What Happens When Country Radio’s Engine Goes Silent?


(By Loyd Ford) Country radio has a long history of walking hand in hand with the Nashville machine and the results across time have been nothing short of record smashing. The recent history of Country radio is well known, so I will spare you a rehash of those facts.

Let’s just say that the format has been swaggering in recent decades as a ratings and revenue winner in cluster strategy in many U.S. markets. But has something fundamental changed that is taking a now weakening format and spattering it with a hidden vulnerability for Fall 2020?

Think about it: Country radio has benefited greatly from a highly intense network of local and regional concerts in markets all across the U.S. Very accessible artists, engaging events on national, regional and local levels in the spring and fall each year have created a propellant that is unlike any other format when it comes to consistency, emotion, station – label connectivity and fan facing fun with the stars creating continuous excitement in this format.

But those tour buses have fallen silent, acts are staying home. Many are trying to figure out how to do limited virtual concerts or make-shift drive in movie concerts that seem more disconnected with country fans and far removed from what fans have traditionally become used to for decades. What will the balance of the next 6 to 8 months look like around Country artists and their profiles as well as the impact of that directly on Country radio?

You might think tours being silenced is just a problem for record labels, artists and the support systems around the Nashville community. However, if you’ve been involved in Country radio for any length of time, you know the impact excitement from concerts brings to Country listeners. Maybe there should be a lump in your throat now.

This year we’ve already seen Sports stations suffer from the devastating loss of virtually all sports. It’s easy to image what your life is like as a sports broadcaster when your content dries up and you have to get creative with an almost total lack of fresh content (and certainly almost being totally void of any good sporting news). As our Covid-19 world continues without relenting, we now begin to get a clearer look at the potential negative impact on the Country radio format with silent concert arenas and cancelled events dampening the impact of excitement for Country fans.
So, what do you do? Here are some thoughts for Country radio this fall.

  • Now is the time to get creative. This is the time when your thought leaders and creative innovators should be encouraged. You may not have live concert events (and the country awards shows will be virtual events synched together) to feed excitement into your fall, but you better get busy creating some excitement around the radio station and format that listeners can feel. Your radio station simply must become more engaged and more visible now in your market and in social. This falls directly to you to AMP up creativity in connecting audience to excitement on your brand.
  • Let your entertainers….entertain. This is a call to arms for morning shows and other talent to bring more entertainment to their content surrounding Country artists and exclusive opportunities that are only available in this format. I am saying you have to create them. This is an area that has faced some neglect for an extended time at radio, but Fall 2020 may be the most important time to spend more time and energy on coaching and innovative ideas with on-air talent so they can create more engaging and entertaining brands and unique opportunities to excite listeners.
  • Create unique promotions that cultivate excitement and emotion for Country listeners. At a time when some are pulling back from promotions, this may be the most significant time for creating advantages against competitors who have pulled back. However, you must have a real strategy with significant goals for elevating noise, excitement and fun on your brand to make up for loss of touring energy and the sheer power of live events.
  • Amp up the emotion of country. Country music has always been an emotional format. For Fall 2020, we must use that emotion – and perhaps manufacture a little more – to ‘up the profile’ of our artists in local markets, our stations against competitors and the appreciation of the connection of this format directly with our listeners.
  • Don’t take anything for granted. You don’t think that Country radio could face problems from loss of live shows? This isn’t a new problem anymore. We’ve been faced with the lack of shows for many months. The accumulative impact could start to show itself this fall and you simply shouldn’t take this warning for granted. Take these five things and build on them by creating a strategy to grow excitement levels around artists, special songs, promotions and opportunities that you create this fall.

The world seems at odds with itself (or at least the world we have traditionally known). Country music has always been engaging on the ‘star level.’ We’re connected. That connection has experienced disruption. When the stars stop coming around, you have to be concerned that there may be something missing from our usual radio performance with listeners. Country radio is emotionally connective. Take a close look at everything on your station, have a plan and work that plan passionately to strengthen your brand this fall.

When challenges appear, often it is best to up your profile, energy and innovation to protect your format and local brand.

Loyd Ford consults radio stations, coaches personalities, and provides behavioral and strategic programming to radio with RPC. Reach him anytime. 864.448.4169 or [email protected].



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