I was driving home the other night listening to WKKW in Morgantown. At 7:30 PM they run a competition between two records. The second record was one that I had not heard yet.
It turned out to be the new Brantley Gilbert song “Kick It in The Sticks.” I called the station PD and asked him if there was a Country version of the song that we could play.
It got me thinking about the direction of the format on the radio. Can we all agree that there are two kinds of Country Music? One that plays really well in concerts and particularly against the crowd that has come to see an act, like Brantley and Eric Church, for example.
The other target is one that plays to the core of the radio listener. The format’s target, on the radio, is very broad. That said, it really does center with women 35-44 years old.
I know that record companies and, even more so, the artists feel constrained by any kind of box that the radio puts around their art. I understand this totally and artists are going to push the envelope, as they should. If individual programmers avoid a song because it fails to meet the “sound of the station,” he or she should be allowed to make that call.
We know that this is not how Country radio/promotion works. If you fail to play a major label release your picture quickly shows up in post offices across America.
Let’s compare country to some other formats, where programmers make decisions based on different criteria.
AC has become a music format made up of established hits from other format, Country included. The only AC only song that has had any impact recently is “Happy Pills” by Norah Jones.
Heck this week AC still has two Adele songs in the top 10. Two Katy Perry songs, Maroon 5, Carly Rae Jepsen, One Direction and FUN. are top 10 songs.
Usually Country has an entry on AC radio but CHR/Hot AC has been so good the last 6 months that they have stayed in those formats for music. Carrie Underwood’s “Good Girl” is in the mid 40s but that means about a half dozen stations on the panel. Not significant.
AC programmers can pick and choose what fits the sound they hear in their heads.
No one wants to go this way. The number one song, “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson gets about half the spins as the number one song on the Country chart gets. Of course the song will be in Power on AC for months and months. In Power, not just in rotation.
CHR programmers need to be watching and listening to their stations 24/7. The music could change after a long lunch meeting.
Records get 125 plus spins a week on CHR stations. The audience turnover on CHR is the reason for this. The number one cume station in Country is usually around 1.25 million listeners a week. CHR is 4 million. Usually Country music radio leads the way with time spent listening (with the exception of talk radio) so playing the top records between 40 and 50 times a week is more acceptable. Though I did notice that WKKA played the number one record almost 120 times last week.
I point that out just as a way to talk more about CHR radio’s music choices.
CHR is all over the road. CH plays divergent titles like “Lights” (how about that unique voice on Ellie Goulding) to “Scream” by Usher. CHR plays thin songs like “Give Your Heart A Break“ by Demi Lovato to something as layered as “Payphone” by Maroon 5.
CHR gets away with going from one extreme to the other. AC plays it pretty safe, making sure that songs are exposed and successful on other formats before adding it their stations.
Country has set its own course. There has been more excitement in Country Music and Country radio in the last few years than at any time since the early 90s.
This charge is being led by Brantley Gilbert and Eric Church and Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert and on and on.
I just wonder when we reach a point where a record on the radio is so far out of the genre musically that lyrics can no longer carry it.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MusicRow.)
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About the AuthorCook is currently on the board of both the ACM and the CMA and serves as Director of Programming and Brand Management for West Virginia Radio Corp, based in Morgantown, WV. He is also President of McVay/Cook and Associates, a Cleveland-based media consulting company. He has served on the CRB Board for over 20 years.
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