Study: Listeners Want More Classic Country On Radio

February 23, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  25 Comments

This week in Nashville the Country Radio Seminar is happening, a four day event bringing together radio industry folks, along with some artists and musicians. On Wednesday afternoon, an extensive study on the behavior of country’s radio listeners conducted by Edison Research was released to the conference that included some alarming statistics for traditional country radio, including that 1 in 5 country fans don’t listen to radio, and instead liste to iPods, to internet radio, or other alternatives.

One of the causes of this trend according to the president of Edison Research Larry Rosin is that country radio is under-serving it’s classic country fans. 1 in 6 country music fans say that classic country from the 60’s and 70’s is their “favorite” of all the country music types, yet this music is very rarely played on today’s country radio.

“I believe that we as an industry have really made a mistake in our conception of our own stations,” Rosin said according to The Tennessean. “While many people don’t want to listen to classic country music, some still do, and we’ve let them float away…We run the risk that we just are more and more pleasing to fewer and fewer people until all we are is ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people.”

One of the long suspected causes between the discrepancy of what radio listeners want, and what they get is the massive consolidation happening in radio, specifically with large media corporations like Clear Channel and Cumulus buying up local radio stations, in many instances owning up to five radio stations per market, and trading out local programming for nationally syndicated radio talent. In October 2011, Clear Channel made massive cuts in small, regional radio markets, which potentially effected country music more than others formats because of country’s concentration of rural, small market listeners.

Yet the CEO of Clear Channel Radio Bob Pittman who was a Wednesday keynote speaker at the Country Radio Seminar seemed to paint a very different picture from the Edison Research study, and championed the idea of replacing local DJ talent with national names. “It’s like television.” Pittman said, “If you’ve got Jay Leno, he’s better than the local guy.” He also praised the rock sold strength and reach of radio, even though Clear Channel itself is roughly $20 billion in debt.

Large media companies like Clear Channel seem to be caught in a dilemma. As they deal with dwindling revenues from radio, they attempt to save costs by consolidating programming through cutting local talent and replacing it with National talent already paid for. But as the Edison Research report points out, this trend might be turning off many of country radio’s traditional listeners. It’s a catch 22, where Clear Channel’s solution for dealing with declining revenue might be exacerbating the problem.

The music industry was dealing with massive declining revenue over the last 8 years until in 2011 the industry surprisingly stabilized. The question now is, will the radio industry be able to do what the recording industry did and pull out of their tailspin, or is the solution they’ve constructed to deal with less radio users only aiding their fall?

25 Comments to “Study: Listeners Want More Classic Country On Radio”

  • I don’t listen to the radio at all unless my girlfriend wants to listen to it. The only time they play good old fashioned country music is before noon on Saturdays on an AM station. It’s sad. I wish it could be like it used to be, where listening to the radio was an event.


  • Didn’t the article say that 1 in 5 don’t listen to country radio, meaning that 4 out of 5 do?


    • Good catch. The way I had that worded it was misleading. I think it’s better now.


    • It says only 1 in 5 country fans DO listen to radio. So 4 of 5 don’t.


  • Build up and support internet radio. If Clear Channel and friends crash and burn, there will be some cheap real-estate on the airwaves. If not, who needs it? The catch is, royalties. That’s where it gets costly.


  • It’s amazing they are even talking about this. I think commercials are about all they play on the radio haha. I’ll be honest and say I rarely ever listen to the radio. When I do have to sit through 20 or 30 minutes all I ever hear is commercials and the occasional big hit song. Really radio just seems pointless when you can design your own play list, house tons of albums, etc… on your iPod and play it all in your car.

    There are some cool internet radio shows. I guess a lot the local guys/girls that are getting weeded out are stuck to podcast style stuff. Which people can just download and play through their iPod. At least they have a medium that due to the internet can build good local followings and often times national followings.

    I think the Carrie Underwood or Miley Cyrus types of the world are what a lot of the southern style stations look for something that can be a big crossover hit with a lot of mainstream appeal. It’s that search to try and mainstream country which hasn’t been very successful considering many radio stations and TV channels that cover a wide variety of music still exclude the majority of any real country (save for a Cash song here and there) from their programming. So I think radio and TV both look for the southern pop star hoping to draw in the country crowd and also appeal to people who enjoy pop/rock. I think they are perfectly fine ignoring a traditional country fan base because it just isn’t seen as very exciting to a mainstream audience. I remember when Jack White collaborated with Loretta Lynn rock radio, MTV, VH1, etc… hardly ever played the videos or songs. I think I might have saw a VH1 or MTV news piece with minor details…but the videos saw more than limited (if any) air time and all of those types of places love Jack White and have constantly played his other projects. Now if he had collaborated with Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift it would have been played all day. Maybe it’s the perception of cool. A lot of people that are not southern just can’t seem to understand what is cool about real country music.

    Also if the programming were altered to include more traditional country I have a strong suspicion the large number of people listening relying on iPod music, podcast, etc… wouldn’t change much. I mean why have someone choose for you when you can choose what you listen to yourself?


    • To add to the Jack White comment I made. If the Loretta Lynn album got minimal exposure the Wanda Jackson album he produced got even less than that haha (or at least I never heard any big talk about it outside of the traditional country channels).


      • Wasn’t much worth radio play off the Wanda Jackson / Jack White album, except maybe the Amy Winehouse cover. Jack needed to get out of Wanda’s way.


        • Agreed. Wonder why he was so self indulgent on that one? Heseemed much more restrained on Van Lear Rose.


    • “I think commercials are about all they play on the radio haha.”

      The thing is, it had become that way, all commercials. Recently, after Clear Channel gutted the local talent, they’ve gone to long blocks of music without ads. The advertisers are being overcharged and underserved. They’re pulling out. I think technology will make internet radio the new radio by Christmas time anyway. You’ll be able to plug some kind of widget into whatever kind of listening device you have. Geeks can do this already.


  • i don’t listen to the radio other than sports talk on occasion. radio executives are about as clueless as college football’s league commissioners. i have an old friend who’s been in radio for eons as a programmer. he tells me that radio is going to go back to the old days eventually. stations ‘buying’ the best on air folks syndicated stuff. in other words, syndication will bring back the days when the likes of arthur
    godfry ruled the airwaves. i hope he’s right.


  • From the article:

    “Country radio already does a good job keeping its hard-core fans but has to do better reaching those casual country music fans who are more likely to be women, relatively new fans of country music and have a favorite radio station that doesn’t consistently play country, according to the study conducted by Edison Research.”


    “The study also identified a “twang” divide between hard-core country fans and others who like country but aren’t dedicated country radio listeners.
    For example, nearly twice as many devoted country fans as casual country fans (77 percent versus 46 percent) liked Rodney Atkins, Josh Turner and Billy Currington – artists with a noticeable country twang to their singing. But artists such as Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood don’t divide fans, earning equally high marks from both devoted and casual listeners.

    “The ‘twang-iest artists’ are the most polarizing,” the study concluded.”

    So, by hardcore fans, they seem to mean fans that are enthusiastic about the acts currently on pop country radio and not necessarily people into hard country music. Also, based on the way the problem is described, one remedy to keep those “casual fans” would seem to be less “countrier than thou” stuff and more plain vanilla country tinged pop music.


  • i hope its true and that it will have an impact on what gets played on country radio but i think theres usually a huge diference between what people say they want and what they really want.


  • It’s puzzling to me how classic rock is the only rock left on the radio, while classic country has been banished to Sunday morning specialty shows.

    I think, though, much classic country is really bad. The stuff we celebrate now is not necessarily the stuff that topped the charts. There’s lots of string sections and bubbly pop crap in the hits of the classic era. It’s not all George Jones and Waylon.


    • The Edison Research study talked about how many of the folks that would prefer listening to classic country stations end up listening to classic rock stations instead.

      “Many instead are getting their music from Classic Oldies or Classic Rock stations, the data found.”

      This makes sense to me because when I was a kid, I loved classic country, but since you couldn’t find it on the radio, I listened to classic rock.


  • Hmmm…still a few uninitiated out there, huh Trig?


  • Makes me appreciate how fortunate I am to work for a station that prides itself on being local and mixes classic country fairly evenly with the new stuff.


  • What happened to Saving Country Music’s radio show? Did it have to do with JashieP’s jacking off?


    • SCM Radio is on Hiatus. It may resurrect at some point, but I think I make a much better writer than DJ. I’ve been threatening to do another episode soon just to get the DJ devil out of me a little bit. We’ll see.

      If anyone wants to hear archived episodes:



  • If more radio exec’s could get a whiff of this badass station we have here in Columbia, SC then maybe they could take a note or two from them…

    People love it around here and I haven’t changed the station in my vehicle for a very long time… unless it’s to plug my ipod up and listen to something I purchased BECAUSE I heard it on this radio station!


  • Thank the good Lord for Thomasville , Georgia’s WTUF 106.3 . It’s the only reason I listen to the radio at all . Tell me where else they’re playing Paycheck’s ” Barstool Mountain ” right now !


  • The only country station I listen to on air is KKYX, the local classic country station. It’s what I grew up listening to, and I am thankful they have merely tweaked the format. I do miss the ’50s country they used to play fairly heavily, though. There are two local FM “country” stations, but they’re intolerable. The music is vacuous. I realize “Hey Bartender” and “Slow Hand” aren’t exactly the musical embodiment of deep thinking, but at least the voices were more distinct.


  • this is exactly the reason that I have been drawn more and more to Texas/Oklahoma Red Dirt country music over the years. So much of that music would be right at home next to most of the classic country that we are seeing less and less of these days. And I am glad that more and more radio stations are beginning to adopt a Texas/Oklahoma Red Dirt country music format.


  • The whole conference is summed up by the Clear Channel CEO….
    Pittman said, “If you’ve got Jay Leno, he’s better than the local guy.”

    Hey Pittman, Jay Leno sucks. Letterman is 100% better, and shocker, Letterman actually loves classic country music. Fucking Leno… if your going to make a point, don’t say something that stupid.
    What a fucking dipshit.


    • I suspect when the CC exec say that he means as in ‘lowest common denominator’ least offensive, most milquetoast while still being the same all over. So they can calculate the cost.

      Kind of like a cap on lawsuits make it easy for large corporations to put out a product knowing a few people will die because of it. Without that cap you just never know what some damn, sympathic jury may give a plantiff because of some simple negligence on your [the corporation’s] part.


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