ask the following questions: What was the origin of, and how did technology make this possible? How did it initially change airplay and how has it then grown and changed airplay over time?
The radio was first massively introduced to listeners in the early 1990s with the development of the crystal set radio and AM radio transmissions followed by the invention of FM radio towers and vacuum tube radios, which were more affordable and picked up a better signal because of the way that frequency modulation works in comparison to amplitude modulation. Gutenberg cites in his e-book that the first “regularly scheduled broadcasts of voice and music began in January 1921. That station is still on the air today as WHA” (Gutenberg, n.d., pp. 62-64). This is when airplay was first introduced once there was an open format to music receiving airtime. Dunning recites that in the beginning of radio and airplay, the songs deemed as hits were determined by "readings of radio requests, sheet music sales, dance-hall favorites and jukebox tabulations" (Dunning, 1998). This is different from today as the top hit songs are determined by record sales, streaming and airplay, which is hard to believe to be fair and impossible to believe that today all airplay is 100% legal. As radios begun to play music, conditions were made in respect to stations technically taking bribes to play songs what could be played; “Payola emerged pretty much alongside radio. At this point, payola was criminalized, and it’s been illegal to induce a station to play a song in exchange for money, without disclosing that money has changed hands, ever since” (Howard, 2011). Howard explains that if the station has been given money to play a song, the listeners must be told that it is paid airtime or for sponsorship. It may be realized that it takes only one, or a few stations to break the payola rule, to give a song recognition, leading other stations into playing it freely because it is supposedly so popular. A small few decades after the introduction of radios and payola and airplay, radios are built into all mobile devices and cars and there are more stations; to the point of almost every available frequency in America being used by a unique radio station. The problem with radio listening being a common daily practice is that “commercial radio stations tend to play the same songs in rotation over and over again” (Hogan, 2012). The use of heavy rotation may not really be a problem, if these particular songs had good reason to be given so much attention, but it is difficult to believe this is the case as explained by Hougan; “only six companies control 90% of the media: GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, and Time Warner (compared to 1983 when roughly 50 companies owned the media)” (Hougan, 2012). Hougan posits that the amount of airplay that some songs get is largely corrupted because major record labels are finding loopholes in the laws against payola.

         Methods of listening to music have branched out after the turn of the 21st century, it is no longer just radio and what people have bought copies of for themselves. Online music streaming became available with the recent development of the internet, allowing people to upload and download data in the masses. “The internet has dramatically altered the relationship between the sound recording industry and the manufacture, distribution and consumption of music.” (Shuker, 2008, p. 137) And the reason why this idea of online streaming was so taken to was the option to choose what listeners wanted to for free and because of the personalized playlists that are created through letting the program know what genre or artist and their similar artists are appropriate to play.
Customers who have been fed a steady diet of music that is not being played because it impacts the market, but rather because it was the highest bidder, eventually lose interest and look for alternatives.  Up until recently, there weren’t alternatives, but now with internet radio, satellite radio, subscription services, and your own playlists on your iPod/iPhone, the alternatives abound. (Howard, 2011). 
Airplay became not just the radio after streaming grew even bigger with the invention of smartphones. Now a big claim has been made about one of the most popular of these music streaming services, Spotify; “the service is responsible for literally 10-percent of all U.S. record label revenue in the first quarter of 2015” (Kennelty, 2015). Online streaming has had a very large impact on airplay as it allows people to listen to music as they choose through automatically created playlists, people start by selecting what they want to listen to and similar artists will be added to the listening experience. This helps to build the argument that the music that has the most airplay is more accurately chosen because the airplay comes from people literally listening to the music only because they want to – otherwise they would listen to something else.

YouTube has also recently made a major impact on the way that the world perceives airplay. The video sharing website was founded by Jawed Karim, Steve Chen and Chad Hurley and “following a $3.5 million investment from Sequoia Capital in November 2005, YouTube was able to increase its bandwidth, improve its servers, and launch to the public” (Dickey, 2013). In less than ten years YouTube went from a small website for videos of animals to being a dream job for many young people. There have always been a few problems with music being on YouTube as the creators of records would see copies of their music their which they had not been responsible for uploading, which is against copyright. Dickey explains that YouTube wanted their website to be a good and fair place for original, professional and major label music to be legally enjoyed.
YouTube and Vivendi team up to launch new music video service Vevo in April 2009. This was YouTube's first move to fix its relationship with music companies, which had complained about piracy and unfair licensing terms. As part of YouTube and Vevo's agreement, Vevo is free to distribute its music videos on YouTube and YouTube is able to keep showing music videos from big labels. (Dickey, 2013)
After this ease of music listening peaked. There is now an official place to send comments and feedback to with the makers of the videos through vevo channels, making it more interactive and more personal. Today YouTube is not simply a website, it is a media platform said to be just as crucial to society as what television was a decade ago. “It has become so big that it is argued that in the next few years YouTube will become the most dominant broadcast medium, overthrowing radio, television and cinema” (Tripp, 2014). And again as this is the platform from which consumers are literally only watching what they choose to watch. Though YouTube is not only about music the views that a video gets will still play a role in the popularity records in the airplay charts, so YouTube has helped to change airplay in making it more fair, in saying that the records which do have the most airplay are rightfully deemed as popular because the listeners are responsible for the numbers of views, streams, and plays they get.
Technology has played a significant role in the way airplay has changed over time, especially as radio has grown and with online music streaming and also as YouTube has developed into a broadcast medium completely independent of other media platforms. This change in airplay is that it has become inaccurate considering that major record labels pay stations to play their music but it has also become more accurate in the question of who receives the most airplay within the different genres, artists, and records, with the public having more influence on what is played through the ability to select and the music that they most desire.


Dickey, M. (2013, February 16). The 22 Key Turning Points In The History Of YouTube [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Dunning, J (1998). On the air: the encyclopedia of old-time radio (revised ed.). Oxford University Press US. p. 739.
Farr, K. (2011, July 20). The Beginning of Broadcast Radio [Video file]. Retrieved from

Gutenberg. (n.d.). History of radio [e-book]. Retrieved from

Houghton, B. (2012, May 23). Why Radio Plays Same 20 Songs: The Sad Truth Of Media Consolidation [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Howard, G. (2011, September 15). How To Get Your Song On Commercial Radio [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Kennelty, G. (2015, May 18). Metal Injection [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Shuker, R. (2008). Understanding Popular Music Culture (3rd ed.). Abingdon, Oxon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Tripp, R. (2014, July 3). How To Use YouTube Properly | Beka Ellen [Video file]. Retrieved from

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