In this June 30, 2013 file photo, R. Kelly performs at the BET Awards in Los Angeles. Kelly, one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, has been hounded for years by allegations of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls _ accusations he and his attorneys have long denied. But an Illinois prosecutor’s plea for potential victims and witnesses to come forward has sparked hope among some advocates that the R&B star might face new charges. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP, File)

Photo: Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Photo: Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

R. Kelly has disappeared off the radio airwaves - including Atlanta R&B stations

Originally posted Friday, January 18, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The powerful Lifetime special “Surviving R. Kelly” earlier this month has killed radio stations’ appetites locally and nationwide to play the R&B singer’s classic hits such as “Ignition” and “Your Body’s Callin’.”

Only 31 stations the past week spun an R. Kelly song three or more times nationwide, according to Mediabase 24/7, which tracks airplay of most major radio stations. A week earlier, which covered the time the special aired, 145 stations did so. That’s a 79 percent fall off in support. (Even R. Kelly’s hometown station V103, which had seven of his songs in regular rotation, had stopped playing him.)

The last time there was a mass boycott of a single artist of this magnitude was the Dixie Chicks after Natalie Maines insulted the president at  London concert during the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003. On country radio that year, airplay of their songs dropped 90 percent from January to December. The group never recovered. 

In Atlanta, R. Kelly is no longer heard on any major station that used to play him regularly. 

Kiss 104.1 stopped spinning his songs in October.

V-103, which had been playing many of his songs as recently as December, has not done so a single time since January 3, when the three-night special began airing. The last time it played any R. Kelly song was January 2, “Your Body’s Callin’.”

Majic 107.5/97.5 removed “Your Body’s Callin’” from regular rotation right before the special began airing. The last time that song was played on Majic? December 31, 2018.

Tim Davies, who oversees Majic, declined to comment. Representatives for Kiss and V-103 didn’t respond to my inquiries. 

Tony Gray, a Chicago-based urban radio consultant, said the “power of video” made a big difference in goading program directors to make this move. “And the reality is he doesn’t have anything current so it was easy for them to take him off the playlist,” he said. “The consumers won’t miss it.”

He also noted that RCA Records finally dropped R. Kelly today from its roster. “There were people protesting outside their offices yesterday,” he said. “The company said it’s not worth it. The documentary was well done and the women were believable.” 

Oronike Odeleye, an Atlanta resident who helped create the #MuteRKelly movement in 2017 and was featured in the documentary, contacted all three stations in 2017 to try to convince them to remove R. Kelly songs from their playlist. Nobody paid heed at the time. The only notable win she was able to get was convincing syndicated host Tom Joyner to drop R. Kelly from his morning show playlist. 

Still, the campaign against R. Kelly did impact his airplay last year in a broad sense. Mediabase 24/7 ranked him as the 448th most popular artist in radio in 2018, down from 316 in 2017 and 249 in 2016. 

Overall airplay of R. Kelly songs had fallen by more than half between 2013 and 2018. Last year was his lowest total of spins on radio since at least 2006, the oldest year I could collect from Mediabase 24/7. 

One of R. Kelly’s biggest hits “Ignition” was spun 360 times nationwide the week before “Surviving R. Kelly” came out. That fell to 238 from January 4 through 10. Over the past seven days through January 17, only 19 stations played the song a total of 27 times. That’s a 93 percent drop in two weeks.

All eight stations that spun “Ignition” at least 10 times the before January 3 had taken the song off their playlist by last week. That includes stations in Boston, San Francisco and Chicago.

And although “I Believe I Can Fly” is considered an iconic R. Kelly song, radio was barely playing it anyway before the special came out. It averaged just 15 spins a week across the entire nation during the second half of 2018. 

Here’s national airplay spin totals from Mediabase 24/7 going back to 2006 with his overall artist ranking in parentheticals. His 2008 trial, in which he was acquitted for child pornography regarding that infamous video, may have impacted his airplay in 2008 but it didn’t last as he rebounded quickly in 2009. 

2018: 79,104 (448)

2017: 109,308 (316)

2016: 135,942 (249)

2015: 134,303 (255)

2014: 129,234 (251)

2013: 168,673 (190)

2012: 193,613 (160)

2011: 234,696 (140)

2010: 131,240 (211)

2009: 163,845 (167)

2008: 118,037 (246)

2007: 335,847 (58)

2006: 110,616 (233)

CREDIT: Mediabase 24/7

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.