This was a bad week for country. It started at the end of the week before, when Gerry House, legendary morning DJ for Nashville’s WSIX-FM announced that after 30 years he was retiring. You could almost sense the next question was “why?” with people anticipating scathing remarks on the direction of country music, but Gerry was a professional simply saying, “I wanna sleep late, contemplate and feel great.”
So the scathing remarks were left for another legend of country music coverage, Chet Flippo, who in his Nashville Skyline column, laid down heavy criticism of WSIX’s parent company Clear Channel, and country radio in general. Flippo is not one afraid to pull the trigger with criticism, but I’ve never seem him so willing to name names and lay the criticism down so heavy.“I never fully realized how hard it is to do really good morning country radio until some years ago when I was doing a lot of business travel and listened to country radio around this nation. I pretty damn quick realized how truly awful or, at best, mediocre most morning drive shows are on country radio stations. BubbaBubbaBubba! And worse. That’s what you hear.” “Gerry was jacked over by his parent company Clear Channel last year when CC abruptly sacked two of his longtime show staffers, Al Voecks and Duncan Stewart, apparently without his knowledge. I heard he considered quitting then, but stayed on. I am not surprised he is leaving now. If the most highly-regarded country DJ in the country is not well-respected at all by his parent company, then what’s left in radio?” “As radio conglomeration has decimated radio station staffs, genuine on-air radio talent is sadly disappearing.”
Flippo even went on to blame the fall of local radio programming to the destruction of community orientation, and specifically cited its use during crises.“One of the problems Nashville authorities found with local residents getting news warnings about the recent disastrous flooding here was that some Nashville radio stations are programmed by syndication, have no local news, and therefore there was no one even at some stations to take phone calls on the weekend when the flooding happened. The stations’ listeners heard nothing but automated programming broadcast from somewhere else.”
Then on Wednesday a report came out showing country sales fell further than the rest of the industry. Put aside all the arguments of what is country or not, country music has insulated itself from some of the recent deterioration of music sales by incorporating pop and rock elements under their expanding tent. Country was also helped last year by rising superstar Taylor Swift.
Which led us to Thursday, when Taylor let fly a couple of mediocre live performances at the NFL kickoff game. Some are not worried that country sales are falling, because Taylor and a slew of other big names still have albums to release this year. However as time goes on, it is being exposed that Taylor Swift just can’t sing. And as record sales dwindle, the one fall back the music industry has is the money-making power of the live performance, something that Taylor has proven numerous times she can’t deliver in a strong manner.
In a time that calls for bold ideas, fresh blood, and innovation, country has decided to stick even more vehemently to their unimaginative formulas, while cutting costs ahead of unnecessary contraction to keep ill-conceived infrastructure in tact. Country is not void of talent, far from it. It is void of ideas of how to mine and evaluate that talent, and then educate its consumers on what to listen for, like listening at all. I listened to Taylor’s performance, but could barely hear anything.