The Hodgepodge: Revisiting Radio Programming Issues and the Tomato Problem

Keith Hill’s comments on females at country radio took the country music world by storm last year. Just to quickly refresh your memory Hill said “The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” This was in the context of calling males the lettuce and encouraging radio program directors to take females out of rotation in order to maximize ratings. As I’m sure you remember, reactions to Hill’s comments were fierce. Josh’s response in The Hodgepodge took a look at the larger, underlying issue of the lack of overall quality on radio.

I think you can make the argument that there hasn’t been much improvement on either front: female representation or quality. Looking at The Pulse from June 13, 2015 (published the same week as the previously linked Hodgepodge), there were two solo females on the charts in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (7) and Kelsea Ballerini (8). One female duo with Maddie & Tae at 24, and a female led group at 10 with Little Big Town. Also in the top 10 were two songs with female harmonies (“Wild Child” and “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools”). The overall pulse that week was -14. Compare that to yesterday’s Pulse with two solo females in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (1) and Maren Morris (10). Maddie & Tae again at 23, and then Cassadee Pope in a duet with Chris Young at 12. The pulse sits at -10.

That’s fairly even, if you ask me. In the latest issue of Country Aircheck, Lance Houston from iHeartMedia station WBWL in Boston sort of echoed Keith Hill’s comments and took it a step further. Now, before I move on, I just want to clarify that I’m not trying to restart a controversy or blow this up into something it’s not. His comments are interesting, and I think they’re worth commenting on. Houston approaches programming from balancing the logs of who is singing the song. “If you’ve got two females back to back, you don’t have a balanced log given the format’s small percentage of female music. The goal should be to make the most balanced log possible. The same thing goes with other [artist characteristics]; you don’t have a balanced log if you have three or four male duos in a row.”

From a business and programming standpoint, I completely understand that approach. You have A (female solo), B (male solo), C (female duo), D (male duo), and E (bands). In an ideal world, radio has an even distribution of A, B, C, D, and E, without ever repeating letters. But here’s the kicker from Houston’s comments: “given the format’s small percentage of female music.” The representation of A is low, and B is extremely high. Looking again at yesterday’s Pulse of the top 30, here’s the distribution: A (2 songs), B (21 songs), C (1 song), D (2 songs), E (3 songs), and we’ll classify Chris Young & Cassadee Pope as F, a Male/Female duo (1 song). So in reality, you take what you’re given and distribute the choices in the most even possible way.

Given the fact that there aren’t many female artists available for radio to choose from, we don’t get much female music on the radio. Maren Morris is a newcomer who could build on a successful run after a top 10 debut single. Carrie Underwood will release a new single soon to follow “Heartbeat” at number one, Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” is on its way, and Miranda Lambert is working on new music. Jennifer Nettles, Cam, Brandy Clark, Martina McBride, and Brook Eden all have songs in the bottom half of the top 60.

It’s a slow process, but we could see more females impacting radio. It’s possible, given the recent success of Cam, Kelsea Ballerini, and now Maren Morris. I think the outcry after the tomato comments could have influenced this, but we have to understand it’ll take time. We’re coming off the bro-country era. Programmers can’t just flip the switch and go 50/50 distribution between males and females. But labels can up their rosters to include more females, or even make way for non-music row artists to be played.

Just last year, quality albums from Whitney Rose, Lindi Ortega, and Hailey Whitters provide some great music to choose from. Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe and Lee Ann Womack are familiar faces who get ignored. Aubrie Sellers’ debut album is excellent. I’d be okay if she got a chance from nepotism, like Thomas Rhett did, if it meant hearing Sellers on the radio. I’d also argue that the aforementioned females would also up the quality of music on the charts if they’re given the chance.

Unfortunately, the business side may not pave the way for the quality side of music. We may never see the day of high female representation on the charts, and it pains me to say it. As much as I’d like to see it, the label attitudes of the label executives would have to drastically change. I have a better chance of getting a country record deal than that happening. And as radio slowly slips away for other outlets, this whole conversation may be a moot point someday. But until that day comes, I hope the winds of change blow in the direction of a higher female representation on country radio. I think the demand is there, and the supply is certainly available.

Upcoming/Recent Country Releases

  • Southern Family is finally released tomorrow. I’ve listened to it on NPR First Listen, and I enjoyed it. You’ll see Josh’s review soon.
  • William Michael Morgan releases his debut EP tomorrow as well.
  • Maren Morris announced that her debut album, Hero, will be released on June 3.
  • Randy Houser‘s next single will be “Song Number 7.” We will review the single, but not Fired Up. 
  • Kenny Chesney is trying to be cryptic on social media to get fans excited for an upcoming announcement. Most likely, on March 24, Chesney will give us details on some new music, be it a single, album, or both.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Leave the Pieces” by The Wreckers. The Wreckers, made up of Jessica Harp and Michelle Branch, had a short life in country music. One successful album in 2006 yielded two top ten hits: “My, Oh My” at #9 and this song as their only number one. I’m a big fan of this song and I wish we could have had more music from this duo.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros. LaMontagne’s newest album was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. It’s a heavier, psychedelic-like album calling back to a classic rock approach to music production. Just like old vinyl, the album is broken into two parts, emulating the need to flip the record over. The production over shadows LaMontagne’s signature vocals, but it’s still a good offering from this rock singer-songwriter.

Tweet of the Week

This is a great picture of Sturgill and Merle.

Two Randy Houser iTunes Reviews

RH1 RH2

As I said, we’re not reviewing Fired Up as a whole because its way too long and overrun with the same, low quality crap. Though this first review would have you think otherwise. I’d argue that the album is full of filler.

As for the second review, that comparison to Toby Keith is hilarious! Sharing it with Josh, he agreed that it’s an accurate comparison given that both singers are talented, yet put out clichéd music. But this person’s reasoning? HA! If Houser didn’t put out 17 songs of radio pandering bull crap, then I’d agree. “Like a Cowboy”, or most of Houser’s first couple albums is the kind of country music that’s good. You don’t sell out like this to get “earned” recognition.

9 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Revisiting Radio Programming Issues and the Tomato Problem

  1. Raymond March 17, 2016 / 12:24 pm

    I definitely think the supply and want is their for the female artists, just some of them need to get more radio friendly material or just better songs as a whole, Clare Dunn, Jana Kramer their latest are pure pop and not even good pop like Lauren Alaina’s latest EP. I’ll give Kelsea Ballerini credit for actually finally stepping up to the plate and releasing “Peter Pan”, it sounds more of something out of the late 2000s and is good as in more of the Taylor Swift pop-country. Oh Derek, rumor has it that Carrie Underwood will either release “Church Bells” or “Dirty Laundry” as a new single any thoughts on that?

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    • Derek Hudgin March 17, 2016 / 12:51 pm

      But that speaks to the quality issue, Raymond. Love Me Like You Mean It may be more radio friendly, but it was a bad song and awful quality. Country radio is too pop, and artists keep releasing boring pop songs. At least Luke’s new single sounds country, which is a good step.

      But I don’t see how Kacey Musgraves or Ashley Monroe get ignored as I think they have good, quality music that sounds country and radio friendly. I hate the idea of females needing to cater to the radio trend to get AirPlay, because that’s how songs like Dibs or any of RaeLynn’s crap gets produced. But yes, kudos to Kelsea Ballerini to moving toward a more country sound with Peter Pan – one of only a couple I liked from her album.

      As for Carrie, I’d love Choctaw County Affair as a single, but given the two you list, I like Dirty Laundry more.

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      • Raymond March 17, 2016 / 1:17 pm

        Yeah, that’s the problem, how do you find quality while being radio friendly. Kelsea Ballerini might have that in “Peter Pan”. Love Me Like You Mean It will always go down as a guilty pleasure so I won’t bother with that one.

        Now with Kacey Musgraves is simple she won’t confide to radio at all, she won’t do a radio tour which leads to radio blacklisting her. For Ashley Monroe, I have no legitimate idea her album sales are solid, her album was critically acclaimed, and radio friendly, like I know you guys didn’t love “On To Something Good” but that sounded both country enough and radio friendly enough to be a hit. If there is a bright side when’s the last time you’ve heard from Raelynn, since I legitimately believe that her voice will be way too polarizing for radio.

        I hate it too, that’s why I like Carrie Underwood, Cam, and Maren Morris releases don’t pander to radio. Like I get why the whole Kelsea thing would inspire other women to release similar music (Lauren Alaina being a prime example but “Next Boyfriend” did nothing to her career but leave her contract still up in the air) but the success of Cam and Maren Morris should also do something to inspire ladies like Brooke Eden or Tara Thompson (granddaughter of Loretta Lynn I might as well add) to release music like that country, acoustic or soul type, I think females releasing garbage like “Tuxedo” or “Said No One Ever” won’t do either Clare Dunn or Jana Kramer any favors. If Jana Kramer really wanted a radio hit she should’ve just released “Dance In The Rain” or “Boomerang”.

        Derek I still imagine that Carrie Underwood will release Choctaw County Affair later on, that song to me just screams a song that’ll be perfect to perform at an award show.

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  2. OlaR March 17, 2016 / 3:51 pm

    Is it country radio or the labels? Or both. Country radio is only playing songs from a small pool of female artists. The songs fit into the current radio-format (Kelsea Ballerini for example). Is a female singer getting the same promotion “who is doing her thing”?
    Kacey Musgraves is on Mercury Nashville & the label is -with the exception of Chris Stapleton- not setting the radio/chart-world on fire. Canaan Smith, Easton Corbin, Billy Currington & Lauren Alaina don’t sell well & country radio is more or less ignoring the current singles.
    Is Ashley Monroe too country or is she not playing the game, to get her songs on the playlists? She is on Warner Nashville & the only female solo artist (Jana Kramer is on Elektra Nashville).
    Will country radio play the next Cam single? Or is she only the flavour of the month? Can Cam sell albums without country airplay? Ashley Monroe & Kacey Musgraves can.

    Let’s hope the William Michael Morgan EP is good. Six songs for 2.99€ on Google Play here.

    Checkout/New Artist – Lanie McAuley:
    Singer/actress from Canada. “Pour Me One More” is her first single.
    The song starts like the most other songs on radio (banjo & stuff). But there is a prominent steel guitar. The production is up-to-date with a “retro-feeling”. For me, it’s a +1.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amanda March 17, 2016 / 4:33 pm

    Damn, I miss the Wreckers. They were really awesome.

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  4. jess March 17, 2016 / 5:11 pm

    2 comments-

    1. Fired up is complete garbage, i’m not even sure why i wanted to listen to it

    2. literally last week i made 3 playlists: lettuce, tomatos, and salad. lettuce being male albums i could play on repeat indefinitely (sturgill, isbell, aaron watson, randy rogers/wade bowen) tomatoes being females (kacey musgraves, ashley monroe, miranda lambert, angeleena presley, cam, brandy clark, pistol annies) and salad being the two of them crossed.

    oddly enough, my tomato playlist has more songs than the lettuce and also has a larger roster.

    i’m sure i’m missing several artists but i’m still new to this otherside of music.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nadia Lockheart March 17, 2016 / 5:39 pm

    The drop-off in quality between “How Country Feels” and “Fired Up” is just shocking to me.

    “How Country Feels” wasn’t even as solid as “They Call Me Cadillac”, but it made sense for Houser to pivot to radio-friendly territory after he made his point releasing an album with solid traditionalist-leaning country flavor because the album sold poorly and produced no hits. And “How Country Feels” was a solid middle ground in that it consisted of some radio fluff paired with strong deeper cuts that tackled meatier topics replete with country instrumentation. “Route 3 Box 250D”, “Shine”, “The Singer” and “Power of a Song” were all great tracks, and even some of the more radio-tailored tracks like “Like A Cowboy”, “Goodnight Kiss” and “Absolutely Nothing” were agreeable.

    I have no idea what the hell happened to the judgement of Houser and Stoney Creek. I mean, wasn’t the radio success of “Like a Cowboy” enough of a hint as to what listeners wanted more of? I mean, he clearly KNOWS he struck gold with that in that he prides himself in giving acoustic performances of the song at the Grand Old Opry to draw more attention to his emotive vocals.

    I could easily forgive setting aside several track listing slots for fluffy songs like “Song Number 7” or “Chasing Down A Good Time”. But almost ALL seventeen tracks? That’s probable mainstream career suicide for any recording artist below the A-list tier. I have no idea what they were thinking from even a practical standpoint! =(

    *

    I miss The Wreckers as well.

    I was never a fan of Michelle Branch’s solo pop career, but I thought both she and Jessica more than held their own delivering country-pop. There was a very serviceable charm to their only album much like Maddie & Tae are showing now. It was a very clean-sounding album, but in a way that simply sounded professional rather than undermined by veering too heavily towards gloss like Branch’s “Hotel Paper” did. It still sounded convincingly rootsy just like the Dixie Chicks.

    It’s understandable that it remains a tough climate to market females, let alone female duos. Still, I think it would have been rewarding to see The Wreckers continue on, and it’s a shame they didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amanda March 18, 2016 / 1:34 pm

    Just checked out William Michael Morgan’s EP this morning, and it’s pretty great. Hey Josh, are you going to do a review on it? 🙂

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    • Josh Schott March 18, 2016 / 3:59 pm

      Yeah Derek or myself will definitely review it.

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