GARTH-FM Becomes 103.9 The Hawk
Kentucky’s 103.9 WRKA first created a stir over the Memorial Day weekend when they re-branded to the “All Garth, all the time” radio station GARTH-FM, playing Garth and Garth only on a 24 hour loop. Though it appeared to be what people in the radio business call “stunting”—where a radio station ahead of a format change plays the same song, or in this case, the same artist over and over to draw attention—the importance of WRKA’s move goes much deeper.
As hypothesized by many when GARTH-FM first hit the air, the radio station has arguably become the first in the country to adopt a new “classic” country format, first floated as an idea by radio trade publication writers, and first championed in public by the yet to be launched venture between the Big Machine Label Group and Cumulus Media called NASH Icons. The idea is to give a home to country artists that flourished in country music starting 25 years ago, when artists like Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Clint Black first got their start; artists that have been all but abandoned by country radio. It all has country music and the radio world buzzing about a potential format split in country music, where Top-40 country and “classic” country stations could exists side by side.
On May 29th, Garth’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to WRKA, telling them to quit using Garth’s name to promote their station. They were still able to play Garth’s music, but this development may have forced WRKA to expedite their more long-term plans of becoming the country’s first station to reside in the “classic” 25-year window. On Monday morning, 103.9 rolled out their new format called “The Hawk – Louisville’s True Country.”
“The country listener that became a fan in the 1990’s when country really exploded can’t find those songs on the radio in Louisville right now,” says Operations Manager Shane Collins. “It’s a whole segment of the audience that’s being underserved. With the new 103.9 The Hawk, they can hear those big monster hits and artists all the time.”
Of course not everyone is happy with the move. The format the The Hawk replaced was one that played artists beyond the 25-year “classic” window; artists like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. But like it or hate it, 103.9 The Hawk will become the bellwether for country music’s potential new format, and there’s no doubt the rest of the country will be watching and listening to see how the new station is received.
June 2, 2014 @ 6:21 pm
What about new artists with a classic/traditional sound?
June 2, 2014 @ 7:14 pm
Overall, I agree with you that such a station would be nice, but if they go that route, then they run the risk of just becoming another contemporary country station. Who would ultimately determine what would qualify for a “sound”? Granted, we can tell traditional sounding country from the pop crap that’s put out today, but in terms of programming, who would get to make that call…and ultimately, you can never please everyone. But if you limit the format to “country up through the year 1999,” there’s a hard line that is drawn…either something is or it isn’t with no room for debate.
January 31, 2018 @ 7:05 pm
I think all the garth is an insult to KING GEORGE. Play more George Strait than garth and why haven’t I ever heard Alan Jackson’s song “ The older I get”?
June 2, 2014 @ 6:40 pm
I hate to hear this! I no longer live in Louisville, but when I did, 103.9 was my go to station. It’s not often you hear classic country played on today’s radio. Oh well, I guess it’s back to the iPod for good.
June 2, 2014 @ 7:19 pm
I just tuned into the station via their website. Let’s see how it is!
June 2, 2014 @ 7:36 pm
If there was a station that played Garth AND Johnny Cash, I’d pretty much never turn it off.
June 2, 2014 @ 8:03 pm
Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it a “classic” country station, but it’s MILES better than what’s played on current country stations.
June 3, 2014 @ 4:09 am
Try this… Johnny, Garth, Reba, Dolly, Travis, Waylon, Alan… Hank 96.1 in Lexington. http://www.hank961.com Now, that’s “True Country”
June 3, 2014 @ 5:03 am
‘Little station’, indeed. I am 40 miles away and there is no trace of it on my radio dial. Which sucks, because I need another station to add to my presets, because true to my word I had to delete a station because it played Jerrod Niemann’s “Donkey’ song.
100.3 FM KORN in Edinburgh, IN became the first to be dead to me. Which I would have picked to be the first, because their format is hokey crap, and their play list is 90% shit.
WKLO 96.9 FM out of Hardinsburg, IN takes its place. Play list sounds like what 103.9’s used to be. Good old country. Vince Gill and John Conlee were playing this morning. Awesome. But it fades in and out. Selah.
PS–Nice blog, Melissa.
June 3, 2014 @ 5:40 am
I think we all know the sound when we hear it. I generally do not like Jason Aldean, however his song Flyover Country could easily have been a song from the mid nineties, one of the few songs released in the past few years I actually liked. I think when we say “sound” we actually mean story. Does the song tell a story of some sort? Can we really picture what they are talking about? When Clint Black sang about the “lights are on but nobody’s home”, I could really picture that guy and relate. Today’s pop country just tells the same tired story over and over and over again and unfortunately it includes rap and edm. I think that late 80’s early nineties country really hit big for many folks because most folks could truly relate. Waylon is great and fun to listen to, but I’m no outlaw nor will ever be, but the bank still owns my truck and dang if my hair isn’t what it used to be! I think this is great! Yes I have the usual greats in my collection, I won’t name them, but they aren’t my favorites and aren’t required at all times. My personal favorite storyteller is Brian Burns from the Texas music scene. He paints a picture with words like no other. As for the 25 year artists, bring them on! I can’t wait to turn on the radio and hear A long time ago by the Remingtons over the airwaves once again or maybe some Paul Overstreet!
June 3, 2014 @ 9:32 am
Cool, someone else remembers the Remingtons and Paul Overstreet. 🙂
June 4, 2014 @ 5:44 am
I still have that Remingtons album. Great album, very underrated. Overstreet was just good, clean music.
June 4, 2014 @ 9:57 am
Whoa, the Remingtons. There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. And good call on Brian Burns. The Eagle and the Snake: Songs of the Texians is probably the best piece of Texas music I have ever bought. (Jason Boland’s Somewhere in the Middle is hot on its heels anymore, though.)
I realize I may be in the minority here, but I’m not really big on this whole new 25-year format. I grew up in the ’90s. I heard that stuff on the radio quite enough then, especially after radio just threw the old music away in favor of the new popular stuff. And who’s to say this is the solution? If the new music was good, and connected to the roots of the genre, I bet you there wouldn’t be so many people who would have that much of a problem with it being played to the exclusion of everything else. But then, if the music had any connection to the greats of the past, it wouldn’t be such a shock when it was played next to that old stuff.
June 3, 2014 @ 5:43 am
It’s definitely not the first. Here in West Virginia we have 97.3 FM The Willie which plays nothing but classic country.
June 3, 2014 @ 8:21 am
From the past 25 years, starting at 1989? I’ll tender from the name that they probably play Willie Nelson, which would mean they would not qualify. The important point about this new “classic” country format that has been proposed by many is that it means to REPLACE many of the stations that used to play older country with a new version. Country music has always had classic stations, but not to the degree where you could call it an entirely different format as is being proposed with the 25-year model.
June 3, 2014 @ 9:41 am
It would be cool if somehow they could do to radio was was done 5 years ago with television. Remember how TV went from analog to all digital and suddenly there were a whole bunch of brand new TV stations, some of which have old/classic TV shows? It would be great if something like that could be done with radio. Maybe with the AM format, find a way to make it so that on AM we get a whole bunch of alternatives to the mainstream, including some TRUE country music stations. One could play country from a 50-year span (1944 to 1994) and one could play just traditional country from the beginning of country music up to now including new and older traditional country artists. AM radio seems to be mostly a dead format with mainly talk radio stations on it. (I live in a major city where country music is not very popular btw) With all the technology and digital stuff out there, AM radio needs an upgrade to compete and could be a good source to do what was done with digital TV, accept in this case with radio, but be done in such a way that people with old radios (including transistor and antigue radios) would still get these stations on their radios. Just my silly little thought.
June 3, 2014 @ 9:46 am
I think the equivalent of that is radio listening apps for smart phones, or at least that’s what the app makers are hoping. This is one of the largest growth sectors in streaming music, with iHeartRadio and Rdio coming on very strong against Spotify and Pandora and such. There’s also big talk of putting radio tuners in smart phones.
June 3, 2014 @ 6:41 am
The Hawk already sucks. I just tuned in, then I had to tune back out in less than 2 minutes when they played “Then What” by Clay Walker.
June 3, 2014 @ 6:45 am
Yeah this station is horrible. So far, it’s been Clay Walker, Toby Keith, and Shania Twain. “Classic” my ass.
June 3, 2014 @ 8:35 am
Many great classic country songs clearly were released before the 1989-present time frame. So I’d guess that the target audience for this station might not be hard core classic country fans. Their audience might be 30-45 year old soccer moms, which is a demographic that advertisers like.
Ten years ago, I dreaded the day when mainstream country outlets would refer to Shania as classic country. At that time I thought the industry was about ten years away from that. Unfortunately I’m not surprised.
June 3, 2014 @ 9:17 am
My point is: they could be playing Alan Jackson, Tracy Lawrence, and Mark Chesnutt, but instead, they’re playing Clay Walker, Toby Keith, and Shania Twain.
June 3, 2014 @ 12:24 pm
Kinda splittin’ hairs now aren’t you?
June 3, 2014 @ 9:43 am
The late 1990’s is when I started to hate country radio. -_-
June 3, 2014 @ 7:45 am
We’re already playing the best of ALL country worlds! Tune in y’all!
Chadman in the Morning
June 3, 2014 @ 8:31 am
Among the pictures of Aldean, Urban, & Church, I only see a picture of Willie on your website. I won’t be listening. Thanks.
June 3, 2014 @ 9:45 am
Please, no bro-country crap. -_-
June 3, 2014 @ 9:45 pm
“I want to Make you Feel Wanted” by Hunter Hayes isn’t going to attract the people from this website, but you got me to click, way to go.
June 3, 2014 @ 9:56 pm
Soccer mom country > Bro country. But I’m not listening to that crap either.
June 3, 2014 @ 8:25 am
Its not the older songs I necessarily want to here. It is the sound. Wade Hayes put out a hell of an album a couple of years and recieved no airplay. Sturgill Simpson, Jason Boland all have that “true” country sound. So all this attention to a music station that is going to play the same old songs we have heard before does not interest me. If they start playing new material based on the sound instead of the era, than maybe I might get excited.
June 3, 2014 @ 9:24 am
What I’d like to have, is a station that played anything Country between 1925 and 1994, along with anything post 1994 that sounded like any of the styles that were popular between those years. As far as I know, There’s only two stations that fit that description: 650 AM WSM, and Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius.
June 3, 2014 @ 9:52 am
Clint, on Saturday evenings (only) from 6pm to midnight, I-105 WIOV in Pennsylvania has a show called “The Time Machine” that has a large playlist of country music from the 50’s to the mid 90’s. The show is hosted by Jeff Werner and he loves to take requests. I speak to Jeff every week and I always request something out of the norm (songs that didn’t go high on the charts). Next Saturday, if you can, take a listen to his show, you might enjoy it! You can email Jeff a request in advance. Here is his email: email@example.com
Here is the link to listen to the show on Saturdays 6pm to midnight: http://player.listenlive.co/26741
June 3, 2014 @ 10:41 am
Thanks for the tip Sir. Unfortunately I work graveyard shift, but if I can ever get a weekend off, I’ll tune in.
June 3, 2014 @ 11:02 am
WKDW am 900 out of Staunton Va – you can hear them over the internet as well as WSIG 96.9 fm out of Harrisonburg Va….
June 3, 2014 @ 10:02 am
Speaking of Sturgill…
Rolling Stone Country has a profile/interview up today.
June 3, 2014 @ 12:15 pm
I concur…not the 1st!! Down in the Ozarks of Missouri round the lake there is a station that plays classic country all the time. It’s funny last time I tuned in was a Friday morning and people were calling in with stuff for sale, items sought, services, etc…like a small town craigslist on the radio. PURE GOLD!!!! Love me them Ozarks!!!
June 3, 2014 @ 12:20 pm
No streaming! The way it should be IMO. 🙂
June 4, 2014 @ 9:23 am
Ok. I’ve been listening to 103.9 The Hawk via their TuneIn stream from Boston for the past hour and a half or so. Thoughts:
1. The station is branded as “True Country” with a refrain of there aren’t many things in life that are true. This whole “True” bullshit is too cutesy for me, cliched, and run into the ground every chance they get. They also throw around the word genuine, which is just more heartland bullshit. Gag me, especially since the station is as far from their branding as one can get.
2. They play “the man who started it all” at the top of every hour. The man of course is Garth Brooks. When they say that is it a reference to the GARTH-FM thing or his legacy as a ringleader of the 90s country boom? Hard to tell. This position for him is getting annoying.
3. I came for the song selection, to see what this ’25 year’ format is all about. For those of us who’ve become regular listeners of Sirius/XM Prime Country, there’s little difference expect Prime Country plays 80s country, too. The selection is predictable and skews male and upbeat. Aside from one Mary Chapin Carpenter song and Trisha Yearwood’s debut single, the articulate female voice from the 90s continues to be squashed.
Also, the station is JUST 90s country (with some 2000s thrown in). I was hoping for more of a mix between 90s hits and newer stuff by classic artists. Would it hurt to throw in some newer stuff by the likes of Alan Jackson, Geroge Strait, etc? Give their recently ignored singles some powerful mainstream exposure.
4. Most annoying is the station’s lack of personality. They play a lot of music and have required commercial breaks, but the whole thing has an automated feel that comes off robotic. Where are the DJs? Where is the heart & soul that even modern country stations still have? With DJs they could promote concerts, at least, so I could go an see these ‘true’ and ‘genuine’ artists for myself.
Overall the station is just ok. The music is great but the selection is weak and the lack of imagination is troubling. I was glad to hear Paul Brandt and Radney Foster thrown in, but they could stand to increase the deeper catalog hits along with the superstar music.
But I’m just glad this new ’25 year format’ doesn’t include today’s hits, too, but I guess that would defeat the purpose. I just wish newer music from the artists they already play would be thrown in for good measure. Then this could really be something revolutionary. As it stands right now, 103.9 The Hawk is nothing more than a copycat of what Prime Country is already doing, EXCEPT it doesn’t cost the listener any fee. That’s the only major difference I can see.
As it stands The Hawk is just a cheap ploy to play with the emotions of those looking for something more substantive by marginalizing the concept down to its lowest common denominator. Just another example of why corporate radio sucks so bad, even when it gets into the classics game. This could be wonderful, too, but the powers at be are looking more at the $$$$$ than they are the listeners.
June 5, 2014 @ 12:02 pm
I’ve been listening throughout the day while working. While there are some big-time winners and big-time losers (IMO) in their library, anyone can check out the last hundred or so songs they’ve played, if you’re curious.
Using the Tune-In app, tap the icon that looks like a list (above the album cover), then tap the “View playlist’ option. (Note: I’m on iOS. Don’t know if it varies for Droid.)
June 5, 2014 @ 12:41 pm
Community radio. Here in Madison that is 89.9 WORT-FM and on Wednesday mornings they have a show called ‘Back to the Country’ hosted by country music historian Bill Malone that you can stream. Check him out – he knows his shit. Way back in ’96-’97 was when I first heard his show and some of the first people who’s cds I bought after hearing them on his show were Dale Watson, Robbie Fulks, Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock, Rosie Flores, Iris Dement, Junior Brown, Old 97’s, Rhonda Vincent and Those Poor Bastards among the newer people.
Of course being an historian he played many I knew from grwoing up in the 60’s and 70’s and introduced me to many more I hadn’t heard like Leon McAuliffe, The Louvin Brothers, Spade Cooley, Merle Travis, Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys, Speedy West and Johnny Bond with one for my favorites – Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette).
June 21, 2014 @ 11:58 pm
I think this station is awesome! U crybabies go back to listening to ur IPODS!!
July 6, 2014 @ 12:23 pm
True country I hardly think. Haggard, Jones, Huskie, Young, Tammy Wynett, Loretta. That’s country music.
James R Blevins Jr
January 17, 2019 @ 9:02 am
why did 1039 the hawk go from country to party mix ? the reason I ask I have nothing worth listening to. no Rick and Bubba show it went to he## in a hand basket.