A reader asks: “What’s the deal with radio edits?

This popped into my inbox from John:

Hi Alan,

A musical question came to my head recently and you might be the one to answer it. What’s the deal with radio edited versions of songs?

I can remember as a child listening to the Ghostbusters 2 soundtrack which featured the single “On Our Own” by Bobby Brown. I distinctly remember that the song was featured twice on the album single. The second version was one without rap, i.e. the rap bridge was edited out of the song. I can remember thinking it was strange to put the same song on a cassette where the only difference was to have the rap section removed, but didn’t think much more on the matter.

The question jumped into my head more recently when I heard the pop song “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj on the radio. Nicki’s part of the song was more or less totally removed. I also thought back to the song “Blurred Lines” from a few summers ago, where T.I.’s rap bridge was removed for some radio stations but not for others.

How are these radio edits still a thing? How did it start? Is there a racist element to it somehow? Perhaps there a significant demographic of people that do not enjoy hearing rap at all and thus it must be removed from songs on certain stations? Or is it something much less nefarious? I am very curious to know.

Kind Regards,

John

A great question! Record labels recognize that radio exposure is still the most effective way of turning a song into a hit. Songs are often tweaked in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways so that they fit better with certain formats. This can range from language edits (i.e. removing or replacing bad words) to full-scale remixes to removing/adding certain bits. It’s all in an attempt to customize songs for specific audiences and specific radio formats

For example, “Take Me to Life” from Evanescence came in a couple of forms: one with the rap and one without. Rock stations told the label that they liked the song but were worried about the rap bits turning off rock fans. In response, a non-rap version was issued to radio. Mollified, rock stations added the song to their playlists and the song ended up become a huge hit for Amy Lee.

“Blurred Lines” is another good example, When the song began to cross over from pop to adult contemporary stations, many programmers felt that the rap bit sounded out of context when it came to the other songs they played. A non-rap version was issued to those stations so it fit better with their music flow.

Rap is still a polarizing sound with some audiences. It has little (if anything) to do with racism but instead with the way the performance is delivered. Just as some people don’t like country, some don’t like rap.

But these edits aren’t restricted to removing rap bits. Songs are sometimes made shorter so that stations can cram more songs into an hour. Others have things like guitar solos removed because they’re a bit too wild-sounding for the overall sound of certain types of radio stations.

For the most part, artists don’t mind when these edits take place. Anything to get their song on as many radio stations as possible, you know?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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