A growing number of labels are attempting to influence their airplay chart positions by purchasing overnight advertising time at small- to medium-sized radio chains and playing the songs repeatedly, l

A growing number of labels are attempting to influence their airplay chart positions by purchasing overnight advertising time at small- to medium-sized radio chains and playing the songs repeatedly, label executives and radio programmers report.

This week, more than 25% of the singles in the Billboard/Airplay Monitor Mainstream Top 40 chart are either being actively supported by label-funded airplay programs, or were receiving such support earlier in their chart history, sources estimate.

Label-sponsored airplay of songs -- a practice known in the industry as "spot buys" or "spin programs" -- has emerged as an increasingly popular promotion method among leading record companies over the last year, sources say.

Over the last 12 to 18 months, a handful of independent promoters have started to broker sponsored airplay deals between labels and radio stations. Under the systems, the labels pay a middleman who then buys airtime from the radio stations.

Among the labels sources say are using spot-buy strategies: Interscope, RCA, Geffen Records, Virgin Records, J Records, Warner Bros. Records, Lava Records and Wind-Up Records.

In some cases, labels are spending upwards of $13,000 a week to buy overnight ad time and other fringe advertising slots at small- and middle-market radio chains to play their singles hundreds of times over a seven-day span, sources say.

Both Nielsen BDS and MediaBase, which monitor radio airplay, count all complete song plays in the data they compile, whether sponsored or not. As a result, sponsored airplay of a song can influence its position on the singles charts of Billboard and sister publication Airplay Monitor, and on competing singles charts.

"If a piece of music plays in its entirety, BDS reports that to our clients. Audience size, the time of airplay and the market of airplay are reported along with spins. By utilizing all of our data resources, our clients can determine in what context songs are being played," says Mark Tindle senior VP/GM, West Coast, for Nielsen BDS.

Labels are using spot buys to support both material from newly charting baby bands and superstar songs on the cusp of hitting the top 10. The bulk of the buys are being used either to get new songs on the chart, or to jumpstart chart activity on songs struggling in the 30s, sources say. In certain cases, spot buys are used to push tracks into the top 10.

Tracks on the charts currently or at one time supported by such initiatives include Avril Lavigne's "Don't Tell Me" (RCA), Black Eyed Peas' "Hey Mama" (Interscope), Lenny Kravitz's "Where Are You Running" (Virgin) and Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" (J Records), sources say.

While much of the activity centers around top 40 airplay, similar tactics are being used in country, rhythmic and modern rock formats as well.

The heads of promotion at all of the labels in question either declined comment or did not return calls by deadline.

Billboard/Airplay Monitor associate publisher for charts Michael Ellis says, "We are aware of the stations and labels that are participating in the various spin programs. This legal but nevertheless questionable practice is impacting all industry charts using monitored airplay data. We take great pride in the accuracy and credibility of our radio charts. We are carefully studying this situation and consulting with the industry to determine the proper course of action."