How U2 and iHeart Hooked Up to Find the Band’s Next Hit Single

U2

Joe Pugliese

U2's Songs of Innocence got plenty of attention for its landmark iTunes release, but a radio hit from the album has proved tricky. Lead single "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" topped the Triple A radio airplay chart for two weeks in November, but beyond the niche format, spins have been scant.

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Enter iHeartMedia, with an estimated reach of 245 million monthly listeners. The company formerly known as Clear Channel is playing the album's plaintive ballad "Every Breaking Wave" in more than 60 markets of its 1,200 stations -- including the top 30. As a result, the song is climbing, moving 29-28 on the Dec. 13 Alternative chart.

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The price tag for such across-the-board support? One visit to Bono's apartment. That's where iHeartMedia's Tom Poleman and John Sykes, presidents of national programming and of new entertainment enterprises, respectively, first explored the album's untapped potential with the U2 frontman. Poleman took advantage of the exclusive listening session. "I said to Bono, 'Do you mind if I get all of our programmers together so we can help you pick a single?'"

Now iHeartMedia has reversed the process of labels choosing singles, with Interscope following radio's lead and working "Wave." Still, cracking programmers beyond iHeartMedia is crucial for a band that last had crossover success in 2009 when "Get on Your Boots" peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. "It doesn't feel like it's hitting the mark that both the band and fans had hoped for," says Kyle Meredith, music director of triple A WFPK Louisville, Ky., which has been playing "Wave" for two months. "But even mediocre U2 is better than most bands."

Poleman is steadfast in his belief that "Wave" will break through. "I'm excited, because despite all the hype about [the album's unconventional release], traditional radio is still the best way to break a record."

This article first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of Billboard.