KUDOS to Tyrese Gibson for having a public conversation about what has always been discussed privately in the industry for decades. I can guarantee you that no other industry trade will touch this issue with a 10-foot-pole.
The music industry, as big as it seems is actually very small and has always been very segregated. Every player has their lane and radio operates by formats: Urban, Urban Mainstream, CHR, Rhythmic, Mainstream, Country and more. Black artists have repeatedly complained about not getting airplay on pop radio as well as black radio programmers and black radio DJs who are often overlooked for programming and on-air positions at pop radio stations as well. Black culture on several pop stations has always been emulated by other races instead of hiring actual black talent. When a black artist is independent and gets a full-scale glimpse of how radio really works they come to understand that it is not always a level playing field.
Tyrese has been in the game long enough to know who the power players are. I’m rather surprised he’s reaching out to Ryan Seacrest and Elvis Duran about playing his latest song “Shame.” Ryan Seacrest is a Syndicated Host And Television Producer whose focus on the music played on his shows is probably very limited. Elvis Duran has the monumental task of carrying a morning show in the number one market of New York. Neither is in a position to add or play records but they certainly have influence and can talk to the program directors of their respective stations.
In this situation, both Seacrest and Duran work for iHeartMedia. Tyrese’s gripe is with the program directors of the CHR stations as well as upper management at iHeartMedia. Currently, there is only one African-American in the SVP of programming position at iHeartMedia and that is Doc Wynter, who is also the programmer of Real 92.3 in Los Angeles. Wynter is in charge mostly of… are you ready…. Urban programming. (SVP Urban Programming, Doc Wynter pictured)
Tyrese is absolutely right, there is little room for black artists on CHR stations when they reach the top position on urban stations but in all fairness, that doesn’t mean black artist are not played on pop radio. Black artists on major labels have also complained but they have a better shot at getting airplay on pop stations if they are considered a “priority” on the format by the label. It is rare that a pop station picks up a number one urban record to play… automatically. All artists want to be played on multi formats simultaneously and Tyrese is correct in saying that honor will often go to white artists.
Tyrese is not the first one to complain about the way the radio industry works when it comes to black artists. Patti LaBelle was not happy when her smash urban hit “If You Asked Me to” was re-recorded by Celine Dion at which point it skyrocketed to the top of the pop charts while LaBelle’s version was ignored by the format. The late Luther Vandross was disgusted that his smash hit urban radio songs were ignored by pop radio as well. Crossover artists (mostly black women) have always fared better like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyonce and Janet Jackson. Few black males with the exception of artists like Lionel Richie have made the cut to be consistently played on Urban, CHR and/or Rhythmic stations. Since Tyrese is independent and provided he understands how radio works, he knows that having a number one record on urban radio does not grant you access to CHR without promotion. It may be too late at this point (with his press that will be viewed as negative and an attack) but “Shame” is actually a very good urban-based record that deserves the attention of cross formats. Tyrese deserves great credit for taking the song to number one as an independent on Urban. However, CHR airplay may elude him after the video and it may be too late now. At the end of the day, we learn how the industry works and we can all play to win with all the idiosyncrasies and politics in place. Radio is not the only game in town anymore.