It's a unique dilemma in modern radio history: How do you deal with programming multiple new singles from a former couple that were involved in the most widely publicized domestic violence incident in recent memory?
That's the potentially sticky issue facing radio programmers across the country as they seek to make space for songs from [artist id="1940303"]Rihanna[/artist] and [artist id="1961441"]Chris Brown[/artist], who, between them, have five different singles currently getting airtime. As the former couple continue to shadow each other with the promotional campaigns for their respective upcoming albums — releasing videos and announcements on the same day and appearing for major interviews — a number of programmers contacted by MTV News said they're not worried about playing Brown and Rihanna close together, considering Brown's guilty plea in June to felony assault in connection with his February 8 attack on his former girlfriend.
"We have no restrictions on whether we play their songs back-to-back or not," said Colby Colb, Operations Manager for Cleveland's WENZ 107.9 FM. "They've both got hot records out and however it's scheduled is how it's scheduled. It's music. What does it have to do with their personal lives? There's so much other stuff we have to worry about at radio stations, I couldn't care less if we play them back-to-back."
Colb's feelings were echoed by a number of other urban programmers who are juggling two singles from Brown's forthcoming album, Graffiti,
as well as a potential three songs from Rihanna's forthcoming Rated R,
and "Wait Your Turn"
— along with "Run This Town," the Jay-Z joint featuring a hook from Rihanna that is one of the hottest songs at radio at the moment. Late Thursday, Brown dropped yet another single, the slow-grind ballad "Sing Like Me," which could soon by pushing for airtime as well.
Los Angeles hits station KIIS-FM (102.7) has been playing both "Transform Ya," "Hard" and "Russian Roulette" in light rotation, which is a switch from how things were just a few months ago, according to Program Director John Ivey. "We stopped playing [Brown's] records after the Rihanna confrontation because they weren't testing well [with our audience]," said Ivey. "But when that wedding video with 'Forever' in it got popular, we put that song back on."
Now, Ivey said, with both singers angling for airtime, he too has not given much thought to putting distance between them on the station, opting instead to focus more on what sounds go back-to-back and the overall musical mix on the airwaves.
"We're not as urban as urban radio, and those styles are a bit different," he said of the Brown club track and Rihanna's more downbeat "Roulette." "So they probably wouldn't come up back-to-back and it wouldn't cross my mind to not play them that way. I'm more concerned about the overall sound than people putting it together and feeling it's weird to hear them like that. News is different than music flow. I just want it to flow."
Ebro Darden, program director for New York's tastemaking WQHT Hot 97.1 FM, said he doesn't think anyone at the station is playing the singer's songs close together on purpose. "We haven't had any conversations about it," he said. "What does the music have to do with what went down?"
At Cincinnati's WIZF 101.1 FM, songs by Brown and Rihanna have indeed played right after one another, but program director Simone Party said it wasn't intentional and, frankly, she hasn't even really given it much thought.
"Both artists have very good requests with the station right now and they have hot, topical songs," she said. "I haven't thought about dropping one to play another or playing them back-to-back. The audience is definitely feeling both singles from both artists."