Americana & Classic Country Make Big Inroads Into Nashville Radio Landscape


Don’t give up on radio just yet, especially in the indisputable home of country music, Nashville, TN.

Just in time for throngs of Americana fans to flock to the city for the annual AmericanaFest the third week of September, a new radio station has launched just south of the city in Murfreesboro, and the signal and talent is strong enough that it may ultimately become the flagship for the still small, but quickly-rising Americana format.

The 100,000 watt signal of MTSU, broadcasting on 89.5 WMOT-FM, officially switched formats from a mostly classical, jazz, and news-talk station to an Americana format on Friday, September 2nd, and will be shooting its signal all across middle Tennessee and into the heart of the country music industry for the foreseeable future. The launch officially happened in a ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame, with live performances by Jim Lauderdale, Will Hoge, and Suzy Bogguss among others. MTSU is also partnering with Music City Roots as part of the launch.

“Our goals were to serve a wide audience, give our students more professional opportunities, reflect what we teach within the four walls of our College of Media and Entertainment and to tap the talents of our music-savvy faculty,” says Ken Paulson, Dean of the College of Media and Entertainment.

But the launching of an Americana station on such a big signal, and especially in such a musically-significant geographic region could have national and international implications for the future of Americana. Already operating a weekly airplay chart, and recently being afforded an official designation on Billboard’s industry-leading charts, Americana continues to accrue infrastructure that could lead to more attention and legitimacy in the marketplace beyond being country music’s little brother for up-and-coming and retiring talent.

Bolstered by diversity that does not just include country, but folk, blues, bluegrass, and other roots music, Americana has an opportunity to fill an important gap where popular country and other formats have left many listeners behind.

The song “Hurry Up Sunrise” by Luther Dickinson opened the new WMOT format that will have radio personalities John Walker and Bill Edwards cover morning drive from 6 to 9 a.m., Keith Bilbrey and Whit Hubner covering middays, and Jessie Scott from 4 to 7 p.m. during the weekdays. Other on-air personalities include Craig Havighurst from Music City Roots, Greg Reich, songwriter and MTSU teacher Odie Blackmon among others.

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Also on Friday, September 2nd, with much less fanfare, but potentially just as significant, iHeartMedia station 98.3 in Nashville switched from an alternative format to a strictly classic country format. Now called “The Big Legend” to act as a sister station to iHeartMedia’s flagship pop country station “The Big 98” on WSIX, the move is a significant switch for America’s largest radio station owner.

“We’re excited to announce the launch of a pure Classic Country radio station brand for the city where this music was born and lives on so strongly today,” said Nashville Senior VP of Programming and iHeartCountry Brand Manager Rod Phillips. “This new station is the perfect match to our sister station, that made these songs so famous through the years.”

It will be interesting to see how the new station is received, if a similar format expands to other markets, and if this is iHeartMedia’s long-awaited answer to rival Cumulus Media’s launch of NASH Icon, which has done well in Nashville, but has struggled to gain traction in other markets, and in sales and radio play for artists in their joint venture with Big Machine.

Though radio continues to lose prominence in the increasingly stream-heavy world of music consumption, these moves in Music City could continue to help stir the pot and give greater exposure to music lost in the shuffle, hopefully helping to influence many of the artists, songwriters, and music industry professionals that call Nashville and middle Tennessee home.