It’s a topic that never seems to go away. Why doesn’t country radio play more female artists? Is there some underlying factor that leads to so many radio stations dominated by male artists? Or, is their music just not good enough. The latest to highlight the issue is Rolling Stone, which is calling out country radio after strong sales of the latest Miranda Lambert album despite minimal radio support. The magazine calls it sexism.
Rolling Stone says, with Lambert’s now-certified platinum album, The Weight of These Wings (sales of 1 million), it exposes the glaring disconnect of country radio. “If some of the genre’s most vital, creative performers are selling plenty of records without radio support, why is the medium still the sun at the center of the country music universe? It’s hard not to link this issue with the overall lack of women on country radio, a popular, if polarizing, point of contention. In the immediate wake of Tomatogate – when a radio exec compared female artists to tomatoes in country radio’s salad – and the related movements like Change the Conversation that sprang up as a counterbalance, it felt, briefly, as if the country industry as a whole was taking positive steps to address the problem. No one expected an overnight transformation but now, two years on from the original firestorm, the situation is worse and speaks to just how deeply embedded the problem is in the culture.”
Rolling Stone goes on to say that “It’s as if the powers in radio have all silently agreed: women are fine to put on the air, but only as crude sketches in a song performed by a man.”
Lisa McKay is the Program Director at one of radio’s most successful country radio stations, Curtis Media owned WQDR in Raleigh. She’s also consistently named one of Radio Ink‘s Top Country PDs. Here’s what Lisa has to say about this issue. “It’s extremely hard for ANY artist to be successful. At QDR we open the floodgates and test 33 new songs a week on radiotracks. The top ranked make the cut and are on the air. Then our local call-out determines how often the songs rotate in (60% of the respondents are female). I don’t know a more fair way to represent the tastes of our listeners. Ironically, on my pop station the male/female ratios are the polar opposite from country and we use the exact same system.”
Julie Stevens has been the Program Director at Empire Broadcasting’s KRTY in San Jose for 25 years. She tells Radio Ink she’s exhausted with this topic. “How come when a female doesn’t get played we automatically assume it’s because she’s female? How about this. What was Chris Stapleton’s highest-charted single off the last album? I’m not sure but I promise you it didn’t go number one and yet he’s got a headlining tour and is selling TONS of product. Nobody is crying in their beer over him. It has nothing to do with Miranda being a female. It’s more like “Tin Man” is a REALLY slow song right in the middle of summer. It’s problematic for radio stations that are trying to set up a summer sound. Here’s another example. Sturgill Simpson is selling lots of product, but no one is shedding tears over the fact that radio isn’t playing him. Frankly, if I were the male artists not getting played, I’d be screaming and yelling about the trades only paying attention to the female artists not getting played. Sounds pretty dang sexist to me. ”
On this week’s Billboard Country Airplay chart, only six of the Top 60-charting songs are by solo females. Rolling Stone writes that it’s extremely difficult for younger artists trying to find that crucial foothold that will help them rally an audience in their favor. “Radio hits used to be the way to do that. But the recent work – and success – of Lambert, (Maren) Morris and (Margo) Price might be a sign that they needn’t bother with the medium at all.”
We’ll have more on this story in our Thursday morning headlines.