A Breakdown of the NASH Icon Playlist (AKA Merle’s Back on Radio)

nash-icon-jpg“What will NASH Icon be, and will it make a significant improvement to country radio?”

This has been the question on the mind of many country music fans ever since the joint venture between Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group known as NASH Icon was announced. Now that there are actually radio stations broadcasting the new NASH Icon format, we can listen in and hear just exactly what NASH Icon is. Though the rollout is still in its infant stages and there’s sure to be changes and tweaking happen before it’s ready to go coast to coast, the insight of a detailed playlist gives us a good starting point of what we might expect, what may need to be changed, and what should stay the same.

READ: Cumulus Media: “It’s Time For Country To Fragment”

Saving Country Music took a 3 1/2 hour segment of the playlist of NASH Icon 98.9 station in Atlanta and broke it down in between artists, eras, songs, and decades. Though the formula and ratios are very likely to change once the NASH Icon record label gets up and running and new music from older artists begins to be featured, this is an analysis of what NASH Icon listener is hearing right now. The breakdown also includes all the “legend” or “classic” artists played on the station between 8:00 AM and 11:59 PM on August 27th, located at the very bottom to the analysis.

Biggest Takeaways

Legendary & Classic Artists Back on Mainstream Radio: Regardless of anything else, including the ratio of plays compared to new artists, legends like Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Alabama, and the The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are back on the radio once again, and so are many classic country artists like Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Mark Chesnutt. For traditional and classic country fans, this is a strong victory, and one that has been a long time coming.

”NEW Singles and NEW Artists Are Featured More Than Anything Else, BUT: Without question, as a percentage, new singles and new artists make up the lion’s share of NASH Icon at the moment. However, the principal idea behind NASH Icon is to feature new music from older artists, especially from artists like Garth Brooks who is about to release an album, and from artist who will sign to the NASH Icon record label. Since none of these things are up-and-running just yet, they may be replacing those slots with new singles from new artists. According to Cumulus Media COO John Dickey, eventually new music will make up only 25% of the format. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Bro-Country is Currently Featured On NASH Icon: On August 25th, Cumulus Media COO John Dickey said, You won’t hear a lot of what we affectionately term in the business today as ‘Bro-Country.” But according to this analysis, this is a completely incorrect statement. Bro-Country artists like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Chase Rice, and Cole Swindell all showed up in the playlist. Whether they will disappear once the new singles from old artists are released, we’ll have to see. At the moment though, the argument could be made that Bro-Country makes up the biggest pie piece of the NASH Icon playlist. Remember though, it’s still early.

”Not Just The Big Names: Some have been concerned we’d only see the usual suspects of artists featured, but NASH Icon has been playing lesser names that had big hits like Tracy Byrd, Doug Stone, and Ricochet. The NASH Icon playlist shows decent diversity when it comes to the older artists.

”Not Just 1989 or Newer: Early on, NASH Icon was sold as being only songs from 1989 or after. In the 3 1/2 hours Saving Country Music listened in, there were two songs from 1980, and eight songs from before 1989. Though this isn’t a huge amount, the playlist did show they would reach well past 25 year pole to play Merle Haggard’s song from 1980, “I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink.”

”Lee Ann Womack’s New Single and an Independent Label Artist Played: Maybe the most important insight, Lee Ann Womack’s “The Way I’m Livin'” was featured during the 3 1/2 hour block. This would be the very first example of a mature artist (no offense meant Lee Ann!) who would never be played on mainstream Top 40 country having a featured single from a new album played in the rotation. Lee Ann’s single is so new, the album has not even been released yet. This hypothetically is the whole point behind NASH Icon, is to give artists like Lee Ann the radio play they deserve.

What else is interesting about this play is Lee Ann is not signed to the NASH Icon label, meaning they are willing to feature a non NASH Icon artists that still fits the NASH Icon mold. Also, Lee Ann Womack is not on a major label; she’s on Sugar Hill Records. What this opens the door to is the possibility that other independent label artists could be featured on the format. Of course it helps that Lee Ann is already an established name in mainstream country, but this may be the window to see someone like Sturgill Simpson, or Old Crow Medicine Show show up in the playlist in the future.

Only Singles Were Featured, No Album Cuts.

”Only One Song Played Twice in the 3 ½ Hours. It Was Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt.”

Suggestions for the NASH Icon Playlist

”Mitigate the Bro-Country, and Now: We know that Cumulus already sees Bro-Country on the format as being a problem, because COO John Dickey said so. Whether the underlings that are programming NASH Icon didn’t get the memo, or they’re simply saving the slots for the new singles from old artists soon to come, Bro-Country is on the format, and in a big way, and it is ruining the experience for potential listeners. NASH Icon is creating a big buzz in the country music community, but if listeners tune in and hear Florida Georgia Line twice an hour, they’re probably going to leave and never come back, and potentially they may tell their country music buddies about the negative experience. Take the Bro-Country off, and add more older stuff, or other newer stuff that’s not Bro-Country, like more Dierks Bentley (sans “Drunk On A Plane”) and Kacey Musgraves, for example. The Bro-Country on NASH Icon right now could kill it forever with certain listeners if it is not removed quickly.

”Balance Out The Playlist With A Few More Older Songs, and 1 or 2 Independent Artists: Let’s face it, many classic and traditional country fans are bound to not like NASH Icon even if they play one new song. NASH Icon is still not going to be for the die-hard traditionalists. Pragmatism is what is needed to make NASH Icon work. If a few more 80’s and early 90’s songs were featured, it might help to balance out the ratios and create a healthy country music environment for all country music fans from all generations to enjoy together. Also, if NASH Icon featured even one or two new current independent artists in a given content block, they would broaden the reach and appeal of NASH Icon even more, and make it a place where even more labels could promote singles and offer greater support to the format.

”Add More Legends With New Music: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton all have new albums out that charted at the very top of the country charts, and released singles that are very worthy of radio play. These albums were also released through major labels. This would be an excellent source of content to add new songs from older artists, and broaden the appeal of the format. Johnny Cash’s American Recordings-era material could also be a great source for NASH Icon, and one that could add younger, and cross-genre appeal.


THE PLAYLIST BREAKDOWN

NOTE:

” ‘X’ denotes an additional play or plays for an artist or song. So if there’s two ‘X”s beside an artist’s name, that means they were played three times.

”Artists were broken down into four categories. When an artist could hypothetically fit into multiple categories, the date of their first charting single is included for added detail. PLEASE don’t bog down or obsess over the eras. It is the best that could be done.

”’New’ artists are artists currently being played, or recently being played on mainstream country radio. “New’ songs are songs currently on mainstream country radio.

” This is just from a 3 1/2 hour span; not NASH Icon’s complete playlist. There is a complete list of other “legends” and”classic” artists that were played during the entirety of the broadcast day at the very bottom (not including the artists features in the 3 1/2 hour analysis).

***Artists Featured on NASH Icon***

 

Legendary Artists (Before 1989)

  • Dwight Yoakam X
  • Merle Haggard
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • Alabama XX
  • George Strait X
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Reba McEntire
  • Diamond Rio
  • Buck Owens (via a Dwight song)

Classic Artists (Around Class of 1989)

  • Alan Jackson X
  • Aaron Tippin
  • Vince Gill
  • Mark Chesnutt
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Travis Tritt
  • Garth Brooks X
  • Tracy Byrd
  • Tim McGraw (1990) X
  • Doug Stone (1990)

Contemporary Artists (After Class of 1989)

  • Rodney Atkins (1997)
  • Ricochet (1995)
  • Blackhawk (1992)
  • Deana Carter (1994)
  • Lee Ann Womack (1997)
  • Toby Keith (1993)

Newer Artists (Still Mainstream Relevant)

  • Kenny Chesney XX
  • Florida Georgia Line XX
  • Luke Bryan XX
  • Jake Owen
  • Kip Moore
  • Miranda Lambert X
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Cole Swindell
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Chase Rice
  • Joe Nichols
  • Sara Evans X
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton X
  • Trace Adkins
  • Big & Rich
  • Josh Gracin
  • Lee Brice
  • Billy Currington

 


***Songs Featured on NASH Icon***

80’s Songs

  • Dwight Yoakam “Honky Tonk Man”
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band “Fishin’ In The Dark”
  • Ronnie Milsap “Stranger In My House”
  • Alabama “40-Hour Week”
  • Alabama “Mountain Music”
  • Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens “Streets of Bakersfield”
  • Alabama “Tennessee River” (1980)
  • Merle Haggard “I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” (1980)

90’s Songs

  • Alan Jackson “Little Bitty”
  • Reba McEntire & Vice Gill “The Heart Won’t Lie”
  • Reba McEntire “The Greatest Man I Never Knew”
  • Mark Chesnutt “It’s A Little Too Late”
  • Doug Stone “A Jukebox With A Country Song”
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter “Down At The Twist & Shout”
  • Travis Tritt “Help Me Hold On”
  • Garth Brooks “The Thunder Rolls”
  • Garth Brooks “Rodeo”
  • Ricochet “Daddy’s Money”
  • George Strait “Blue Clear Sky”
  • Tracy Byrd “Watermelon Crawl”
  • Deana Carter “Strawberry Wine”
  • Kenny Chesney “How Forever Feels”
  • Blackhawk “Every Once In A While”
  • Diamond Rio “Unbelievable”

2000’s Songs

  • Aaron Tippin “Kiss This”
  • Rodney Atkins “If You’re Going Through Hell”
  • Sara Evans “Suds In The Bucket”
  • Toby Keith “My List”
  • Alan Jackson “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
  • Brad Paisley “Little Moments”
  • Tim McGraw “Real Good Man”
  • Josh Gracin “Nothin’ To Lose”
  • George Strait “Give It Away”
  • Trace Adkins “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Sara Evans “A Little Bit Stronger”

New Songs

  • Kenny Chesney “Come Over”
  • Florida Georgia Line “Dirt” X
  • Florida Georgia Line “Get Your Shine On”
  • Jake Owen “Beachin'”
  • Miranda Lambert “Mama’s Broken Heart”
  • Tim McGraw “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s”
  • Joe Nichols “Yeah”
  • Blake Shelton “My Eyes”
  • Blake Shelton “Doin’ What She Likes”
  • Kenny Chesney “American Kids”
  • Cole Swindell “Chillin’ It”
  • Kip Moore “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck”
  • Luke Bryan “Play It Again”
  • Luke Bryan “Crash My Party”
  • Luke Bryan “That’s My Kind Of Night”
  • Lady Antebellum “Bartender”
  • Lee Brice “Hard To Love”
  • Miranda Lambert “Automatic”
  • Chase Rice “Ready, Set, Roll”
  • Big & Rich “Look At You”
  • Brett Eldredge “Beat Of The Music”
  • Billy Currington “We Are Tonight”
  • Lee Ann Womack “The Way I’m Livin'” (new song from older artist)

 


 Other “Legend” or “Classic” Artists That Received Radio Play On 8/27 Between 8 AM – 11:59 PM

  • Don Williams
  • Willie Nelson
  • Hank Williams Jr.
  • Randy Travis
  • Charlie Daniels
  • Dolly Parton
  • Keith Whitley
  • Gene Watson
  • Mel McDaniel
  • Pam Tillis
  • Eddie Rabbit
  • The Judds
  • Johnny Lee
  • Clint Black
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Lorrie Morgan
  • Faith Hill
  • Jo Dee Messina
  • Joe Diffie
  • Collin Raye