Radio airplay for local bands is as rare as unsigned artists having national hits. While it's possible for a songwriter to create music from a bedroom and even develop a global fan base on the internet, it's rare for that artist to get airplay because commercial radio stations are focused on playing music from major labels. Many radio operators assume that there isn't enough quality music on a local level to warrant formats devoted to local scenes.
Trip 1000, the imaginary AM station that plays a wide variety of music in its freeform format, is shaking up the market by announcing that it now mixes in local music to its programming. Within a week of making the announcement, the station was flooded with CDs by local musicians. Program Director Alvin Alien must now go through the stack of CDs and try to find songs that fit the station's sound, which mixes rock from all decades. Some might call the format "Trip A" (adult album alternative), but Alvin likes to just refer to it as timeless rock.
The problem with a lot of local music is that it's not written to be played on radio or any other medium. The intent of the local musician is typically to share either unique music or the more common approach of trying to sound like someone already famous. Radio stations, however, usually aren't looking for music that deviates from its established sound, often revolving around a set of genres. Nor do stations need to play unknown artists that sound like established artists.
Many times local bands try to showcase musicianship in their early recordings. They may have a great drummer or guitarist while the rest of the band is either overshadowed or not as talented. These kind of bands go for nightclub gigs where energy is key. The irony about local music scenes is that they often comprise bar bands and cover bands that play familiar national music that stimulates alcohol sales. Not many local venues exist purely as entertainment, as many take on the form of a bar, restaurant, hotel, park or other establishment that serves customers in other primary ways.
When Alvin Alien is deciding on which local songs to add to the Trip 1000 playlist, what he's really looking for are songs that blend in with the programming yet also stand out as "wow" records. Since his AM station only reaches so many people, he wants to give listeners reasons to come back to the station, such as hearing great songs that they can't hear elsewhere. The question becomes: what's a great song? The answer is that it depends on who you ask. If you ask Alvin, whose opinion translates into possible airplay, a great radio song is one that tells a story and paints a picture in the mind's eye.
Local musicians who want airplay have to ask themselves if there is a balance between bar music and radio music. It's like two completely different schools of thought. But for those who want airplay, it helps to study the history of music that has been popular in both clubs and on radio. It's those type of recordings that have the best chance at exposure on the airwaves. The record has to fit in with the current playlist, but it is also needs to bring something new to the party.