Country Station Sees Greater Success After Limiting Snap Tracks
Neilsen recently released their 2019 diary book ratings for the Winter of 2019, and one of the biggest success stories for the period was country radio station 92.5 WBEE in Rochester, New York. Already #1 in their radio market, which is a success story in itself for a country station, WBEE saw significant market growth from the Fall of 2018 to the Winter of 2019 from an 8.1 share to an impressive 9.9. The radio station also saw strong growth in all of their key demographics, including 18-34 adults, 25-54 adults, and 25-54 women who make up country’s key demographic.
What does the radio station attribute this solid growth and continued market dominance to? In a recent interview with Country Aircheck, WBEE’s Vice President of Programming, Bob Barnett, says it wasn’t veering younger and more pop like many radio pundits might advise a radio station to do. Instead, the strategy was the exact opposite.
“We policed the excessive number of ‘snap tracks’ and drinking songs, and we were increasingly more selective over which new songs got added and exposed,” says the program director. “In addition, we re-introduced a number of older gold titles back into the mix to try and achieve a better ‘mainstream’ country music mix. Through late summer and fall, I felt like much of the new music coming in was all beginning to sound the same—and we were missing variety and depth—so, we adjusted the gold mix.”
WBEE’s Bob Barnett gambled on trying to build better songs and older songs into the radio station’s playlist—something counter-intuitive to the philosophy of many country radio station programmers—and it paid off. “It felt like the prevailing reaction from the team to this book was a combination of accomplishment and relief,” says Barnett.
Snap and clap tracks have become the hot commodity in country music recently as pointed out by country commentator Grady Smith in a recent viral video that has received over 3 million views. Snap tracks among many other factors have added to the “sameness” many people feel about today’s country music, and not just between different contemporary country songs, but between songs on other formats that also employ electronic beats as opposed to live drums.
Country traditionalist Tracy Byrd recently talked about this phenomenon in an interview with Taste of Country, where he recalled a recent conversation he had with some contemporary songwriters. “We started talking about the writing sessions that have gone to recently and they were telling me that there is actually a beat guy now who is purely there to tap out a beat on some computer pad. I couldn’t believe it. We used to have a guitar player for that. It was hilarious to me!”
Tracy Byrd, like many traditional country stars, is seeing a resurgence in interest and crowd size due to people seeking out the type of country music they used to hear. “I go out every night after the show and sit in my merch booth and sometimes, that meet-and-greet lasts longer than the show. Fans are telling me that they are not getting what they are craving in today’s country music, so they come and see guys like me to get their fix. I mean, our band features a steel guitar and a fiddle. Those things are hard to find these days.”
Rochester, NY’s WBEE-FM is owned by Entercom, which owns about 235 radio stations across the country. Being a bit smaller than iHeartMedia and Cumulus, they’ve given their local program director more autonomy on programming decisions which has led to a country radio station dominating in a non-traditional northern market. Though WBEE’s approach may not work for every station, it at least speaks to the idea of including some older songs in the more contemporary country mix, and keeping country unique as a format as opposed to just another radio station featuring snap tracks. Simply allowing program directors to test might work better in their specific market would likely result in more variety in country music.
WBEE’s success also speaks to a greater shift to more traditionally-sounding country building back into the mainstream, with Luke Combs finding incredible success over artists like Kane Brown and Florida Georgia Line, and George Strait’s “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” marking one of his most successful radio singles in over six years.
May 16, 2019 @ 11:34 am
May 19, 2019 @ 12:12 pm
Someone needs to tell this to the “Highway” on Sirius XM. They made us listen to this garbage at work for 2 weeks straight and I finally told them I was going to quit if they didn’t change it. In an eight hour period, they played that God Awful “One man Band”, “God’s Country, and possibly the worst song ever in that scumbag Luke Bryan’s “Knockin boots” , 10 freaking times a piece. If you purchase XM radio, do everyone a favor and tell the sales person you dont want the Highway and maybe something will be done. It makes that Garbage station “No shoes radio” almost sound listenable.
Keepin it Country
May 16, 2019 @ 11:51 am
But do people still care about the radio with Spotify’s and online formats. Personally I don’t listen to the radio because I’m not a fan of snap tracks and people are getting more free reason apps on their phones anyway.
May 16, 2019 @ 12:37 pm
Most people who would frequent a music website have probably moved on from radio a long time ago, unless it’s an independent radio station. But MILLIONS still tune in, and the numbers have stayed surprisingly steady. Also many people use radio stations like Spotify, seeking out cool local radio stations they can stream online with a music mix that suits them.
May 17, 2019 @ 2:45 pm
Hey Trigger, I saw your profile on the Gimme Country website. Are you working with them? can we expect an article on their format?
May 17, 2019 @ 2:51 pm
I might have something on this soon. I am trying to work with them, but we’re ironing some kinks out.
reasonable mainstream country fan
May 16, 2019 @ 11:53 am
Very interesting! Nice to see local program directors having such autonomy. I spent a week up in wickedly-cold Rochester last winter and heard “Country” music in the background at several establishments around town – coulda been WBEE-FM for all I know. That said, I’m not sure I’m wanting a return to the days of everything coming out of the radio being AAA form 🙂 .
May 16, 2019 @ 12:00 pm
Seems like there is demand. Good news to hear for sure. As is the case in all businesses, present a product and the demand will guide the success, whether good or bad. Man, glad to see Tracy Byrd back in the news.
Country When Country Wasn't Cool
May 16, 2019 @ 12:13 pm
A local station here in the Phoenix area (KSWG 96.3) is very similar. They don’t play any of the nonsense from the past few years…just real country. I like that they play the old stuff (Cash, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, etc.), the new stuff (Chris Young, Luke Combs), and everything you can imagine in between from the 50s thru today. They make a point to say they are honoring country’s heritage.
It reminds me of the country stations I grew up with…variety, and men AND women getting airplay. There’s nowhere else here to hear Johnny Duncan and Carrie Underwood back to back. This isn’t our biggest country station, but it has the mix right, and it’s gaining by word of mouth. I hope this becomes a nationwide trend.
May 16, 2019 @ 1:01 pm
Regardless of where it comes from or how one listens to his or her music, I just hope the trend continues…I listened to Kacey Musgraves latest stuff just this morning, and I thought it was like previous stuff, which was great…No, I listened to her song “High Horse” and it was one sorry piece of shit song.
May 16, 2019 @ 1:08 pm
Guys and gals, we are saving country music
May 16, 2019 @ 1:50 pm
Thanks Trig & Grady Smith for pointing out the snap tracks!!! You guys are awesome!! You are saving country music yourselves!! Using your platforms to point out the obvious. You created a conversation, a narrative so to speak!! You two were the first to bring it up!!
May 16, 2019 @ 1:58 pm
Guess I’m going to have to be the one to ask: what’s a snap track?
Google seemed to think I meant SnapChat, so yes, YOU google it for me if you have to.
May 16, 2019 @ 2:40 pm
Hit the “viral video” link in triggers article
May 16, 2019 @ 3:20 pm
The Grady Smith video which is linked in the article explains it really well.
May 16, 2019 @ 3:40 pm
Definitely check out the link to the viral video. You will laugh, and possibly cry. And I must warn you: some of the snap track examples he presents are positively putrid. That stuff is an embarrassment to real country music. But he makes the point and makes it well. I truly hope the tide is turning and country music will be saved!
May 17, 2019 @ 7:27 am
Thanks – I get it now!
May 16, 2019 @ 2:51 pm
I thought this headline was satire. good to know this is for real
May 16, 2019 @ 3:45 pm
I use to only listen to Hank FM 101.9 from the Walla Walla area as they play mainly 80’s – 90’s country, but a tree branch broke the antenna off my tractor cab and now it don’t come in anymore 🙁
May 16, 2019 @ 3:53 pm
I sort of believe that with the “Traditional Country” revival,you’ll probably hear many fewer drinking songs,though the genre will have to modernize itself for the (in eight months) 2020’s audience .
May 16, 2019 @ 5:39 pm
Excellent article, Trigger. This is exactly the type of good read that keeps me coming back.
I can only hope that this catches on. Nationwide, that is. I live in CA which places zero value on traditional anything.
May 17, 2019 @ 2:10 am
Thank God Bob Barnett and WBEE decided to go against the grain and change up their playlist. While it sounds like they didn’t do a complete overhaul, they did just enough to keep their listeners happy and as a result grew their listener base. I hope these younger listeners dig a little deeper into the catalogs of some of the older artists and if that happens, they’re all better off.
With regards to Grady Smith and the video of ‘snap tracks’? WOW!!! As a fan who listens to Today’s Country on Music Choice at work, I’ve heard EVERY one of the songs played in the video at least twice in a 3 or 4 hour period. I didn’t even realize it was that common. Perhaps that’s what programmer’s want to happen – people listening to the same type of song without changing the channel.
Excellent article, Trigger!! I’m hoping more stations with follow WBEE’s lead. Perhaps Bob Barnett did the country radio industry a HUGE favor!!
May 17, 2019 @ 2:15 am
Next step…a limit for all the “What Makes You Country”, “Can’t Say I Ain’t Country”, “This Is Country Music”, “That’s Country”, “That’s Country Bro”, “90’s Country”, “Country Music Made Me Do It”, “Country Music Won’t Let Me”, “One Big Country Song”, “Country Song To Sing”, “I’m From The Country”, “Keep It Country”, “Hip To Be Country”, “Country Bar”, “Good Ole Country Song” & “Raised On Country” kind of “country” songs.
Australian country music is not much better: “Country’s What I Am”, “Country Heart” & “King Of This Country” are the current “country” songs on the charts.
Texas…well…all the songs about Texas this & Texas that can become pretty boring too.
Lazy songwriting & throwing around buzzword after buzzword: “drink”, “drunk”, “Beer”, “Whiskey”, “Hometown”, “Willie”, “Cash”, “Waylon”, “Hank”, “Dolly”, “Haggard”…
May 17, 2019 @ 8:42 am
After this hype I would have been gutted to learn that they carried the blabby bones show, so I checked. Nope. They have their own, well-respected show.
I couldn’t BEE happier about this. Good for radio, whatever that is any more.
2 guns way, way up.
May 17, 2019 @ 8:54 am
I’m a tee-totaler, but I enjoy drinking songs. The old kind though. The ones full of regret. Not the recent ones that are all partying and “Yeehaw!”-filled, loaded up with hot girls in short shorts.
May 17, 2019 @ 11:36 am
Don’t forget “girl.” 50 times per verse.
May 27, 2019 @ 10:42 pm
If an artist is humble, hungry, or interested enough to make themselves available at their merch table/booth after a show, I’m going to be grateful enough to visit, buy a CD (or more) and have it signed. Even after a friend who has a side-gig in a band told me that getting autographs is for amateurs. It’s the one advantage of having no talent – my amateur status never will be in doubt. 😉