Welcome to Radio Feedback, Radio.com’s weekly feature where we ask artists to wax nostalgic on the first time they heard themselves on the radio.
The first time Michael Franti heard himself on the radio it might have been out of pity.
While in high school Franti recorded a cassette tape with his band called The Casualties. The singer and his bandmates would hang out at the local college radio station where he lived in California just begging the DJs to play one of their songs. “They hated us there,” Franti told Radio.com. “We were always pestering them.”
One day though, the station agreed to play one of their songs. “I think it was to get us to leave finally,” Franti explained. “They took our cassette and the DJ played it at 3:30 in the morning and I remember we ran outside because we were in the studio and we just wanted to hear it coming out through the speaker.”
Franti said it was thrilling to hear his song played over the airwaves that day and it was something that at that time he hoped would happen more often. Unfortunately, it would take nearly 25 years before that wish would come true.
“Through 95% of my career, we never depended on radio to really play our records,” Franti said of his career, which started in 1987 with his band The Beatnigs. “We felt lucky to have some college station play one of our songs or a little mom and pop radio station somewhere play one of our songs. We were thrilled.”
So in 2010 when “Say Hey (I Love You)” off his sixth album with his band Spearhead, All Rebel Rockers, made its way to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart–his first song to ever crack the Top 20–Franti should have been over the moon. Instead he was in the hospital.
“My appendix ruptured on tour and I came very close to dying,” Franti said. “I was in the hospital and just going in to have this surgery when I get this text, ‘Michael, your song is in the Top 20,’ and I’m looking up at the doctor and saying, ‘You better fix me, I want to hear my song on the radio!’”
Before that moment, Franti had never had a song in the “top 20,000,” so to finally get that hit was much more meaningful than if it had been the first song he ever put out.
After nearly three decades in the music business, he knew how hard it was to get a DJ to play your song when they’ve got so many other songs to choose from. But most of all, he knew how it felt to be on the other end of the radio dial, listening to a song that you just want to hear again and again.
“My dad would turn on the radio and would become part of our life forever,” Franti said. “I still remember those songs that were from my summers with my family and they mean a lot to me. To think that my song is going to be played at someone’s barbecue on the 4th of July and be out there with all their friends listening, that means something more than ‘Oh, I have a hit song.’”
Franti’s latest album, All People, is out now.