From time to time I enjoy reading discussions about the formulation of various radio formats. Although my current connection to radio is slight, at one time I was a college radio DJ and I have retained an interest in the field even if I am not at present a part of it. One of the aspects of radio that fascinates me in particular is the creation of formats and the way that it allows people to identify as a segment of the population joined by common interests. Listeners of talk radio or traditional country or classic rock tend to have the ability to communicate with each other because they not only share a favorite format of radio in common, often with various musical genre interests as well, but because such formats also have larger repercussions outside of the music itself. For example, those friends of mine who particularly appreciate traditional (or neo-traditional) country also tend to have strong views about the direction of the country and culture that are shared in common between them. In that light I think there is at least one potential radio format that could draw considerable interest that has not been recognized as a unified format so far, and that is soundtrack pop.
What is it that would give such a format cohesion? For one, soundtrack pop is unified by the fact that the music in question is used in conjunction with other media, be it film, television, theater/opera, or even commercial marketing. Film and theater soundtracks are big business, among the best selling albums in the contemporary market–including, for example, the recent soundtracks to movies like A Star Is Born, as well as the Hamilton musical to give just a couple of examples, besides the stellar sales for historical examples of pivotal soundtracks like The Bodyguard And Saturday Night Fever. Over the past few decades a great many mainstream pop and rock artists have been immensely successful through their performing on soundtracks, such as Bryan Adams (all of whose 4 #1 hits came from soundtracks), Celine Dion, Elton John, Phil Collins, and many, many others. Still other artists have made careers off of composing film scores with the occasional singles that result from them, such as “The Hanging Tree” from Mockingjay Part 1 and “Southampton” from Titanic, to name a couple of examples. In still other cases, pop artists from Billy Joel to the Four Seasons have found their music reconceptualized into musicals that use the songs to tell a coherent narrative. In all of these cases songs, often catchy and popular songs, serve a larger narrative goal of helping further along a story, be it in film, on the stage, or on television.
Given this relationship between music and other mediums, it would appear very natural for a format to exist that would allow for plenty of advertising potential from the media companies that make films and television shows and that promote musicals. If a format is helped by the potential for advertising money to keep the radio stations involved profitable, it is very easy to see that soundtrack pop stations could be viable in a variety of markets where plenty of crossover potential exists for a radio station to receive plenty of advertising support from the film, television, and theater businesses within the community. Some soundtrack pop stations already exist–such as Radio Disney, which promotes the music of Disney soundtracks and artists to young audiences, and it is easy to see how this could be furthered in areas, where Los Angeles could support one (or more) stations devoted to film and television soundtrack pop and New York City (at least) could have a radio station that was focused on television and theater soundtrack pop. Even a city like Portland could find a soundtrack pop station would be able to encourage a connection between the city’s independent musical community and the film and television industry that enjoys and profits from the area’s quirkiness, while Salt Lake City could have a soundtrack pop station devoted to the soundtracks of Mormon film and television efforts, to give but a couple of examples.
It is also easy to see that the widespread popularity of television and film soundtracks past and present could allow for such stations to be popular nationwide. Morning, afternoon, and evening shows could be connected to efforts on the part of film, television, and theatrical efforts at promoting movies, television shows, musicals, and other dramatic material. Artists who contribute to soundtracks could find their effort leads to rewarding opportunities for royalties for performance and also for the chance to give interviews and keep themselves in the public eye when doing one-off soundtrack efforts. Even fans of classical music could find it worthwhile to explore the world of film scores and how such music blends with other genres of music that are used in soundtracks. Likewise, a genre that allowed for radio play for musical scores would help to encourage the popular acceptance of such efforts and would also provide a genre that could appeal to those active and interested in theater who want to hear songs from the plays they perform or attend. Additionally, such stations could easily be connected to efforts at encouraging attendance at local operas or Broadway touring shows.
What would it take to create such a format? For one, it would take the recognition of such stations that already exist (like Radio Disney) as part of the soundtrack pop format. Additionally, it would probably take only a few stations, either FM or AM, that would be interested in exploring such a format who would be able to build close relationships with the local entertainment world. A nationwide show that was able to capture interest in film and television and theater interviews and music from entertainers involved in this fields as well as the labels who release such music and may be interested in additional opportunities to build sales and streaming numbers for artists they have under contract. Given the way that soundtrack pop represents a blend between the world of pop music and that of film, television, and theater, it is easy to see how there is the opportunity for mutual profit between radio stations looking for loyal audiences, audiences who find that soundtrack music often struggles to receive mainstream radio attention, and music labels who may find such a format a welcome opportunity for marketing, some of it free, to be found in stations devoted to soundtracks. All that remains is for someone to try it out.