Kinky Sex Makes The Country Radio World Go ‘Round

kinky-sex-makes-country-radio-world-go-round

One would be hard pressed to find another industry that is as insular, antiquated, and downright embarrassing as the one that is in charge of managing the affairs of mainstream country radio. Despite checks and balances that are supposed to be in place by the FCC (because after all, We The People own the radio airwaves and the stations just are allowed to use them), as well as governing associations such as the CMA that are supposed to look out for country music’s best interests, the amount of backroom deals, dirty practices, and systematical downgrading of certain artists especially when it comes to gender is unconscionable.

Last Friday (6-16), up-and-coming mainstream artist Lindsay Ell was kicked off a radio appearance on KNCI 105.1 FM in Sacramento, CA, where she was supposed to perform with Chase Bryant. The two were the opening acts for a Brad Paisley concert later that evening. Despite the station promoting the appearance previously, at the last minute she was uninvited. What was the reason? Apparently because she’s dating well-known, high-profile country radio personality Bobby Bones. Since Bones is an iHeartMedia guy, and KNCI 105.1 FM in Sacramento is owned by CBS, they decided to sidestep her appearance.

First off, who knew that Bobby Bones had any game and could land and lady like Lindsay Ell? And apparently this is the second artist Bones has dated. He also briefly was seeing Rachel Reinert of the group Gloriana. If we’re going to talk inherent conflicts of interest, isn’t one of them having the most powerful man in country radio dating one of the stars he may potentially use his lofty perch to help promote? Wasn’t this one of the concerns when iHeartMedia made Bobby’s show so huge that he could create or kill a career like flipping a switch (see Chris Janson)? Why can’t Bobby Bones date a boring nurse at Vanderbilt Hospital or something? The whole thing just feels very People Magazine, where public personalities pair off for the combined promotional power of their “brands.” In most workplaces, dating superiors or even co-workers is discouraged.

All that said, of course this was a terrible thing by this Sacramento radio station, and it doesn’t matter how good or bad you perceive Lindsay Ell’s music to be. Just last week, Emily Yahr of The Washington Post published an in-depth look into just what kind of sacrifices and commitments up-and-coming country artists must make on these early career radio tours, and how important they can be to their success. Before many new artists are allowed to have a hit, they first have to travel the country on their own dimes (or the dimes of their labels), often to the tune of expenditures nearing $1 million to kiss the ring of fat cat radio programmers and long-ensconced on-air personalities so that they’ll play the artist’s music. Wonder why someone like Sturgill Simpson has never had a radio hit, and someone like Chris Stapleton struggles despite huge awards and massive album sales? This is one of the reasons—they never spent a year of their life kissing country radio’s ass.

Writer Emily Yahr used the test case of new mainstream artist Carly Pearce to prove just how tough the task of a radio tour can be. But even the case of Carly Pearce must be prefaced on how she’s currently benefiting from another questionable enterprise by the country radio industry—iHeartMedia’s “On The Verge” program, which puts a jolt into a single and an artist’s career by requiring spins from iHeart’s network of country stations. Usually the “On The Verge” treatment sends a single on a sure path to #1. How exactly these artists and songs get picked would make an interesting story in itself, but in the case of Carly Pearce and her current single, at least it’s allowed one female artist to crack the Top 25.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when everyone was making a big deal about how there were only 3 female artist on country radio’s Top 40? Well now there’s only two. So don’t say there’s not a gender problem in country. In fact at the moment, singles from females such as industry stalwart Miranda Lambert, and Grammy-winning Maren Morris are struggling mightily on the charts. But that’s another story.

Back to Lindsay Ell, Bobby Bones, and getting kicked off a radio appearance in Sacramento: As scary as it was to sit and ponder that an artist’s career could be wrecked simply because he or she dated someone else in the industry, it was the illumination from many DJ’s and industry professionals who used the instance to say this kind of thing happens all of the time. In fact apparently Lindsay Ell has been dealing with this systematical repression from non iHeartMedia stations for a while now. The Sacramento appearance was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t the incident itself that allowed it to become a national story, it was the fact that Lindsay Ell had the audacity to take to Twitter and post, “Had a scheduled performance in Sacramento today for listeners. The radio station has asked me not to come bc of my personal life. Sorry guys.” That is when the media storm ensued.

Emily Yahr of The Washington Post confirmed the reason for the Lindsay Ell cancellation, which the station called a “bad decision.”

“Lindsay is an amazingly talented, up-and-coming artist and today we regrettably made a bad decision to cancel her show,” said KNCI. “We only hope that she—and our listeners—will forgive us, and that Lindsay and her team will allow us to reschedule the show.”

The bigger concern is that this incident is just the tip of the iceberg of what happens all of the time in country radio. Not just rival stations or labels or booking agencies using artists like unwitting pawns or chattel in inner-industry fights, but all of the malfeasance that goes on behind closed doors, yet remains unspoken among professionals in fear they might be the next to receive retribution for stepping out of line somehow.

A bad whisper behind-the-scenes about how a certain artist doesn’t play the game right can ruin a career. This was the risk Lindsay Ell took by taking to Twitter about her canceled appearance. Usually, you’re just supposed to smile and take your medicine. It’s not just a boyfriend/girlfriend thing. Sometimes it’s young female artists expected to deal with what amounts to sexual harassment to curry the favor of fat cat radio programmers. It’s so common it’s been covered on the country music TV drama Nashville.

But what is anybody going to do about all of these conflicts of interest and seedy practices? Where is the CMA, whose supposed to be supporting the artists and have the best interest of the industry in mind? Are they so worried about the ratings for their CMA Fest TV special in August that their duties of governing country radio have lapsed? It’s 2017, and the radio industry still must have its periodicals delivered to it via PDF’s, they decide whose music to play based off of who kisses their ass as opposed to public sentiment behind a song, and they expect favors curried to them by the industry, or they don’t play certain songs or artists.

The only bright spot is the entire system is on the brink of implosion due to the maturing of billions of debt that already has iHeartMedia saying they won’t be “a going concern” this time next year, and has Cumulus right behind them. But hoping that the industry will implode (which we’ve been forecasting for years) and that out of those ashes will be a more fair system for artists and songs is not a strategy. How country radio will look in the future is something we need to start dealing with right now before more artists who are unwilling to kiss the ring have their careers ended because they did not adhere to unspoken rules, becoming victims of an antiquated system and mindset.