Fighting For A First Row Seat


(By Deborah Parenti) There is probably no other format with a stronger bond among artists, songwriters, fans, and radio stations than Country. It’s a close-knit community – but no community is perfect.

Women in Country, like in many other genres and industries, have faced a mountain of challenges over the years and have even taken some steps backward over the past two decades. The 1990s were a strong period for female country artists. Shania Twain, Martina McBride, and Trisha Yearwood are among the many women who enjoyed immense success and popularity.

Come the ’00s, the winds began to shift. Yes, there were Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and, of course, Taylor Swift, but male artists were getting louder, rowdier, and more heavily favored.

Then came “Bro Country,” described by Vulture journalist Jody Rosen as “music by-and-of the tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude.” Starting around 2010, it became more difficult for newer female artists in particular to get airplay. And the gap kept widening (Interestingly, in 2010 only 10% of the Radio Ink Country PDs were women compared to 30% this year).

NBC News musicologist Jada Robinson said the male/female divide increased from a 2-to-1 ratio in the year 2000 to 9.7 to 1 in 2018. Now the percentages seem to be moving back in the right direction with artists like Lainey Wilson, Megan Moroney, and Ashley Cooke.

Beyond country music’s record with female artists and songwriters, however, let’s add one more segment to the pack – program directors.

I wanted you to hear from a few of them who are not only fighting for their own first row seats, but for all women in the genre. Female country artists are getting back up there with the “bros.” Having more women in the captain’s chair at Country stations is helping make that difference.

“Women are seeing more representation of themselves and their stories in mainstream country music,” says WKKT Program Director Ashley Wilson at iHeartMedia Markets Group in Charlotte.

“It’s nice to see women programming and winning. I remember what it was like to be on a programming conference call and hear other male programmers talking about ‘what women really want’ and never being asked for an opinion. I was the only female PD on the calls. In the demo, my station was winning, and it didn’t matter,” says Nikki Thomas, WXBQ PD at Bristol Broadcasting Company in Bristol, VA. “It just made me laugh. I didn’t take it personally. It just made me work harder.”

Make no mistake: the road to advancement has been paved by the hard work of talented, persistent women, and their efforts have drawn some men in the industry to the fight.

“There are some incredible men who are championing women in our field, and that’s needed to continue bringing women into more management positions within the industry,” according to Carletta Blake, PD/Morning Show Talent at iHeartMedia Cleveland’s WGAR, while acknowledging the genre still has “room to grow.”

Sarah Kay of Rubber City Radio Group’s WQMX in Akron says this. “There are a ton of talented women out there singing and programming, and they deserve a chance. If they make the music, I will play it as long as I can! As a female programmer, I feel like it is a no-brainer — I am programming for my listeners, who are majority female. That just makes sense to me.”

Nancy Wilson, at Cox Media Group Dayton’s WHKO, sums it up succinctly. “I absolutely think that women in the country music industry have made huge strides in the past decade. Is it enough? Not yet. But like other women before me and those behind me, the continued key to our success is walking through that door and sitting up front, not standing in the back.” 

Well said, Nancy. It’s not enough to walk through the door. It’s time to take a seat in the first row.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. Reach Deborah at [email protected]. Read her Radio Ink digital archives here or read her latest column with a digital or print subscription here.


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