T Dog’s Think Tank: Radio fails to embrace “Empire”

"Empire" stars Bryshere Gray (left) and Jussie Smollett have music from the show hitting the charts. (Chuck Hodes/FOX)
“Empire” stars Bryshere Gray (left) and Jussie Smollett – who play brothers on the show, have music from the show hitting the charts – in real life. (Chuck Hodes/FOX)

Is radio missing the hottest trend right now?

According to Michael Schneider at TV Insider, contemporary-hit and urban stations have all but ignored the music of one of the hottest TV shows in years, Empire.

While the soundtrack from the show has topped Billboard’s album chart – not to mention on-demand songs from the album serving up more than 20 million streams and generating nearly 600,000 paid downloads through iTunes and other services, it has barely made a peep on CHR and urban stations – especially in large influential markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta (Chicago? Please. We’re still trying to figure out who’s sexier – Jonathan Brandmeier or Steve Dahl and the music we associate with Empire is still the “588-2300” jingle.)

A music director from a Los Angeles station is waiting to hear from Columbia Records (Empire’s label) on what song from the show they should push first.

Given this is the hottest TV show on the frickin’ planet right now – why the conservative approach? From reading the article, radio stations are confused on what to do.

Surprised? Yours truly isn’t. Remember – this is an medium that relies heavily on consultants and “focus-testing”, not audience demand when determining what song a station should play. They’ve been using this method for decades and is now finally catching up with them.

And radio programmers claim there hasn’t been demand for Empire music. Well, what do you think? Radio isn’t the place listeners go these days to hear new music first. They’re hearing Empire from the alternative sources I described above, not from the FM.

Music from television shows have been radio-friendly before. In 1985, the soundtrack from the hottest TV show at the time – Miami Vice – spawned several top 40 hits (Glenn Frey notably), and received significant airplay. An extended Miami Vice theme from Ian Hammer topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a week in October 1985.

Over the years however, TV show soundtracks became less and less successful at radio. The last number one hit to come from a TV soundtrack or show (outside of Glee) was The Heights’ How Do You Talk To An Angel, which topped the chart in 1992 from Fox drama¬†The Heights.

The first soundtrack from Beverly Hills, 90210 flopped at radio, only spawning two Top 40 hits: 1993’s “Right Kind of Love” by Hammond native Jeremy Jordan and “Love Is” from Vanessa L. Williams and Bryan McKnight. Unlike “Miami Vice’s” hits, neither song was exclusive to the album.

So what changed? Less emphasis on music on TV shows throughout the 1990s may be a cause, as programs were eliminating theme songs. Media consolidation shifted the power of song selection away from directors and into the hands of consultants as companies became bigger and bigger. The majority of music stations today are owned by iHeart, Cumulus, CBS, Entercom, and Townsquare.

And there hasn’t been a music-intensive drama on TV in quite sometime, as the networks stuck with safe, unrisky procedural dramas over the years.

Will Empire’s music ever get played on terrestrial radio? Hopefully. But the typical red tape bureaucracy of corporate radio is preventing it from getting there.