Many people question the relevancy of radio in the promotional mix. In my little world everything is measured by ticket sales. The simple truth is that when a band gets heavy airplay their concerts are better attended. That doesn't mean that you have to be on the radio to succeed. Honestly, the majority of the bands I have done shows for over the years have rarely hit the airwaves… especially in Cincinnati.
There are also instances where an artist is being played by a local radio station, but can't even sell 25 tickets. That usually occurs when the band has not developed a fanbase in the market. I believe that radio is the next step after proving that you can draw over 100 people to your show. Once you have reached that point there is obviously something you are doing right! All that's left is getting your music to the right person at a radio station.
Let me begin by saying that any amount of promotion you do is irrelevant if you don't first focus on the music. The reason I focus on the business of music in these resource articles is that I feel Cincinnati has a very vibrant music scene with MANY artists that could become very successful. I don't have an answer for you when it comes to writing a good song. However, once you have that song I have a lot of advice for you.
Young artists will have better luck focusing on non-commercial radio stations such as WNKU. There are a lot of great people out there in the commercial radio world that work very hard to shine some much deserved light on young artists (Such as Fin at 96Rock). Unfortunately, it's more of an uphill battle at those stations. Non-commercial radio stations are primarily supported by their members. Their goal is to please a small group of loyal listeners that likely refer to themselves as musical connoisseurs. These people typically enjoy finding new music, which is great news for you!
Picking the stations you want to target should be based on your touring schedule. If you only play in Cincinnati then it may be wise to focus on Cincinnati first. If you don't have a fanbase established, any radio success you achieve probably won't stick.
Once you choose the stations you wish to target, you should find out who the Music Director (MD) is. If the station does not have a Music Director, find the Programming Director (PD) instead. Hit them up with a brief introductory email letting them know who your band is and that you will be sending them a CD. Include a link to your music, but don't attach anything to the email. Because you are sending a message out of the blue, an attachment may cause your email to be blocked as spam.
You should send a CD in a jewel case. Don't cheap out and send a CD-R with your band's name scribbled on it. The Music Director will often be making a snap judgment when they see your packaging; it's all about the first impression at this point.
You will also want to include a one-sheet that briefly introduces your band and points out any tracks you think they should focus on. Don't lie, exaggerate, or risk sounding arrogant on this one-sheet. There is a line between simply outlining your accolades and proclaiming that you're the best band in the world. Don't cross it. Make sure that your contact information is on everything you send just incase it becomes separated from the rest of the package. Don't bother sending a photo, sticker, or any other promotional items. It's going to increase your postage and won't really make a difference.
Once you have mailed your CD, give it about two weeks. Be patient and realize that these stations are bombarded with CDs and it takes a while to get to them all. Remember to be polite and watch what you say on your social networks. I've had bands submit their materials in the past and complain about how I haven't reviewed them on their Facebook page. Well, I see that when I get around to checking them out and it leaves a bad impression.
Once you have waited long enough, try following up with a phone call. If you can't get them on the phone after a few days then try an email. Remain patient and don't get discouraged if you can't get through.
If you are lucky enough to be added to the station's playlist, make sure to tell your fans. Don't have your fans flood the station with requests, but do let them know that the station is supporting you.
Check back in with the station after a week or so to see how people are responding to your music. Accept any feedback you get and make note of it. Ask them if you can do anything to help them out. Once you have made a contact at the station you should keep that relationship very friendly. It will make the process much easier for your next song.
Sound like a lot of work? It is, especially if you are a touring artist shopping to several markets. Many bands think about outsourcing this type of work early on, but I strongly encourage you to do it yourself at first. If you have success doing it on your own then I would approach someone with experience. A radio promoter will typically shop your CD for 6-8 weeks and cost anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars. The majority of the cost is materials and shipping. Here are a few notable companies that will accept un-signed artists as clients: