(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 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 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
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.”
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]