Salad-Gate: How Country Radio “Consultants” Went Wrong

June 2, 2015 Updated: June 2, 2015
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Beer & Revenge

It’s been a long time since I listened to modern Country radio stations, even though I am in what could be called a Traditional Country or Americana band.  If you miss traditional country music, you will now find it online under the Americana genre rather than on the radio labeled Country. Last week, in an interview that reminds me of the now-infamous 47% comment by Mitt Romney, a radio consultant from Texas (not Nashville) who thought he was only talking to industry reps (male ones) inadvertently spilled the beans on exactly why country radio has been hemorrhaging listeners for years.  He also let us in on why he has been advising radio stations to play only Bro Country – men singing about beer, trucks, and scantily clad women or a few (very few) women singing revenge anthems.

Self-Inflicted Wound?

I will never forget how I felt when I first heard Lyle Lovett on a ride home from a camping trip. A friend was playing his CD.  I was angry that I had never heard him before because “country” stations didn’t play him. You had to have a friend who would share the good stuff with you. It appears things have gotten even worse since I stopped listening to country radio. A few consultants like this one from Texas are trying to justify pinpointing the market to where the music itself doesn’t matter anymore, just the gender of the vocalist. Truly gone are the days that you would hear variety on the radio. The kicker is that, according to this radio consultant, the demise of biodiversity on “country” radio is intentional. And he’s proud of it. 

Rock Stations Playing Banjos

There is only one NY radio station lately where you will hear diversity including banjos or acoustic music as well as Jimi Hendrix these days. It’s not a country station. It’s a rock station.  In NY, the Peak plays new, local artists and the DJs are the old fashioned kind that love good music and like an old friend you have never met face to face, invite you to listen to a new track that they can’t get out of the heads. The DJs are fans of the music and knowledgeable about the musicians and the songwriters and know a good song when they hear one.  They remind me of the old fashioned, legendary DJs who played what they liked and not what some consultant told them to.  Again, it was a friend that let me know about that rare radio station not driven by a corporate master somewhere thousands of miles away.

Hidden Treasures

Being a singer, I was friends with a lot of male rock and blues musicians who shared great music with me over the years – music that radio just wasn’t playing. I learned an awful lot of my repertoire from male musicians I knew and sang with who had some favorite female artists.  Men who had no problems sharing the stage with me singing lead.  My Dad introduced me to the music of Dolly Parton and Reba McIntire.  I first heard Patsy Cline, Sarah McLaughlin, Roseanne Cash,  and Kathy Matea because of men I knew who liked them and played them for me or asked me to learn them.  One blues keyboardist I know who played on my country demo absolutely adores Dolly Parton. Just as women are sexually programmed to respond favorably to a man’s voice, men will also find a woman’s voice intriguing.  But the rise of female pop artists and their popularity with girls puts the lie to the Texas radio consultant’s premise that women and girls don’t like to hear each other sing. My first teen music purchase was Pat Benatar.

Groupies

As a female musician, I have had to deal with music store employees who assumed I was there for my boyfriend. They assumed as a girl, I couldn’t possibly be there buying equipment for myself.  I was even kicked out of the Stanhope House into the freezing cold one night after the band finished because I was mistaken for a groupie, the demeaning term only given to female fans of male musicians (never the other way ’round), when I was actually a member of the band there to help pack up and drive members of the band home. Quite humiliating. The film Almost Famous gives a good glimpse into that world.

Bessie Who?

Over the years, I would go to open mic jams with friends but it was disheartening that they seemed to all devolve into blues jams where the young men playing had no idea that blues even started with Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday.  Girls are increasingly not welcome, even though they were there at the start of the genre.

A Job for the FCC?

Now I hear this Texas consultant who advises hundreds of radio stations that transmit over public airwaves, that they should play female artists less than 15% of the time, if at all. That sounds like discrimination to me and if there are any legislators out there who deal with the FCC, they should be on this.  It’s bad enough the news is filled with men kidnapping girls because they don’t think they deserve an education and men in the US Congress who think a woman isn’t capable of making her own medical decisions or decisions for her child. Now we have to listen to a consultant, who cares not a whit about the quality of the music, endorse discrimination using publicly owned airwaves.

Stereotypes

This issue has ignited a firestorm of anger. The consultant says the reason that he’s doing it is for the girls.  He is assuming that women (he calls them females) are only listeners, and are country music’s only listeners. So therefore women shouldn’t be the artists. Kind of like saying women should be cheerleaders rather than athletes. What he is implying is that what men really want to hear doesn’t matter at all.  It is a stereotypical gendered view of the world and in the same week that Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn, extremely archaic. The very first song on the first album I recorded was a love song written by a man whose boyfriend just left him.  Some themes, like heartbreak and love, are timeless and cross barriers of age, race and gender.  On my most recent albums, the songs I sing were written by my cousin Tom. A good song is a good song and works no matter the gender of the songwriter, the singer or the audience. Even sticking to traditional gender roles, what about men out there who would love to hear a woman singing (sweetly) just to them? I have been singing live for decades now and have been played on country radio in the NY area even at the request of female fans, and I have developed a large number of male fans.  Shouldn’t radio stations be courting them too?  Heartbreak doesn’t just affect one kind of human being.  That is what has always been at the heart of traditional country music, the actual heart.  And if you’re breathing, regardless of your gender, you have one.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.