Country Radio Consultant: “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out.” (aka SaladGate)


The continued, systematic, elongated, and deep-rooted dilemma of a lack of female representation on country radio is not just an aesthetic problem or social issue, it is a moral one.

This isn’t about insisting radio programmers play more females until country radio comes more into line with the male/female ratio of the human population, it’s about making sure that females are being given an equal opportunity as their male counterparts to be heard. We’re not talking about 2 to 1 ratios favoring men, we’re talking about only 1 or 2 female artists getting played per hour compared to 8 to 12 men. We’re talking about historic anomalies being registered on country music charts from the format’s inability to represent existing female talent and break new female talent. This isn’t about gerrymandering country radio to make sure more women are included, this is about making sure women aren’t being purposefully excluded, which according to radio consultant Keith Hill (known as the “World’s Leading Authority on Music Scheduling”), they should be.

Keith Hill (via YouTube)
Keith Hill (via YouTube)

In an interview posted with Keith Hill on Tuesday (5-26) in Country Aircheck, the industry consultant not only advised country radio not to play female artists, and certainly not to play them back to back, but had the audacity to compare them to the “tomatoes” of the country music salad in a quote that smacked of Blake Shelton’s “Old Farts and Jackasses” or Gary Overton’s “If you’re not on radio, you don’t exist” quotes in the ripeness for public backlash on the insensitivity Richter scale.

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Keith Hill said point blank in the interview.

So let’s just appreciate the gravity of this one statement. This is a guy who is dubbed the “World’s Leading Authority on Music Scheduling” telling the country radio industry to eliminate females from the format if they want better ratings, and doing so in the genre’s leading radio trade periodical. Even if you think the concern about female artists on radio is overblown, clearly you can see why a statement like this would make you concerned for females in the future. Forget trying to solve the country radio female dilemma, Keith Hill is telling radio professionals to actively go the other direction if they want people to listen.

Then Keith Hill continues, “The reason is mainstream country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists.”

In other words, Keith Hill is saying country radio programmers should take out female artists in their rotations because three out of four listeners of country radio are female themselves, and they prefer listening to male artists according to his data. “I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component,” Hill says.

Man, the scandalous quotes from this guy just keep on coming, and we haven’t even come to the “tomato” quotes which are at SaladGate’s core. But taking Hill at his word that his data tells him that despite the majority of country listeners being women, those women want to listen more to male artists, Keith hill says the “expectation” is that country music is “principally a male format.” What does that mean? That means that systematically, country radio professionals should look at country music as a genre that is for males artists primarily, and that females play a secondary, subordinate role, not as the way the listener data numbers might fall on an equal playing field, but as an “expectation” industry wide before we even see this data.

This is the thing about these Keith Hill comments: Just like Sony CEO Gary Overton’s “you don’t exist” radio comments from earlier in 2015, they’re completely based in truth … from Keith Hill’s perspective. We’ve been saying for years that country radio does not give equal consideration to a song from a female artist, and here Keith Hill is not only admitting it, but setting up the “expectation” of country music as a male-dominated genre, which historically it has never been seen as from any other perspective that I’ve ever seen in the 8+ years of covering this genre.

Oh but it gets even better, if you can believe it.

“I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19%.,” Keith Hill says. That means that the greatest percentage of female representation you can expect from the most female-centric database in Keith Hill’s 40 database sample isn’t just below half, or even below a third or even a quarter. The rosiest outlook for women out of 40 databases has women being played less than one time out of every five times a male artist is played. Wowser.

Can it get even worse for country music’s women? Sure it can. I haven’t even iterated the worst quote of the lot, when Keith Hill compared women in country to a certain edible fruit.

“Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of the salad are the females.”

Yes, make all your tomato and salad jokes here, but this is a very serious matter.

For the sake of argument, let’s just give Keith Hill the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the data that he says conclusively proves that country listeners don’t want to hear female acts, even though Windmills Country and others have refuted these claims with their own data in the past. What I don’t understand is why Keith Hill isn’t consulting the industry on how to solve the genre’s disconnect with female artists in an attempt to broaden the appeal of the genre, and raise the availability of lucrative talent by including both sexes as opposed to excluding one?

What does the sex of an artist have to do with anything? If country radio was truly waking up every morning and tasking themselves with the charge of trying to find the best songs to serve to their audience, regardless of sex, or even the name of the artist, then this would seem like the best outcome for everyone. The lack of one hit wonders in not just country music, but popular American music in general, is very telling about how the radio industry is failing the public by following preconceived notions based on metadata, as opposed to looking for the best songs that will resonate effectively with the public at a given time.

Look, saying Keith Hill is the problem is putting the cart before the horse. He’s a data nerd, and the data is telling him country fans don’t want females. But by the time radio is receiving female singles, the fix is already in. The problem is with labels and artists selecting singles to serve to country radio.

As Keith Hill’s comments were tossing SaladGate into into a fevered pitch, I was in the last moments of finishing up a review for a Miranda Lambert song called “Roots & Wings.” This is a song that instead of being released to radio, was released through a Ram trucks commercial. We have seen other excellent female songs that could be big hits on radio and resonate with female listeners not even see the light of day in the format. Brandy Clark’s “Stripes,” and Kacey Musgraves “The Trailer Song” for example. These songs were never even given a chance on radio. Instead we get Kelsi Ballerini screeching in a pop song, and Raelynn cooing in a Barbie Doll tune. It’s not that females don’t want to hear these songs, nobody does, and that dirties the female data.

But as for the “expectation” of the country music format being one that’s dominated by males? That is the be all, end all dangerous statement for the cementing of systematical sexism throughout the country format for not just now, but for the foreseeable future. That is the dangerous red line crossed in the “females in the country format” debate.

Nobody is asking for radio quotas, or even 50/50 representation, or even 2 to 1. How about just judging each song on its own merits, regardless of the sex of the artist? And how about the industry really taking a self-reflective look and trying to solve this problem from the inside out, instead of just presenting window dressing solutions with its “Women of the Future” functions and other such nonsense that seem to relegate women as artists with special needs. Look at the rosters of country music’s major labels. There may be a few more males on them, but it’s not even close to 5 to 1. Beyond the moral obligations, there is a financial incentive for the country music industry to solve this issue.

If you ask me, if there was one way to solve the quality problems country music is experiencing at the moment, it would simply be to play more female country artists.

But these aren’t just “female country artists,” as if they are a gaggle of nameless, faceless data points to be compared to tomatoes. These are mothers, sisters, and daughters. These are the individuals who are attempting to lead country music out of the dark ages into a new era when country music can be for everyone, not just those who fit into a target demographic. And if we are inclusive of female artists, maybe country music can be something that inspires people again, instead of just entertaining them. The women of country music are trying to lead, while many of the men are attempting to follow. So let’s follow the women, and leave the salad talk for The Food Network.

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