Country music has always done well when adding multimedia exposure to the mix. Television has always been a big deal, as our audience is comfortable with supporting music from their living rooms.
Go back to the old days when Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell and Hee Haw brought the personalities into our lives. I was a kid during this programming and country music was not on my radar during those days but my family watched these shows because they were bigger than the music itself.
Austin City Limits has been on TV since the mid 70s and it continues to introduce “slightly different” musical acts to PBS viewers. Some would say the viewers of PBS are “slightly different” too so that is a perfect fit.
Movies have had impact on country music and country music radio in the past too. The obvious one is Urban Cowboy. That drove a huge surge to country music radio because the programmers were smart enough to take advantage of all of the hype.
At the same time you have to remember the great music that was on that soundtrack. Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee were the biggest winners from the movie. The album also included Bob Seger, Joe Walsh, Kenny Rogers, The Charlie Daniels Band, the Eagles and more. The millions of people who saw this movie came out of the theater convinced that this country music was pretty good. The movie did about $47M.
No one was cooler than John Travolta in 1980. Debra Winger was pretty hot too. Gilley’s, in Pasadena Texas, looked like a great place to hang out and everyone wanted to ride that mechanical bull. Or at least watch others ride it.
It was a cultural shift. To be cool you had to emulate the cultural icons for the day. Travolta was a leading one and he was into country music (at least in the movie). Ergo, I will get involved in country music and I too will be cool.
Urban Cowboy was the 13th highest grossing film of 1980 but not even the highest country music-themed movie of the year. Nine to Five grossed over $100M, Coal Miner’s daughter did $67M and Smokey and the Bandit 2 did $66M. But Urban Cowboy had the most impact on country music appeal that year.
A few weeks ago ABC aired the CMA Music Fest television special, “Country’s Night to Rock.” The show did respectable numbers against the first national exposure for Peyton Manning in orange and blue, the new NBC-TV hot show Revolution and baseball fans that were caught up in four pennant races. In a couple of weeks the CMA Awards show will put all of our stars on TV again for three hours.
TV has been very good to country music for many years now. American Idol is good for country music. Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington and Scotty McCreery to name just a few.
Blake Shelton has made country music cool on The Voice.
And now one of the TV break-out hits this year is Nashville. I watch a lot of TV. I like comedies and police shows. I am not a big fan of soaps but I was interested in watching Nashville for the obvious reasons. Add to this that it was so positively reviewed.
The cast is attractive. The show is like Dallas and Falcon Crest in the key of C.
If you live, work or visit Nashville regularly the draw is seeing landmarks where you’ve had a beer or two. If you have never been to Nashville you a drawn to the story lines that are bigger than the music.
If you work in the radio and country music business you know that putting the music and personalities in front of America in movies and on TV is good for business.
Whether you’re a fan of soaps or not, your air staff needs to be talking about Nashville and including listeners in the story lines. I am not sure that the program will bring back mechanical bulls but it could bring back a degree of “coolness” for the format and that is also good business.
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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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