This week, country music has been a battleground surrounding radio, and the way many worthy artists are locked out of the format from the oligarchical control at the hands of consolidated media conglomerates operated by corporate command bureaucrats. It all started when Sony Records Nashville CEO Gary Overton said, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” Subsequently, multiple articles and interviews and editorials have been posted, including an interview here on Saving Country Music with Texas country Aaron Watson who responded to Gary Overton’s comments with, “My name is Aaron Watson. I’m not played on country radio. And I have the #1 record in country music this week. I do exist.”
Since then even more articles have broached the subject, Craig Havighurst posted an excellent piece on the complexities of the issue, and Grady Smith writing for The Guardian posted an article called “Aaron Watson’s Success Proves That Country Radio is Out of Touch.”
This article stimulated iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channnel) über DJ Bobby Bones to post a misinformed screed about why Grady Smith was incorrect, and Aaron Watson wasn’t worthy of radio play. Making it even worse, when Aaron Watson, who having spent a hour with him on the phone earlier this week I can attest is the most non-conflict sweetheart of a human being, went to the Bobby Bones studios Friday morning (2-27) just to make sure everything was cool and potentially patch things up, he was publicly called out on the biggest radio show in country music for being “disrespectful to women” because he called one of Bobby Bones’ underlings a “sweetheart.”
Yes, so now insult has been added to injury.
But let’s first go back and deal with the garbage that started all this from last night: Bobby Bones’ ridiculous attempt at intellectualism that was his rebuttal to Grady Smith’s piece on the problems with country radio (you can read Bobby’s note in its entirety below).
The first thing to take away from the Bobby Bones missive has nothing to do with the issue at hand, but the logistics surrounding Bobby Bones’ position as a country radio DJ. Here is the most powerful, most far-reaching DJ to ever sit in front of a mic in country music thanks to syndication and radio consolidation, and he doesn’t even have the power to choose his own music. “(note: I don’t pick the music),” he says in passing. And though this revelation is nothing new, it still is a blinding, stark reminder of where country radio is in 2015.
It’s “The Bobby Bones Show,” but the music played is picked by number crunchers and business executives. Bones is just there to add color by reciting movie lines with country celebrities and giving his stupid little insights into zeitgeist issues. “Hey, did you see those runaway llamas? What color is that dress?” That’s why Mr. Bones should leave the intellectual back and forth’s to others. He’s a spineless worker bee who never should have signed up to do anything that doesn’t even allow him to pick the tunes for his own show. The designation of “DJ” should be stripped from ever being associated with his name.
Bobby Bones is an on-air plastic banana lackey, and corporate country radio is a sexist, ageist autocracy with decisions being made on high by rich corporate bureaucrats pouring over profit and loss sheets. These assholes might as well be selling insurance. Radio and country music is just a commercial commodity to be bartered, and no concerns about enriching the community are ever broached, no matter how many times Bobby Bones loves to lob grenades at people behind the most powerful microphone in country music, and then hide behind Cancer charity once people simply try to defend themselves.
But this is country radio in 2015. Phyllis Stark writing for Billboard Country Update this week spoke specifically about this dilemma in a piece called “Why Must Country Singles Be ‘Worked’ To Be Played?” In the article she pretty much explains that not just DJ’s, but program directors of entire radio networks working under the umbrella of the big three radio corporations have little to no say so in the songs they can play. It’s all delegated from on high.
So if Bobby Bones doesn’t even have the authority to speak on the songs being played on his own radio show, what gives him the authority to speak on how singles are delegated by country radio? Bones has no clue how the songs played on his show come about. He shows up in the studio each morning, puts his wacky morning zoo segments together, and then the music is inlaid by someone else.
Bones even goes on to say in his Facebook note that he’s gotten in trouble in the past for playing snippets of 90’s country and Johnny Cash during studio segments. For someone whose named “Bones,” he sure evidences very few of them. He regularly blames the “suits” for anything bad, while taking credit or anything he can, including the end of Bro-Country a few weeks back, when many others, including Saving Country Music, have been prophesying Bro-Country’s demise for nearly a year.
No doubt Bobby Bones is right that music has moved from the album format to the singles format, but that doesn’t mean that album sales are either completely irrelevant, or that they’re not an accurate gauge of consumer sentiment. Something else Bobby Bones doesn’t take into consideration is that the Billboard albums chart now takes into consideration streaming and single sales when ranking albums, and still Aaron Watson’s The Underdog came out on top in country.
But where Bobby Bones really sticks his foot in his mouth is when he says, “I like Aaron, but I just checked and he doesn’t have a single song in the top 100 on iTunes.” Though that may have been true at that very moment when Bobby Bones decided to check the charts, Aaron has had numerous singles in the Top 100 on iTunes, including his first single from the album “That Look” which nearly topped the iTunes country charts upon its release, and charted on Billboard at #41. Also the song “Fence Post” charted high on iTunes, ironically, after Bobby Bones played a snippet of it on his show a couple of weeks ago.
But this is a cart-before-the-horse argument. Aaron Watson proves his commercial viability by selling more albums than any other artist, including major label artists who also debuted their albums the same week, and the industry should take heed, if not for Aaron Watson’s sake, then for the industry’s sake. The data of Aaron Watson’s #1 is a window into what people are listening to and what they want to hear more of. It’s then the responsibility of radio to serve their audience by finding worthy music to present to them. But then again, Bobby Bones has no say so in what music is played on his show, so why it’s even important to him is beyond me.
Something else lost in the argument about singles vs. albums is that cohesive albums represent such a dramatically-larger revenue stream for both artists and labels compared to singles, especially physical albums. Ignoring consumers that purchase albums isn’t smart, it’s bad business. Just ask Taylor Swift.
Bobby Bones is yet again an example of putting average people in extraordinary positions. With all due respect here, Bobby Bones is like a boy in a man’s world when it comes to these matters. Just like Florida Georgia Line, or Taylor Swift when it came to her pitch issues early in her career, when you put people of average merits on a pedestal, you preordain a precipitous fall.
And this isn’t where the hijinks of Bobby Bones in the last 24 hours end. He also attacked another syndicated radio show, “Big D and Bubba” in a tweet, mocking them by saying, “award feel good even though I couldn’t have been nominated this year? like The Rockets winning the title w no MJ on the Bulls.” Big D and Bubba took offense, and Bobby Bones has yet to apologize.
But once again in the spirit of trying to craft solutions instead of dwelling on if there’s a problem or not, this is why country music needs separation. The fact that one of Bobby’s underlings was offended by Aaron Watson saying “sweetheart” shows the gross cultural divide that exists in country music. Listen to the segment. They were scared of Aaron Watson because he actually wears wrangler jeans. They were in culture shock that someone who’s country showed up to their country show. Bobby Bones and his subordinates and listeners, these are not country people. These are urbanites and suburbanites and hipsters. They listen to Sam Hunt, and their inclusion in country music is taking the culture war and making country music its innermost battleground. Hey, it’s great if people from the suburbs and cities want to listen to country music, but have some respect for the format, and don’t try to force your uninformed values on others.
Bobby Bones doesn’t belong in country music, and his presence in the format is causing unnecessary friction and divisiveness, and other unnecessary ailments to the genre. He’s an interloper, and once he’s constructed his media empire he’ll move on with little to no care to the health of the format.
Later on The Bobby Bones Show Friday morning, even though they wouldn’t let Aaron Watson in the building when he wanted to see Bobby in person just to patch things up on a frigid morning, they took a phone call from Aaron, and after offering $1,000 to Bones’ charity, they finally buried the hatchet. It’s all because Aaron Watson is a better person than Bobby Bones, me, or most anyone else. Aaron Watson called for everyone to move on, and that’s the only reason this editorial isn’t taking on an even more harsh tone.
But here at Saving Country Music, the battle wages on. We can’t allow outside forces like Bobby Bones and Sam Hunt to overrun country music, and supplant worthy artists from receiving their proper due from the genre. Bobby Bones has come on to country music’s turf, and wants everyone to subjugate to his rules. And that is why even though artists like Aaron Watson and Blackberry Smoke are making history by hitting #1 on the albums charts, there’s still so much more work to be done.
The Bobby Bones Facebook Letter Posted Thursday 2-26-15
this article about “country radio being out of touch” because of Aaron Watson isn’t getting played is absurd. Not because the title is wrong, but because of why they wrote it.
First off, in a few ways COUNTRY RADIO IS OUT OF TOUCH. I got shit for playing awesome 90s songs on the air because we are “new country”. So many suits threw tantrums because of it. Then they researched it and said “you know, people like it when you do that”
I can save you research money about 95% of the time.
but NOT playing Aaron Watson isn’t the reason there is any sort of disconnect. Radio/purchasing music is a SINGLES game now. The ol internet allows us to buy 1 song at a time. So we do. Rarely does anyone buy an album anymore. (usually only if its one of our favorite artists) This is why the world flipped when Taylor sold over a million. Which is unheard of in a week now!
I like Aaron, but i just checked and he doesn’t have a single song in the top 100 on iTunes. and last time I checked, radio doesn’t play albums. They play hit songs.
I love radio. and radio is changing everyday. The days of it being a just “in your car” thing through a transmitter are coming to an end in the next 5-7 years. Its going to be in your car, but hooked through WIFI! Mine already is! Iheartradio, spotify,, podcasts, are all in the landscape now. Radio is still king, but the king realizes that other people are invading its territory…. and its cool w that (see Iheartradio which was created by my radio company).
Radio still dominates. and “you only play the same artists over and over” is what i hear all the time. (note: I don’t pick the music). but yeah, you know why??? Because people love and are buying those songs RIGHT NOW! Its a ratings game. Just like the local news, its still a business.
Radio is about hit songs. Not hit albums. Hopefully a song makes you check out an album… and you buy it then. If an album is great, it will thrive regardless of radio play (see Beck, Kacey Musgraves, etc as of recent). Within any industry, the cream always rises to the top.
however, this article is dumb.
sidenote: I’ve been scolded twice for playing Johnny Cash on the air the last 2 days.
sidenote 2: I also played Aaron Watson on the air earlier in the week (way before the article) and said I really liked the song. So Im pro Aaron Watson. Just anti that his album sales have anything to do with radio being disconnected.
sidenote 3: what up Aaron! you know Im a fan. don’t take this as a personal shot. everyone check out the album. The album just won’t be played on the show.
pardon the typos. this won’t be published anywhere. nor will many read it…. so screw it