Why Country Isn’t First Anymore

27 Oct

The ratings for country stations are down this summer.

I’m no expert but having spent so much time in and around the format I have some theories.

The last job I had in radio was as head of Country Programming for a large chain that owned 45 or 50 stations in the format.

Prior to that I was a Senior VP Programming with Clear Channel (and AM/FM, Capstar) and we had tons of winning country stations.

I won’t bother you with all the details.  But I’ve ‘seen the elephant’ or been in battle with many a country station.

The WIFI radio in my office takes me to dozens of markets and stations without leaving town.  I’ve been doing a little listening.

Here’s my take.

The music is awful.

That’s it.  Fix the music and you fix the format.

To be successful in country you must appeal to women in large numbers.

You can’t fix the format so fix your station.

The music I’m hearing barely relates to women.

Country stations must have a ‘singable’ quality.  Fewer and fewer songs meet this criteria.

The secret formula for a winning country station is in mixing tempo and texture.

It’s up, down, male, female, pop, country.

Change tempos slow, fast, Change voices use females for relief and variety.  Change texture pop to twangy.

The other secret is keep the mix familiar.  Play  hits.

Nashville will tell you the answer is to play new songs.  Of course they say that, it’s their job.

Don’t listen to them. Create a mix that works for your station.

The music charts are meaningless!!

The format is filled with C and D level artists and songs.

The superstars like Brooks and Dunn and George Strait have been around forever. But who is coming up to replace them?

I’m not hearing the big songs, by the big artists enough on most country stations.

Radio still needs these people to provide a familiar and comfortable base each hour for the listener.

Now listen to the talent.

Country listeners relate to a station through the talent.  Cutting the heart out of morning shows at budget crunch time isn’t the answer.

I know managers don’t want to hear that, but go find your savings elsewhere.

Poor coaching of voice tracked jocks is killing stations.

I heard a jock in market #15 in the Southwest talking about a concert in Illinois.

They wonder why this once dominate station is getting it’s ass kicked.  The answer is coming through your radio.

The ‘heritage’ station is the place to be in a country battle.

The problem is many of these ‘heritage’ stations are losing ground because they haven’t had marketing in years.

New people are moving into cities all the time.  A station that dominated in 1995 is talking to a changing market today.

Phoenix for example was market #45 thirty or so years ago.  Today it is 15.

People have moved into town and have no idea of anybody’s ‘heritage’.  Are you listening KNIX? You too KASE?

There are many others in a similar situation.

If your station is showing some slippage in Arbitron this is where you should focus your attention.

  • Music.  Make the station singable.  Pick the right songs to fit your brand.  Drop songs that aren’t singable.  Be very tough on every song that makes it to your air.
  • Artists.  Make sure you have solid, well known voices around the newbies.
  • Texture. Avoid being too hard.  Mix pop and country.
  • Message.  What is the song saying?  Get rid of ‘dumb guy’ songs and anything that is degrading to women.  To help you these are often listed in your library under ‘Keith, Toby.’
  • Filter.  Every song must pass the ‘female filter’.  If women don’t like it, the song is gone.
  • The Music Log.  Edit.  Pay attention!  I hear tons of stations that clearly hit ‘F-10’ on Selector and NEVER review the log.
  • Talent.  Make them relate to your local market.  Preparation is required for voice trackers too.
  • Coach the talent.  Voice trackers are jocks too.  Regular air check reviews are necessary.
  • Imagining.  Listen carefully to your imaging and hear the message  and how you’re saying it.
  • Pay attention to the whole station.  Is the music log done well in advance for your voice trackers to have sufficient time to create good shows?
  • Review the computer log.  Make sure  the right elements are playing at the right place.  It’s laziness to have a Brooks and Dunn sweeper play into Rascal Flatts.  Pay attention to details!
  • Match the tempo of jingles to the songs they’re playing against.

In other words,  get back to basics.

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Posted by on October 27, 2008 in Radio programming


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