Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the 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!
Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10
- Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” (recurrent)
- Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (recurrent)
- Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (recurrent)
- Brett Young, “Not Yet” (down to #53)
- Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” (crashes hard from #1 to #14)
- Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” (down from #2 to #3)
- Brett Young, “Lady” (holds at #8, but remains bullet-less and should go recurrent soon)
In Real Trouble:
- Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (up from #46 to #42, but gained only forty-eight spins and 186 points)
- LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (up from #45 to #43, but gained only twenty-four spins and fifty-two points)
- Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (up from #49 to #46, but gained only twenty-five spins and sixty-one points)
- Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” (up from #50 to #47, but gained only four spins and lost points)
In Some Trouble:
- HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (up from #47 to #44, but gained only nine spins and fifty-nine points)
- Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” (debuts at #49, but gained only twenty-three spins and seventy-eight points)
- Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” (re-enters at #50, but gained only twenty-five spins and eight points)
In No Trouble At All:
- Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” (up from #34 to #30)
- Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” (up from #39 to #35)
- Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time With You” (up from #43 to #39)
- Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #9 to #7)
Bubbling Under 50:
- Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” (4/10)
- Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” (5/10)
- Brett Young, “Not Yet” (6/10)
On The Way:
- Dustin Lynch ft. Mackenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You”
Overall Thoughts: So the good news is that the ice jam continues to break up and that the chart’s spring rotation is in full swing. The bad news is that most of the junk bubbling up from the chart’s nether regions is no better than what it’s replacing, and with Arts and Rascal Flatts primed to head for the exists (taking +6 worth of Pulse with them), we’re about to find ourselves teetering on the verge of a negative score once again. There were more spins to go around this week with three tracks getting the boot and Brett Young regressing to the mean, but the bottom of the chart still wound up looking like a barren wasteland, with twelve zeros and just a single track (Andress) rated higher than a 6/10. I’m not seeing a ton of encouraging releases on the horizon either, so expect the Pulse to be in a precarious position for a while.
This week’s Country Aircheck featured a deep dive into the inner workings of WCTK, a radio station in Providence, Rhode Island, that has been putting up numbers that are apparently impressive (I’m not even going to pretend that I have any idea what market share numbers mean), and tried to discern their formula for success. The results seem to track with what we’ve been seeing here at the Pulse, and to be honest, I don’t find them terribly encouraging.
- “We gravitate toward the up-tempo stuff…That’s been the secret sauce here…We relegate [a ballad] to nights if we have to play it.” —WCTK PD Kevin Palana
I’ve got nothing against an fun, high-energy track, but I’ve also got a soft spot for the slower stuff, and I prefer more variety in my playlists. Having what sounds like a blanket ban on midday ballads doesn’t feel like a great choice to me, but I suppose I’m not dominating a Northeastern radio market either.
- “WCTK also has one of the highest percentages of gold content on the panel, and the up-tempo policy applies there, as well. Palana notes his gold category is ‘99% up-tempo.’ With the challenges of the past year, Palana says, ‘It’s a nice distraction from people’s problems. We try to keep the station upbeat as much as possible. I think it helps.'” —Chris Huff, the article author
Ah, so that’s the guy I should blame for making us all suffer through the Cobronavirus movement. While I understand that people need a respite from the weight of the world, country music has been trying to make it a permanent vacation over the last year, and at some point we need to stop ignoring our problems and start addressing them.
The article also featured a chart that backed up the gold-content assertion: An analysis of a week’s worth of spins found that almost 50% of the songs played fell into the gold category, and with a little over 25% of the spins dedicated to currents, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for newer material. However, given the soundalike songs I’ve been reviewing lately, I can’t say that I blame them much.
- “We play the superstars; that’s what our listeners expect to hear…Some of the newer artists we’ve never played. And we’re not playing a lot of stuff on the charts.” —Palana
Yeah, we noticed: Playlists have been getting shorter across the board, and established are using an express lane to reach the top of the charts while newer and less-well-known artist are stuck clamoring for scraps at the bottom. There’s not a lot of room in the genre right now, and that extends to the “lean and mean” staff Palana credits (the whole station is pretty much run by 4 people, and Palana implied that the station goes without a DJ at times).
Overall, having fewer people playing fewer songs by fewer artists covering fewer topics doesn’t feel like a recipe for success to me, and while WCTKs numbers look good on the surface, the overall picture doesn’t strike me as very rosy.
By popular demand, we’re going to start looking at the vaccination numbers a bit more in addition to our usual coronavirus case tracking, and overall the numbers are good, but we’ve still got a ways to go:
- New case numbers continue to decline, but its fairly slow descent and we’re still at a concerningly-high average somewhere in the neighborhood of about 40,000 diagnoses a day. The daily death, unfortunately, seems to have mostly leveled out, settling around 1,000 deaths a day (the total count sits at 578,500). Again, it’s a far cry from where we were, but it’s still a long way from where we need to be, so we need to keep doing the right things (washing our hands, wearing our masks, keeping our distance from others, and above all getting the vaccine as soon as possible) to try to push these numbers as low as we can.
- So how is the vaccine rollout going? I’d call the answer “relatively well, but absolutely mediocre”: The United States currently has nearly 41% of its adult population fully vaccinated, which isn’t bad compared to the rest of the world (in terms of total population, we rank 10th), but it’s still well short of the magical moving target of “herd immunity,” which is now estimated at roughly 80% given the current transmissibility of the variants that dominate the country right now. As a result, the focus now is more on containment than anything else, and reaching a point where enough people are vaccinated such that any outbreaks that do occur are small and manageable, and any long-term effects or fatalities are minimized.
Vaccine hesitancy remains a major concern, with polling showing that “1 in 5 Americans remain unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccine.” There’s a glimmer of hope there (so you’re saying 80% are willing to get it?), but given the children under 16 are not yet eligible for the vaccine (though that may change soon), it’s imperative that we get as many eligible folks vaccinated as possible, to protect those who aren’t yet able to get the shot. If you’re still on the fence about it, I implore you to talk to your local health care provider so that they understand your concerns and can give you the facts about it.
I’ve had a couple people tell me they’re in the “not yet” camp because they’re worried that the vaccine hasn’t been tested enough to know its true effects, despite the fact that tens of thousands of people participated in clinical trials and now millions of folks have received does. I tell them that for what it’s worth, if they need one more datapoint, I’ll give it to them: By this time next week yours truly will finally have received their first shot (appointments remain surprisingly hard to find around here), so I’ll let them (and you) know how it goes. I’m more than happy to do my part to combat this virus, protect the people I care about, and bring this pandemic to an end, and I hope that all of you are excited to do the same.