That’s what three of the most respected programmers in the Country format hope will happen. David Corey (WKLB Boston), Johnny Chiang (KKBQ Houston), and Nate Deaton (KRTY San Jose) all say their stations do not shy away from playing female artists and they hope this year the rest of the industry will follow their lead. So, why is there such an obvious problem with the amount of airtime female artists receive on Country radio?
Deaton thinks some of it has to do with the industry relying too much on its catalogue of songs and not breaking new artists. Chiang agreed, saying radio plays by the same old playbook. “When the ratings are down we cut the playlist. We are slaves to the ratings. That has an impact on new artists. That means we’re competing against other radio stations and not all the other delivery systems in which consumers get their music.”
Everyone agreed that right now there are a lot of great-sounding female artists to choose from, certainly enough to change the numbers we’ve seen from several recent studies, proving female artists are not being played as much as male artists on radio. Corey reeled off about 12 names of female artists that he said were great, including a song he heard Mickey Guyton sing at The Ryman, Thursday. “I will play that song today”
Another reason given for this issue is that radio relies too much on research. How do you expect a song to test well when a listener has only heard it 100 times, compared to a male artist who they may have heard 1,000 times?
What also hurts radio is how it has to play the PPM game, which always means less talk. That long-ago decision leaves some songs just hanging in the wind with no possible way of getting discovered. Deaton touched on that. “If you play a new song and identify the song, listeners will get familiar with it. It’s old school radio. Radio is the biggest thing in town. If you’re telling listeners it’s a hit, they will believe you.” Radio rarely back-announces songs anymore, certainly not with enough detail to alert listeners to a song their local DJ really loves.
Record labels were not left unscathed on this issue. Corey asked this question: “If the radio groups can make this commitment to play more female artists, can radio get the commitment from the record labels that they will sign more artists?” We’ll have to see how that plays out over time.
Corey, Deaton, and Chiang all said they do not schedule music based on tempo or gender. Deaton said the best song wins. “We’re in the business of playing hits.” They also all said they do not have any rule that says their stations can’t play female artists back-to-back, which has also been something that has haunted the industry in recent years. And, none of them believe that female listeners do not want to hear female artists.
We’ll see what happens one year from now. Will the studies improve or will we see another CRS panel addressing the same topic that has dogged Country radio for many years.