Lo and Behold: Chris Stapleton Is Making an Impact on Mainstream Country Radio


No bet against Chris Stapleton is a safe one at this point. First he swept through the CMA Awards, winning New Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year, despite being a major underdog in all three categories. Then he shocked the world by having one of the biggest post-awards sales bumps on record when sales of his album Traveller spiked 6,400%. And now, despite all the odds, and the incredibly collusive and backwards nature of American country radio, he’s now having a major impact there too.

That was the big question coming off of Stapleton’s big CMA wins: would radio respond? And now that we have the new numbers from Mediabase, the answer is “Yes.” There’s still a long way to go before Chris Stapleton’s success translates fully to the radio format, but he’s off to a running start.

Last week, Chris Stapleton’s song “Nobody To Blame” was the 2nd-most added song on country radio from reporting stations, with a total of 64 adds according to Mediabase. The only artist and song to beat Stapleton was Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood” from the surprise album of the same name that came in with 72 adds.

According to Neilsen’s Soundscan—a different monitoring company, and the one Billboard uses for its charts—Chris Stapleton’s “Nobody To Blame” received 283 new spins during the reporting period, up from a nominal 45 spins from the week before. This was good enough to come in at #46 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, which is not a bad showing for any new single.

But the news just keeps getting better for Stapleton. Now Billboard is saying the songwriter could sell an additional 100,000 equivalent albums this next week, which again would be good enough to keep him at #1 all genre for a second straight reporting period. There seems to be no stopping Stapleton, and radio is having no choice but to react. It’s also important to note that Stapleton’s big CMA moment didn’t come until later in the week, so it may take some more time before we see the full impact on radio. Same goes for the huge sales numbers, which just impacted in full on Monday (11-9). Radio, which is always slow to react on the country side, is just now digesting the Stapleton surge.

Duane Shannon, the Program Director at WGKX in Memphis told Country Aircheck this week, “On Chris Stapleton, he wasn’t getting any [airplay] before this, but that doesn’t mean he won’t.  Unless I missed something, the programmers who vote in the CMA’s weren’t playing him. As for me, I don’t base my music decisions on who wins awards or not. [Stapleton] deserves a better look if consumers respond and the market demands it.”

Stapleton selling 177,000 accumulative albums last week was the consumer demand that got country radio’s attention.

Nikki Thomas, the Program Director at KATM in Modesto California said, “‘Traveller’ is such honest music and yes we’re playing it. Believe it or not, the audience leans traditional out here, so they love it. And he sold 177,000 copies since that performance, so somebody likes him. The thing is, I love Sam Hunt and I love Chris Stapleton. And if you can make room for Sam Hunt, you can make room for something more traditional, too. There’s no shame in playing a country record on country radio.

Meanwhile, Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey”—the song he performed with Justin Timberlake on the CMA awards, sits at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart at the moment, and it’s not even the single impacting radio or receiving points for spins. That was all the power of streams and downloads after Stapleton’s performance.

Where this ball stops rolling, nobody knows. Now the buzz is turning to the fast approaching Grammy Awards, and how Stapleton could have an impact on a stage much bigger than the CMA’s.

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