Inside the Surprise Radio Debut of Metallica's 'Hardwired'

Ross Halfin
Metallica

Lars Ulrich asked 93X Minneapolis if it would be OK to play the new song during a live interview. Days later, it debuts on Billboard's rock charts.

Call it a coup for broadcast radio -- KXXR (93X) Minneapolis, specifically. Oh, and Metallica.

Metallica roars back onto Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs and Rock Airplay charts (dated Sept. 3) at Nos. 14 and 21, respectively, with intense new single "Hardwired," which drew 3.2 million in rock radio audience, according to Nielsen Music, following its Aug. 18 premiere on 93X (through Aug. 21).

The song is the lead single from Hardwired… To Self Destruct, Metallica's 10th studio album and first since 2008's Death Magnetic. The set is due Nov. 18 on Blackened Recordings, the band's own label.

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"Hardwired" premiered on 93X to the surprise of the station itself, says music director/assistant program director and on-air personality James "Pablo" Piper, who was live on-air and on Facebook Live with Metallica's Lars Ulrich when the drummer asked to play it, while the band was being interviewed as part of promo surrounding its Minneapolis show Aug. 20.

"I said, 'This is real. Holy crap, this is real!'" Piper recalls. "I was blown away."

Piper was in the San Francisco area with the band at the time. Derek Madden, program director for the Cumulus Media-owned station, was back in Minneapolis listening in. "You could actually hear [Piper] when the song finally kicks in … there's an 'Ohhh!'" Madden recalls.

"I'm sitting back here in Minneapolis, and Lars starts talking about it. So I run to our Twitter, and I'm typing, 'Oh my God, new Metallica on 93X right now!' I get the mouse to hit 'send' and I'm like, 'Wait, what if this isn't real?' It wasn't until that whole thing kicked in and I heard that 'Ohhh!' that I hit that button, and we started freaking out about it," Madden says. "Hardwired" was played from a device in Ulrich's hand, plugged into the station's audio feed. "Then, [management company] Q Prime serviced it [digitally] pretty much to the whole country right after that."

Piper's surprise at Ulrich's sudden DJ request was reinforced by pointers he'd received prior to the interview. "I was told several times, 'Don't bring up new music to Lars or the guys. It doesn't sound like they really want to talk about that. Hold off until the very end of the interview and, if things are going well, then you can go after that topic.'

"Then, one of their record reps came over and said, 'OK, you've got the green light it looks like. Go ahead and talk about this.' As [Lars] started to bring it up ... he just kind of went right to the point. Like, 'Hey, you wanna hear some new music?' And I was like, 'Sure, dude.' At no point was I believing that I was going to hear new Metallica."

Watch Metallica's Live Debut of 'Hardwired'

Following 93X's premiere, "Hardwired" quickly hit airwaves in other markets and arrived on YouTube and other streaming services. 93X has been a leader in plays for the song, spinning it 27 times through Aug. 21 (with Madden noting that the station was launching into a nonstop Metallica weekend, which certainly helped the new track's fortunes). Only Sirius XM's Octane (39 plays), KBPI Denver (29), WXTB Tampa, Florida, and WFXH Savannah, Georgia (28 each), played it more in the tracking week. In all, 62 of the 67 reporters to Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs panel played the tune at least once in that span.

"We're really appreciative that Metallica valued radio and us in this partnership," Madden says. "They not only had [invited us to San Francisco], but promoted it pretty extensively on all their social media. We had a Facebook Live broadcast of this as it was happening, so they were able to point to Metallica fans around the world and say, 'Hey … we're gonna drop this.' Not only did we have it here for Minneapolis, we were able to have it for everybody.

"It was really cool for radio to be the key part of that."

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"Hardwired" marks Metallica's highest debut on Rock Airplay (a chart that began in 2009), as well as its best rank, surpassing the No. 36 debut and No. 28 peak of "All Nightmare Long" in 2009. Additionally, "Hardwired" bows as the band's 24th top 20 entry on Mainstream Rock Songs (which dates to 1981). Since its first charted title "One," which debuted on March 11, 1989, only three acts boast more top 20 Mainstream Rock Songs hits: Pearl Jam (29), Aerosmith and Foo Fighters (27 each). Godsmack and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers also boast 24 top 20 tracks each since then.

Hardwired… To Self Destruct marks Metallica's first full-length since 2008's Death Magnetic, which led the Billboard 200 for three weeks. It began with 490,000 copies sold in its first week.