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Radio Exec Admits Big Radio Isn’t Focused on Promotion

03 June 2015

A few days ago, a country radio “expert” wandered into an ugly thicket when he stated that the surest way to boost country radio ratings is to limit the number of female artists that you play.

He clearly wasn’t prepared for the firestorm of outrage that descended upon him (see here and here). And looking at the discussion on Twitter, he doesn’t even seem to realize why his Mad Men-era advice was so damaging and wrong. “Its an absolute accurate defense and statement” he sputtered on Friday as he tried to justify the discriminatory mentality of Corporate radio. 

We were disgusted at the casual misogyny like most people. And a little befuddled by the logic — having just shared a stage with amazing country/Americana women like Rosanne Cash and Tift Merritt when we launched the Fair Play Fair Pay Act (and looking at record charts dominated by Taylor Swift who cut her musical teeth in country), the notion that female artists are a drag on country radio is absurd.

But in other ways we weren’t surprised at all. We’ve gotten used to Corporate radio taking the laziest low-road shortcuts to score short-term ratings at the expense of long-term value. DJs who once crafted playlists and truly curated music have been replaced by voice-tracking and syndicated lowest common denominator shows. Hit songs played and played and overplayed, crowding out new artists, driving down record sales, and numbing listeners just enough so that they don’t tune out.

Most of all, we were just stunned to hear a radio executive admit so freely that Corporate radio isn’t trying to break new acts and doesn’t give a damn about “promoting” artists.

It’s an old argument in music policy debates — artists say they should be paid for AM/FM airplay since stations are earning ratings and making a lot of money off their work. And radio says, ‘no way, we’re giving you exposure, publicity, promotion.’

We’ve known for a long time that, whatever logic this had in the music economy of 1975, it makes no sense today. Radio listening – whether it be AM/FM or digital streaming – has replaced much of the album-sale economy. Fans have vast new ways to discover music and artists, such as Shazam, shared playlists or social media.

But this new quote lays bare the truth we’ve always known — radio follows what it thinks are easy ratings and doesn’t even pretend to curate music or shape new tastes or styles. “If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out.” A radio station that cared about promotion or believed it plays a role in breaking new acts would say, ’If you want to make ratings, find great music and turn your audience on to it.’

It’s the McMusic School of radio programming. If something does well, play it to death, then find more just like it and play that too. Don’t challenge your audience, don’t ask them to try anything new, follow the money, not the art.

Keith Hill has given us a particularly noxious sexist version of this story — but don’t think he’s the only one out there in radio land peddling it.

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