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.