Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-reborn Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.
The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.
This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!
*Preliminary grade, and will likely stay that way until I can hear a studio copy of the song.
Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10
- Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” (down to #51)
- Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” (down from #1 to #7)
- Lady A, “Champagne Night” (down from #4 to #14)
In Real Trouble:
- Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (down from #21 to #22, gained only twelve spins and seventy-nine points)
- Runaway June, “We Were Rich” (down from #33 to #36, gained only seventy-six spins and 128 points, and has just been stuck in the mid/low thirties forever)
- Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (down from #34 to #37, gained only nine spins and thirty-one points)
- Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” (down from #39 to #42, gained only one spin and sixteen points)
- Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (down from #47 to #50, gained only thirty-three spins and thirty points)
In Some Trouble:
- Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry” (holds at #40, but gained only thity-six spins and ninety-six points)
- Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” (down from #43 to #44, gained only fifty-two spins and ninety points)
- Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” (down from #44 to #45, gained only seventeen spins and seventy-six points)
In No Trouble At All:
- Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” (up from #49 to #33)
- Jake Owen, “Made For You” (up from #27 to #23)
- Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” (up from #36 to #32)
- Luke Combs, “Better Together” (up from #2 to #1, maxing spins this week)
Bubbling Under 50:
- Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” (5/10)
- Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” (5/10)
- Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks”
- Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” (7/10)
On The Way:
- Jimmie Allen ft. Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway”
- HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell”
- Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You”
Overall Thoughts: Chris Owen gets the first word today:
While there was some room to run in the express lane (see Shelton’s sixteen-spot jump), for the most part movement was minimal, and with Thanos expected to spend another week at #1 and only Lady A likely to go recurrent, I don’t expect a lot of action next week either.
What’s more interesting, however, in the cover story of Country Aircheck this week, which dedicated a surprising amount of time to…the Nickelodeon NFL broadcast? The crux of the piece was that the broadcast was a attempt by both parties to expand their audience (and more specifically, to attempt by the NFL to attract a new generation of viewers/fans), and that country radio should be looking at ways to do the same thing. The problem is that many of the eventual takeaways (things like “being noticeably different and genuinely fresh in your approach,” “knowing your brand,” and “be true to yourself”) felt overly vague and not terribly useful for an effort like this. Here’s my take:
- The first thing we’re missing is an elevator pitch, or a consistent answer to the question “What is country music?” I stated back in 2019 that “country music decided to solve its ‘lack of a definition’ problem by declaring that everything is now country music,” but that means that a random listener, regardless of what demographic category they fall into, has no idea what to expect from the genre, and thus no reason to choose it over any other station on the dial. While I’m a member of the big-tent camp that thinks we should allow for a broader definition of “country,” having no definition at all means we have no secret sauce that can be pointed to as a selling point.
- The sad truth is that country music has an implicit definition, but it’s “a bunch of young white dudes getting drunk and making over-the-top romantic overtures,” making the genre comes across as exclusive and ignorant. A bit more artist diversity would help send a signal that yes, there’s a place in country music for everyone, and including a bit more story progression in the writing would make the format a lot more engaging (and they wouldn’t all have to be deep tearjerkers – in fact, it was the sillier stuff like George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” and Mark Chesnutt’s “Old Flames Have New Names” that I enjoyed back in the day).
- Sadly, I don’t see overall playlists changing anytime soon (especially given all the industry consolidation we’ve seen in recent years), so radio stations are left to tweak the parameters they still have control over, and while things like different song/ad ratios can help, the biggest differentiator I see are the DJs themselves. They’re the ones doing various segments and interacting with the audience on air, they’re the ones who will be active at community events or on social media, and they’re the ones who can inject the most unique personality into each broadcast. Investing in folks who can engage a larger audience from behind the mic seems like a good way to expand a station’s reach.
Ultimately, I think it’s the restoration of local control that Sam Wilson has discussed that would make the most difference in this endeavor. Trying to implement a corporate ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy instead of tuning your efforts to your specific audience means you’re going to be missing out on a fair chunk of potential listeners. Understanding who you’re dealing with and tailoring your brand to bring them onboard seems to me to be the best way forward.
Speaking of going forward, there’s no way any of us can do so until we get this darn pandemic under control once and for all. The nationwide death toll now stands at 425,000, but there seem to be some hopeful signs on the horizon: New case and hospitalization numbers are starting to come down, and as messy as the vaccine rollout has been thus far, things should improve as the new administration puts a comprehensive manufacturing and distribution plan in place. The bottom line, however, is that we’ve still got a ways to go in the fight against COVID-19, and we all need to keep doing our part to keep the numbers moving in the right direction as the vaccine arrives.