PD: What Kelly Clarkson Said About Country Radio Was Wrong


(By Ed Ryan) With the Country Radio Seminar less than one month away, the halls of the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville will once again be buzzing about the topic that programmers have not been able to shake: airplay for female artists.

This week Rolling Stone reported that CMT is instituting gender parity for video airplay on its music channels. Female artists will now account for 50% of total airplay. Prior to this week it was 40/60. The magazine also reports that since 2000 there has been a 66% decline in songs by women on country radio, decreasing from 1/3 of country radio’s airplay to 1/10.

Why is that?

Radio Ink will be handing out its annual Best County PD awards (sponsored by SONY Music Nashville) during CRS at Bob Kingsley’s Acoustic Alley, Thursday night, February 20th. The female country artist airplay topic was one of the questions we asked all 30 PD’s this year.

At CRS, MCA Nashville SVP of Promotion Katie Dean will moderate a panel on the subject. The panel will include Beasley Boston PD David Corey and CMG’s Johnny Chiang.

Johnny Chiang and Jana Kramer

Johnny Chiang is on our best PD list this year. He’s been our number one PD in previous years. Here’s what he had to say about the issue. “We play great songs. We don’t care who sings them. Now, the relative lack of females in the format is a real thing, so when we select songs for KKBQ, I’d be lying if we don’t sometimes go out of our way to give extra consideration to great songs by female artists.”

Here’s a window of the KKBQ playlist from early Friday morning. The time frame for these songs, according to KKBQ.com, was 1:21 a.m. (the last song) to 3:45 a.m: Kane Brown, Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, Ingrid Andress, Kid Rock, Dan & Shay, Carrie Underwood, Chris Janson, George Strait, Luke Combs, Midland, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Cole Swindell, Dierks Bently, Craig Morgan, Kenny Chesney, Trisha Yearwood, Brett Young, Eli Young Band, Garth Brooks/Blake Shelton, Tom McGraw, Riley Green, Blake Shelton/Gwen Stefani, Jason Aldean/Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Hootie & The Blowfish, Thomas Rhett, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Matt Stell, Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton, Jon Pardi, Chris Young, Sam Hunt, Kane Brown, Russell Dickerson, Brett Young, Garth Brooks, Jon Pardi, Little Big Town

David Corey and Carrie Underwood

David Corey has been a programmer for 14 years. He’s been at the helm of WKLB in Boston for the pas three. “I have lots to say on this topic. It really bothers me that female Country artists only make up a very small percentage of our playlists. I do not think it is because the music is not as good. I do not think it is for a lack of superb female talent. I think it is more about a perception from parts of the industry that listeners do not want to hear music sung by women. That the audience would rather hear only men. I simply do not buy into that. Due to this perception over the last 8 or so years, the majority of music being added to playlists have been by male artists. That is the music that our audiences have heard the most. So, that means too that the majority of songs that have tested at the top in research have been by male artists. So, when we hear that women do not test as well as men, we know why. How could they? To me, it’s the same as thinking that a song with 100 spins should test as well as a song with 1000 spins. It just can’t happen. It is our job as programmers to expose the best music, by the best artists. Why overthink it?”

Here’s a two-hour window from the WKLB Boston playlist early Friday morning: Eric Church, Dillon Carmichael, Rayne Johnson, Brett Young, Chris Young, Eli Young Band, Dan + Shay W/ Justin Bieber, Billy Currington, Travis Denning, Maddie & Tae, Riley Green, Thomas Rhett Ft. Jon Pardi, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Florida Georgia Line, Kane Brown, Jason Aldean, Chris Lane, Dan & Shay, Lanco, Old Dominion, Kelsea Ballerini, Billy Currington, Lindsey Ell, Maren Morris, Jon Pardi, Trisha Yearwood, Noah Schnacky, Locash, Blake Shelton, Morgan Wallen, Dustin Lynch, Luke Bryan, Jameson Rodgers, Jimmie Allen, Midland

                                    MORE: Country Radio’s Female Problem

This may seem like a simple question…but if programmers at radio’s top country radio stations realize this is a real issue, which clearly both Chiang and Corey do (as well as many others), why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?

Country radio has been taking a pounding about this topic for years. It’s not like this just popped up two days ago. Is it because everyone is afraid that if they change the format formula, the ratings will decline, and they’ll find themselves on the beach? Is it the consultants in a back room? Is it AI?

Before launching her talk show late last year Kelly Clarkson went off on country music (she said it doesn’t sound like country anymore) and country radio. “Y’all don’t play people with boobs either, it’s fine. ‘Oh you got boobs, you’re not a man, get out of here.”

WKIS-FM Miami PD John O’Connell and Blake Shelton

John O’Connell programs WKIS in Miami. He says what Kelly Clarkson said about Country Radio was wrong. “First off, I want to say that a hit song is a hit song and I could care less if it’s sung by a male or a female artist. For me, the gender of an artist has zero bearing on whether or not we are going to play a song on the radio. Instead, it’s all about quality of the song and how it’s going to perform over time. Do I think that there is possibly a very small group of programmers who want to limit the number of female records that they will have on their playlist at one time? Yes I do and but I don’t think that it’s a conspiracy of any kind. That would be absurd.

I believe that the majority of country programmers will play a song if it’s a hit, no matter who sings it. And yes it’s true that the Country charts have far more male artists than female artists on them but the onus shouldn’t be on the radio stations to play more females to even out the playing field, it should be on the labels to discover and develop more female artists and connect them with Nashville’s best song writers.”

Also, I think Kelly Clarkson’s comments about country radio choosing not to play female artists was totally inaccurate and uncalled for. This past year we saw a number of females on the charts such as Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Caylee Hammack, Ingrid Andress, Runaway June and Miranda Lambert and I expect to see many more in 2020. I just don’t think that there needs to be a quota for any particular gender.”

A two-hour window from the WKIS-FM playlist Friday morning: Thomas Rhett, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, George Strait, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Juston Moore, Jason Aldean, Brooks & Dunn, Dan & Shay, Eric Church, Riley Green, Carrie Underwood, Jon Pardi, Caylee Hammack, Ryan Hurd, Eric Church, Gone West, Zac Brown, Eli Young, Luke Brown, Garth Brooks, Jason Aldeen, Rodney Atkins, Maren Morris, Dustin Lynch, Locash, Chase Rice, Jon Pardi,

The Country Radio Seminar kicks off Wednesday, February 19 in Nashville.

Ed Ryan is the editor of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached at [email protected]



  1. Has anyone looked at the artist rosters of all the labels? Are any of them 50/50? Has a label ever considered holding back the release of a male record for a couple of weeks to allow a few women in the lower half of the chart to advance? That’s what a gentleman would do. The labels keep pounding the charts with male artists and signing more and more male artists. This is not a radio problem.

  2. I’m confused, according to Sound Exchange and GMR radio isn’t worth the promotional value and everyone is getting their music online therefore radio must pay the artists, so whats the big deal if radio isn’t playing a certain percentage of female artists?

  3. CMT says female artists will now account for 50% of total airplay. Who gives a damn? Ridiculous.

    Prior to this week it was 40/60. Why do you care? Ridiculous.

    That is as nonsensical as a restaurant working through the alphabet serving ten pounds of apples, ten pounds of beef, ten pounds of chocolate, ten pounds of dates etc. “No, that’s not it – eight pounds of beef with twelve pounds of dates is the secret. I promise Boss!!”

    The magazine also reports that since 2000 there has been a 66% decline in songs by women on country radio, decreasing from 1/3 of country radio’s airplay to 1/10. Why do you waste time compiling such meaningless statistics?

    And stop auditioning music by watching videos. And stop using focus groups or whatever they’re called now.

    And use your ears, not your computer, not the metrics and the optics, to decide whether that song is good enough to play.

    When I got my first job in country radio, the first thing the P. D. asked me was whether I looked down on country music or its listeners.

    If programmers don’t like country music or can’t tell just by listening whether a new release is country or something else, there’s a problem.

    The whole station may as well be robotic. Most of it already is. Mandatory laughter and group adoration of morning star, then twenty hours of liners saying, “It’s a (whatever) day in (wherever) and here’s twenty in a row for your (day part) because I’ve got nothing to say to you.”

  4. I’m not a PD, but I have worked in radio for nearly 19 years, most of which in Country Radio. Kelly Clarkson is not wrong. But, here’s my take on things…there is a deficit of female country artists. However, that should never be a reason not to play an equal amount of female artists on the air. So many in the industry have this delusion that the listeners don’t want to hear females back to back on the air, it’s simply not true. Music speaks to people in different ways, but one thing seems to remain constant, as long as it’s a good song they can either sing along with or tap their toes to, play it. Regardless of gender.
    On the flip side of things, I blame artists like Shania Twain for the decline in the number of female artists in the industry. She made her rise on her looks alone, definitely not her talent. This can be very discouraging to a young female artists who doesn’t have the “look” Twain does, (nor the computer/editing software assistance to sound more talented than she is.) A young girl starting out in the industry has to fight the battles of not only proving her talent, but living up to a completely unjust appearance expectation. This can be discouraging and a huge deterrent for a female moving forward into the industry. Plus, Twain started the “pop” country movement on a new level. What she recorded is not country. Not TRUE Country. But, because she succeeded with it, young females mistakenly think that’s the sound people want to hear. That couldn’t be further from the truth, for a real “country music” fan.
    The point is, we’ve changed the programming at our station to reflect the requests of our listeners. We’ve added Classic Country to our everyday/all day playlist, we’ve significantly increased the number of female songs we play, AND we’ve decreased the number of “pop country” songs we play. If it doesn’t sound “Country” it doesn’t get played here. We play females back to back, sometimes 3 or more songs in a row. What’s more, our listeners LOVE what we’ve done. We get messages almost daily praising the changes we’ve made and telling us to keep it up. Our listeners, our Country fans want to hear Country music. Real Country music…regardless of gender.

    • I think it’s a bit much to lay blame at the feet of Shania or any individual artist for that matter.

      There’s another participant which also figures into the mix: Labels.

      Twain may have inspired a lot of young women to go for a more “pop” look and sound, but she could not have done so without her rock star producer and full support of the label. Other labels looked at the metric tons of money her album brought in and you can’t tell me that didn’t guide their artist choices in the subsequent years. Sexy videos and slickly produced pop-sounding records sold more units, and labels will always go with what sells over what has artistic merit or format purity.

      As for format purity, the definition of “real country” is a bit of a moving target. I’m old enough to remember when an earlier generation of country listeners looked with suspicion on this young artist named George Strait. More recently, I heard a phone call on the request line that complained the station didn’t play enough “old country” like Shania Twain. Times change. Tastes change. What was “new country” 25 or 30 years ago is now becoming “classic country.” If we’re not getting enough “real country” to play on our stations (or a bevy of female artists), it’s because Nashville isn’t putting out enough of either.

  5. All the men agree there is nothing wrong with the current airplay gender split. Comments saying otherwise are “uncalled for” and “wrong”. What do the women PDs and MDs think?


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