The Hodgepodge: Five Ways I Would Fix Country Radio

Alan Jackson

I don’t think it’s much of a secret how I feel about country radio. Anyone who has followed Country Perspective and The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music in particular know my distaste and at times outright anger towards country radio. At times they can get it right, only to screw up again. But one thing I have come to accept compared to when I first started to track country airplay charts is that I don’t entirely represent their target audience. As much as I want to hear Jon Pardi, Maddie & Tae and Eric Church get played on country radio, the person down the street simply prefers Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. We all have different tastes and country radio doesn’t always deliberately play the worst music being released. Some people choose to listen to this music and I respect this choice, even if don’t understand it or agree with it.

But I think something all country fans can agree on, especially in light of what has happened so far in 2016, is there’s a clear lack of direction at radio and several other problems accompanying it. There’s a lack of traditional country music still, even if there has been some notable accomplishments by traditional artists on the airwaves this year. Most female artists continue to be ignored and older artists are still shunted aside. Not to mention there seems to be this never-ending chart clog, as every label desperately tries to push their new act so they can become established. That’s a lot of issues and it got me thinking of how exactly I would go about fixing this issues. And by fixing that doesn’t mean removing every artist from the airwaves I don’t like, as much as I would love to ban Sam Hunt from country radio. So after doing some thinking, I came up with what I believe to be five sensible solutions that would go a long way in helping fix country radio and turning it into something that can appeal to both traditional and modern fans.

  • Ban the On The Verge Program

iHeart’s On The Verge program looked like it could be a useful program at first for country radio. It seemed to promise to help up and coming, new artists at radio and give them a chance to make a successful career. Well after a couple of years of observing this program, I would call it an absolute failure. The only two acts to actually benefit from it and help them launch successful careers is Sam Hunt and Old Dominion. The rest of the artists chosen for the program haven’t really done much since being chosen. Even a quality artist like Cam has failed to produce a hit since “Burning House” was chosen for the program. Maren Morris is struggling right now at radio with “80s Mercedes” after “My Church” was chosen for On The Verge and she’s probably been one of the biggest breakouts recently in country music. It reminds me similarly of A Thousand Horses with “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” stalling out after “Smoke” landed them a #1 hit. The latest On The Verge pick though has really exposed this sham of a program, Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled.” She isn’t a new artist by any stretch and has had plenty of time to establish a career. Alaina is undoubtedly a talented artist, but this is not the way you build her career up because I don’t see the followup to this netting her another hit and establishing her as a star.

The whole situation with On The Verge is very forced and inorganic. It represents a problem that has been plaguing country radio, which is why I would end it effective immediately. It’s not creating stars and it no longer serves a purpose. Why continue to run something that is ineffective and only strokes the egos of label executives? It’s just causing problems and getting the hopes of young artists and their fans. You can’t force radio and people to like a song, no matter how hard you push it down their throats. Speaking of which…

  • A Song Can Only Be On The Airplay Charts for 25 Weeks at Max

This solution is 100% directed at labels pushing the likes of Chase Bryant and Canaan Smith down our throats when nobody cares about them and their music. Just look at the chart right now and you can find songs that have been on it for over 30 weeks. As glad as I was to see Jon Pardi hit #1 with “Head Over Boots,” I cringe when I see it took over 45 weeks to reach this achievement (ironically it took exactly 11 months). Chase Rice infamously pushed a song for over a year to reach the top ten. This kind of gerrymandering bullshit needs to end and that’s why I would cap the limit for charting at 25 weeks. This gives labels just over six months to push their single at radio. After 25 weeks it must leave the chart and go recurrent. I think this is a good balance between giving labels enough time to push songs, as well as account for slower growing songs. It’s more than enough time to determine the true peak of the song. If this type of rule were to ever be implemented I could just see labels crying this is unfair because they can’t push their newest project for 40 weeks. And to them I say this: Perhaps this demonstrates how you shouldn’t waste time and money on artists that simply don’t connect (looking at you Curb Records).

  • The Top 30 on Both Mediabase & Billboard Airplay Charts Must Contain At Least 10 Songs with Female Artists

Now this solution and the next one are bound to be controversial, especially since I just said that you shouldn’t force music on the charts. But hear me out. Tomato Gate did absolutely nothing to improve the standing of women being played on country radio. A bunch of words and think-pieces have been churned out, yet no viable solution has been put on the table. Having the same three female artists in the top 30 is not enough progress. So in my opinion the only way you reverse the discrimination of country radio against women is to implement a rule like this one. Radio programmers aren’t going to willingly change their ways, so you have to force feed it down their throats so they will comply. Women deserve a fair chance and this is the only way I can think of them getting it. Notice I say it doesn’t have to be songs by solo female acts, but it simply must have a female artist on the song. The reason I word it like this is because major labels aren’t equipped at the moment to have ten female solo artists on the radio. They simply aren’t enough to be pushed, but by implementing this rule it would force them to sign more female talent and more importantly push them to radio when they’re guaranteed to have a chance. Now I realize not all of these pushed female acts would connect with audiences and if they don’t, they simply fall out of the top 30 in favor of a new one. Nothing would be forced.

  • The Top 30 on Both Mediabase & Billboard Airplay Charts Must Contain At Least 2 Songs by Artists 45+ Years Old

While women have been the victims of sexism and misogyny at country radio, the other big problem country radio has always had is ageism. As soon as an artist gets older, they casted aside and ignored by country radio. This is bullshit. Alan Jackson, Reba and George Strait are all still making music and want to be played on country radio. There’s plenty of people who still want to hear them on country radio. I say they should still be getting played and this rule would force radio to continue to consider these senior acts. Why should Chris Lane be getting played over George Strait when Strait can outsell and outperform him in his sleep?

  • The Implementation of a Quality Assurance Panel

This last one is pretty self-explanatory, but might also be the most important. I would establish a Quality Assurance Panel for country radio. It would consist of ten people whose job would be to vote on whether or not a single should qualify for country radio. In other words, is the single country enough for country radio? This would eliminate pop carpetbagging and outsiders hijacking the format. It would also still allow for pop country songs, which many people enjoy and wouldn’t be taken off the airwaves. A strict checklist would have to be met for the song to get passed by the panel (instrumentation, lyrics, etc.). So while I’m not banning Sam Hunt off the airwaves, a quality panel would force him to either start making country leaning songs or get the hell out and go to pop radio. Kelsea Ballerini would be forced to incorporate more country elements into her music too if she wants to stay on country radio.

For the fun of it, I decided to apply my hypothetical solutions to the current chart. Here’s what the top 30 would look like after removing all songs that would fail to be on the current chart and applying my rules:

  1. Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
  2. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory”
  3. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime”
  4. Zac Brown Band – “Castaway”
  5. Miranda Lambert – “Vice”
  6. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be”
  7. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time”
  8. Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All”
  9. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song”
  10. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute”
  11. Jerrod Niemann & Lee Brice – “A Little More Love”
  12. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night”
  13. Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry”
  14. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
  15. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”
  16. Michael Ray – “Think A Little Less”
  17. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”
  18. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
  19. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill a Word”
  20. Eli Young Band – “Saltwater Gospel”
  21. Runaway June – “Lipstick”
  22. Mickey Guyton – “Why Baby Why” (“Heartbreak Song” is not country)
  23. Easton Corbin – “Are You With Me”
  24. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You”
  25. RaeLynn – “Love Triangle”
  26. Ashley Monroe – “Dixie”
  27. Toby Keith – “A Few More Cowboys”
  28. George Strait – “Goin’ Goin’ Gone”
  29. Maddie & Tae – “Sierra”
  30. Margo Price – “Hurtin’ On The Bottle”

Let me know in the comments what you think. These are all hypothetical solutions and are closer to fantasy than reality. If you have any ideas you would like to add I would be glad to hear them.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow the following albums will be released:
    • Dwight YoakamSwimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
    • Reckless KellySunset Motel
  • Next week the legendary John Prine will release his duets album For Better, or Worse
  • William Michael Morgan will release his debut album Vinyl next week too
  • Wayne Hancock will be releasing a new album titled Slingin’ Rhythm on October 28

In Memory of Windmills Country

Country writer Grady Smith brought to us the unfortunate news this past week that beloved country writer, chart analyst and all-around wonderful person Windmills Country (real name Devarati Ghosh) has passed away. Her loss will be greatly felt throughout the country music insider community, as her kindness and insight was second to none. I know she influenced several of my best posts on this blog and inspired me to take on many challenging topics. While I never met her in real life, her advice and presence will be forever felt. May she rest in peace.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Born on the Bayou” – I’ve been digging into CCR’s catalog lately and they’re probably one of the most unsung acts of the 60s and 70s in my book. The way they blend soul, R&B and that swampy rock sound is infectious and memorable. You really can’t go wrong with any of their music.

Tweet of the Week

Yep! Also ties into last week’s Hodgepodge.

A Spot-On Review of the New Jason Aldean Album


I’m still unable to listen to the new Aldean album, but I don’t have any plans to do so when I can anyway. According to people I trust on country music opinions, they all echo this above review: every song sounds the same. Based on what I’ve heard on the previews and Aldean’s track record, I’m not surprised. After all you don’t want to get too “songwriter-y.” Aldean is such a meat head.

Review – Tucker Beathard’s “Rock On”

Tucker Beathard Rock On

Oh look, another new artist being shoved down our throats. If there’s one thing Music Row doesn’t run out of, it’s starry-eyed, young artists hoping to be big country stars and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it big. Nowadays they all have the perfect look that make label executives swoon and Tucker Beathard is no different. It helps tremendously too that Beathard is the son of Casey Beathard, who is a well-known country writer. As Thomas Rhett can attest, nepotism can be a big help. Beathard has been around for a few years, but is just now starting to get a big push as he’s part of Big Machine Label Group’s Dot Records imprint. His new single “Rock On” is the newest pick by the On The Verge program, which ensures singles skyrocket up the airplay chart. You’ve probably never heard of it and it already is up to #30 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

There’s one thing that stands out clear as day right away to me when I hear “Rock On.” Tucker Beathard is a terrible singer. His voice is absolutely grating to the ears. I would describe his voice as party whiny and part jagged. He could not carry a tune in a bucket. Beathard is basically a quieter, poor man’s Brantley Gilbert as a vocalist. With a voice this bad it’s hard to even listen to the song. Speaking of the song, it’s about a man pondering about an ex who has now moved on and while he wished her the best, he still lives with the regret of not putting a “rock” on her finger. In other words, this guy is sitting around thinking about a relationship that will never happen that he blew and just repeats over and over how he should have committed. While the hook of “rock on” is catchy, that’s about the only appeal I can see to the casual listener. The song just isn’t that interesting, which was written by Beathard, his father and Marla Cannon-Goodman. The generic rock instrumentation is even more boring.

Overall “Rock On” is just another mediocre, generic song that country radio will force down listeners throats. It’s same song, different face. Even if you gave this song to a competent vocalist, the song still wouldn’t be appealing. You know you’re listening to a bad song when three and a half minutes feels like five minutes. I can see this song appealing to fans of Brantley Gilbert and other country artists who churn out rock trying to be country. Otherwise I think once the On The Verge push stops, this song will sink like a rock. Then again Chase Bryant and Lee Brice still manage to find airplay. As long as you’re willing to play the game with country radio, your song will get played. I think a better name for “Rock On” would “Turn Off,” as about 30 seconds of this song will make you want to do the latter.

Grade: 2/10

Review – Cam’s “Burning House”

Country newcomer Cam impressed us with her debut single “My Mistake.” The song was a nice blend of pop country with great lyrics, and Cam herself is a captivating vocalist. As a follow-up single, Cam is releasing “Burning House” off her EP. This song, thanks to some help from the one and only Bobby Bones, will get the iHeartRadio On The Verge treatment. It’s the same program that’s helped Sam Hunt become a country star. While some may question the integrity of the program, it has proven to be effective in getting new artists in the spotlight. And say what you want about Bobby Bones, the shock jock has just as many detractors as he has supporters, but for every other bad song he pushes out on his show, there’s a good one. And in the case of Cam’s “Burning House,” Bobby Bones and On The Verge have chosen a very good song to bring into the country radio spotlight.

“Burning House” features a beautifully haunting production. A simple acoustic guitar melody lays the ground for the song, and a piano and some violins chime in as the song progresses. You won’t hear percussion anywhere on this song. The lone acoustic melody on the introduction combined with the opening line of “I had a dream about a burning house” sets the mood perfectly for the sadness to come. The phrase “less is more” couldn’t be more relevant to “Burning House.” The simplicity of the three instruments allows the listener room to breathe and focus on the story.

Cam uses the metaphor of a house burning down to tell a story of a love going down in flames. The relationship is dead and it’s only a matter of time before the flames die and leaving nothing left for the two of them. Cam is at a loss of how to fix it and ultimately realizes that its best to hold on until the flames have died.

I’ve been sleepwalking, been wandering all night trying to take what’s lost and broke and make it right. I’ve been sleepwalking too close to the fire, but it’s the only place that I can hold you tight in this burning house.”

This is the type of story song that’s lost in mainstream country. Too much of radio is too focused on being the soundtrack of good time parties and late night rendezvouses that listening to the lyrics of song has become an afterthought. And what makes “Burning House” a great song may be its Achilles’ heel on radio. Two of the previous stripped-back songs that made waves on country radio, “What We Ain’t Got” and “She Don’t Love You,” stalled at in the teens on the country charts. With that said, for an artist who’s yet to have a top 30 hit, a peak in the teens could be considered a success.

It’ll be interesting to see what On The Verge does for Cam and “Burning House.” I’d love to see this song succeed and at least chart in the upper half of the top 30. Cam’s vocals carry the melancholy tone of the song to new heights. She’s a captivating singer, and that only helps a song like this capture listeners. Unfortunately, for a song like this in today’s radio culture, it’s a game of wait and see. Regardless of how “Burning House” fares, it’s an excellent country song that everyone should hear.

Grade: 10/10

The Hodgepodge: Stop Trying To Make Me Like Sam Hunt

Hunt Montevallo

Over the past year, one artist has stood out amongst the rest in mainstream country music: Sam Hunt. Ever since “Leave The Night On” got its artificial push onto radio via On The Verge last summer, Hunt has dominated the airwaves, charts and headlines. His Montevallo album has been dominating sales, as well as receive praise from critics (a few I even respect). In fact the main subject matter of this week’s Billboard Country Update was how Sam Hunt dominated the first quarter of 2015. The aforementioned Montevallo album was the top-selling country album, with a total of 199,000 copies sold. The next highest selling album was Luke Bryan’s Spring Break…Checkin’ Out, which sold 137,000 copies. That’s a gap of 62,000 albums between Hunt and Bryan. However it should be noted the highest selling album in the first quarter of 2014, Eric Church’s The Outsiders, had a total of 491,000 copies sold.

It wasn’t just the album sales Hunt topped either. His hit single “Take Your Time” was the highest selling country digital song of the first quarter of 2015 too. A total of 619,000 copies were sold. The second-highest was Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown,” which had a total of 381,000 sales. So Hunt sold 238,000 more copies of “Take Your Time” than Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown.” For reference, the highest selling digital country song of the first quarter of 2014 was Brantley Gilbert’s “Bottoms Up,” which sold 682,000 copies. Just looking at the charts from last year and comparing them to this year’s chart, you can tell country music is taking a hit in the sales department (courtesy Billboard):

First Quarters 2014 & 2015

While sales are down across the board for everyone else, Sam Hunt is the only one putting up noticeable numbers. You see where I’m going with this? A monster has been created and when something gets big in country music, everyone else tries to replicate it. With Hunt being the clear cash cow and popular flavor at the moment, that means we’re going to get a lot more Sam Hunt shoved down our throats.

That leads me to this week’s announcement in the weekly Country Aircheck issue. As you all know this year is the 50th Annual ACM Awards and the ACM association is going all out for it. In addition to the bigger production of the awards show itself, they’re also taping a special titled ACM Presents: Superstar Duets, which will air on May 19. The announced duets were as follows: Miranda Lambert with Patty Loveless, Keith Urban with John Anderson, The Band Perry with Deana Carter and Sam Hunt with Dwight Yoakam. Wait…what? Those first three pairings I have absolutely no problem with. That last one however sticks out like a giant sore thumb and not in a good way.

One of your first reactions might be is why would Yoakam agree to do this? One of the following two things I’m guessing is the reason Yoakam is doing this: Yoakam has no real clue who Hunt is and agreed to do it out of principle or his label forced him to do it. Remember he is on the Warner Nashville label and he has a new album coming out. This is no indication that Yoakam is endorsing Hunt nor is he changing his sound to Hunt’s sound. So put to rest the hearsay that Yoakam is selling out. No, I’ll tell you the exact reason this collaboration is happening. This is Hunt’s team and Music Row’s attempt to get us “haters” to like and endorse Hunt.

They truly believe that throwing Hunt together with Yoakam will get Hunt doubters to like him. “Oh he’s singing with Yoakam. That means he’s one of us! That makes him country.” Hell no! How stupid and gullible do you think I am? You’re just making me hate Hunt even more. What you’re giving me with this pairing is trying to make me eat dog shit laced with bacon. But guess what? It still tastes like shit. Just give me the bacon and put the dog shit where it belongs. This is a collaboration that absolutely nobody was clamoring for. Traditionalists hate Hunt and Hunt fans have no idea who Yoakam is. Just wait for the tweets on Farce The Music’s Twitterfails of May. There will be plenty of tweets wondering who Yoakam is. I can also imagine that many Hunt fans who heard Yoakam’s music would call it old and boring.

The Hunt defenders and Music Row can kick and scream until they’re blue in the face about how “country” Hunt is and how he’s evolving the genre. They can try to pitch me on every angle on how Hunt is great and why I should like him. But you need to save your breath. Stop trying to make me like Hunt because it isn’t going to happen. His music is straight pop being sold as country music. He looks like a Euro disc jockey. Everything about him is a disgrace to country music and its history. If he was doing all of this while in the pop genre, I would have no problem with Hunt. But he’s not. Hunt is lying straight to my face with his music and his look by calling it country. It’s insulting on every level. I give Taylor Swift major props for finally moving to pop because she realized she was hurting her own brand by continuing to lie about her music. My advice to Hunt is to follow her lead and go to pop where he belongs. Don’t take your time like Swift did either.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Reba McEntire will be coming out with her new album Love Somebody next Tuesday. You can currently stream it on iTunes Radio if you’re subscribed to the service. It’ll be interesting to see how much pop influences are present throughout the album.
  • Dwight Yoakam is also coming out with his new album next Tuesday, Second Hand Heart. You can stream that album on NPR at this link here. I’ve been really looking forward to giving this one a listen, Yoakam’s last album 3 Pears certainly impressed me. I’ll have a review on this soon.
  • Texas country artist Zane Williams will be coming out with a new album titled Texas Like That on Tuesday too. For those unfamiliar with Williams, he’s certainly one you need to check out. I came across him in 2013 when I heard his single “Overnight Success,” a great single about the life of a musician. While everyone will be paying attention to high-profile releases from Reba and Dwight, this album may be better than both of theirs.
  • George Strait’s new single will be called “Let It Go.” No, it’s not the Frozen song. Although Strait would maybe be able to make that work. Anyway we’ll get our first listen of it at the ACM Awards and it’s going for adds at radio on April 20.
  • Cole Swindell is coming out with a new single titled “Let Me See Ya Girl” and it’s also going for adds on April 20. This one is as bad as it sounds. Trust me. Just wait for my review…
  • Toby Keith is back with a new single, “35 MPH Town.” It’s bad enough I have to deal with a new Swindell single and now there’s a Keith single on top of it. Sigh.

Throwback Thursday Song

Reba McEntire & Vince Gill – “The Heart Won’t Lie” – I’ve been listening to this song a lot ever since last week’s past pulse of mainstream country music. It’s Reba in her prime and Vince. How could you not like this song?

Non-Country Song of the Week

Ludacris – “Ocean Skies” – It’s 2015 and Ludacris put out a good song. In fact his entire new album Ludaversal was shockingly good. I never thought I would enjoy Ludacris music in 2015. Then again rap music, unlike country music, in 2015 has been great. Shoutout to Mark Grondin at Spectrum Pulse for his review of the album convincing me to give it a listen.

Tweet of the Week

Well played Cake Bowen. I point this out in my upcoming review of “Don’t It.”

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

WTF Canaan Smith Review

This was left under Canaan Smith’s new self-titled EP. I only have three words for this review: What the fuck?

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Review – Michael Ray’s “Kiss You In The Morning” Is A Damn Joke

Michael Ray

How am I supposed to take this song seriously? I heard about new country artist Michael Ray a couple of weeks back and apparently he’s supposed to be the next big thing according to his label Warner Music Nashville. I passed it off as just hype on social media. Then I noticed he was in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart. Now I’m starting to get a little concerned. What drove me to review this song was when I saw this tweet from Windmills Country. “Kiss You In The Morning” is the next song in line to get the On The Verge pick push. You know the same one that helped propel Sam Hunt to his current standing. The same Verge that pushed Chase Bryant onto the chart (this one didn’t turn out as well as Hunt). So now I gotta talk about Michael Ray and his debut single because it’s inevitable it will go up on the Country Airplay chart.

First let’s just talk about the album cover. Look at him. He looks like he’s fresh from the former worst show on television Jersey Shore. Ray has perfectly coifed hair and a nice tan, with a simple t-shirt look. He’s a record label and teenagers’ wet dream because for some reason all country stars nowadays have to be pretty and have sex appeal. As Windmills Country says, he’s hunky and funky! So you have to like him! That’s the logic label executives are using. But what about the music? Well there’s a reason why they’re emphasizing his hunky attributes over his music.

“Kiss You In The Morning” is a giant pile of steaming garbage. There is nothing redeeming about this song. Where do I begin with this mess? Let’s start with the bro-country lyrics. Here are the opening lines of the song:

Them jeans are faded
In all the right places
You got me hanging on tight to your curves like little E races
Girl your funky little back beat has got me
Feel like I’m tipsy
And I ain’t even had a drink

I thought this bullshit was going away? I just can’t. I can’t deal with these lyrics anymore. They promised it was going away! This shit is old and no one is amused anymore. Bro country is like a damn cockroach. You think you’ve killed it but this bug continues to slither along. The chorus for this song is even worse. Wanna take a guess what the main theme is? If your answer is kissing, you’re correct. It doesn’t exactly take a Rhodes scholar to figure it out. But it’s not just kissing! It’s about kissing all over the place. From the moonlight to a red light to neon light to the morning, there’s kissing. How creative! Even Richard Dawson thinks this is overkill in the kissing department.

You know what’s sad though? Those aren’t even the worst parts of the song. No, the worst part and also most laughable comes after the first chorus. It’s when Ray utters the line: “Oh you little outlaw.” Hahahahahaha! Wait I’m not done yet. Hahahaha! Even Eric Church is rolling his eyes at this reference. I think this song is going for every ridiculous cliché that has been put in a country song in the last five years. To top it all off it just has your standard, generic beat you’ve heard in every bro country song. I mean why not go for some EDM infusion too? Try to check off everything on the shit list and make one of the worst songs ever.

What else is there to say about “Kiss You In The Morning”? This song flat-out sucks in every single way. There is no point in having yet another bro country song about kissing. This is another perfect example of Nashville trying to shove shit down the country music consumers throat and tell them it’s candy. I hope country music listeners have learned their lesson and just ignore this terrible song. Some people in country music are trying to make strides and this song hurts those strides. “Kiss You In The Morning” will go down as one of the worst country songs of 2015 and will be a strong contender for Country Perspective’s Worst Song of 2015 award. Avoid this song at all costs.

Grade: 0/10