This week, the Tyler Childers song “In Your Love” appeared at #50 on the MediaBase country radio chart, as well as #50 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, marking the first appearance for Childers on either index. Shortly after country radio chart expert Chris Owen revealed the news, it created quite a buzz in certain circles.
Tyler Childers finally appearing on a country radio chart is definitely worth noting. It’s not a meaningless benchmark or anything, and perhaps it speaks to the continued gains for authentic, independent-minded artists in the mainstream. But from the very beginning, the reaction to the news seems a bit disproportionate to the news itself. The bluster and enthusiasm behind the showing seemed a little excessive for the mild achievement.
After Whiskey Riff reported the news on Tuesday, January 9th, Zach Bryan tweeted out, “‘First ever’ is fuckn insane, one of the best songwriters to ever do it.” And later, “Imagine being radio (whoever the hell that is), hearing Shake the Frost and being like ‘no no let’s go with the Applebees song’.”
This prompted Walker Hayes of “Fancy Like” song fame to respond, “Big shout to radio for playing dat Applebees song. Zach and Tyler praying y’alls continued success.”
And as the week has gone on, a footnote-level tidbit about a chart appearance became the story du jour in country music, at least until Jelly Roll human interest coverage once again drowned everything else out.
Billboard characterized “In Your Love” at #50 as Tyler Childers’ “first country radio hit.” But #50 isn’t exactly a “hit” by anyone’s standards, and to some radio stars, it would be an outright flop. Rolling Stone also oversold the accolade, and then asked if “In Your Love” would be Tyler’s opportunity to “break into the mainstream.”
But all of this rhetoric seems so detached from reality, while being diminishing of Tyler Childers’ previous accomplishments and in a number of different ways.
First, landing a single at #50 on country radio just really isn’t something to celebrate, or take as a signifier to anything significant. If you’re #50 on country radio, chances are you’re barely being played on country radio at all. It means you’re probably on low to medium rotation on some medium market stations, and not in the rotation of most major country radio stations at all.
They call it Top 40 radio for a reason, and in popular country in 2024, most playlists revolve mostly around the top 20 or 25 songs of a given moment, along with back catalog recurrent hits from the past year or two. A showing at #50 on the radio charts really doesn’t mean mainstream audiences are being exposed to Tyler Childers. In some respects, it validates that they’re not being exposed to him.
Second, characterizing this as Tyler’s first brush with mainstream success—or that it might lead to it—is such an aberration of the truth, it’s borderline ludicrous. When Tyler’s song “Feathered Indians” was Certified Gold by the RIAA on February 21st, 2020, this was truly when Tyler became an independent star with mainstream reach upsetting the country music apple cart. As was observed at that time,
“Looking bigger picture at the accomplishment, this will be about the opening of a new era in music where non-radio, independently-minded musicians with creative control of their music began to compete with their mainstream counterparts in regards to sales and streams.”
“Feathered Indians” going Gold happened nearly four years ago. Of course since then, the flood gates of RIAA Gold, Platinum, and now Double Platinum certifications for a dozen or so different independent country artists and their singles and albums have been opened. RIAA Certs are so common now for these artists, it often doesn’t even make the news.
2020 was the year Tyler Childers broke into the mainstream. By the end of 2020, Tyler’s album Purgatory was the 19th most popular album in country music when considering sales and streams, despite the album already being a few years old at that time (Purgatory was released on August 4th, 2017). By 2022, Purgatory was the 11th most popular album in country. And these numbers dwarfed brand new titles from mainstream stalwarts like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, and even Luke Combs.
Tyler Childers “broke into the mainstream” nearly half a decade ago. It’s just that mainstream country radio was not paying attention. But that’s not true of everyone. Back in 2020, Saving Country Music spoke to the Program Director of 106.1 WUSH out of Norfolk, VA who started playing Tyler Childers songs. The station is one of the handful that report to MediaBase to tabulate their country radio charts.
“There is a completely underserved, notable segment of the country audience, and I believe that if that audience is not given what they’re already listening to between the Luke Bryans, Carrie Underwoods, and Dustin Lynchs of the world, they’re not going to listen to your radio station,” Program Director Dave Parker said. “If any consultant would ever have any problem with me adding a Tyler Childers song, I would direct them to Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and YouTube, and if they want to argue against 15 million streams on a song, I’ll have that argument with them all day long.”
Even back in 2020, Tyler Childers was blowing most mid-tier mainstream radio stars out of the water with his numbers. By 2022, he was beating all but a small handful of mainstream stars at the top. Zooming out, Tyler Childers at #50 on radio is a popcorn fart of an accomplishment.
Tyler Childers isn’t “breaking into the mainstream” with “In Your Love.” Tyler Childers, along with Zach Bryan, Cody Jinks and others, they became the mainstream years ago. It’s many mainstream performers with multiple #1’s on country radio that are the niche performers that barely anyone’s paying attention to now. Tyler Childers and Billy Strings are selling out arenas, while Zach Bryan is selling out stadiums.
You want to be careful claiming that country radio is completely irrelevant at this point though, because that’s not true. For certain artists, it’s still the fastest way to an audience. But that audience is passive, and will listen to whatever is played. An independent fan is like a foot soldier for an artist’s career, showing up to all their gigs, buying merch, telling their friends, and posting their experiences online.
You also want to be careful to not characterize that all country radio is the same. There are many independent country radio stations out there owned locally or regionally who’ve been playing songs from Tyler Childers and other independent country artists for years. That’s another reason it feels weird to cheer on corporate country radio for finally getting Childers to #50.
Very few of those independent radio stations are allowed to report to things like Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, or Mediabase. Ironically, as soon as a station starts playing less mainstream major label singles and more independent stuff, they often get taken off the panels that compose the charts. That’s why those charts are so static and insular, and why they do not represent the true nature of country music at large in any capacity.
Tyler Childers has been played on the radio for years, and in large numbers. “All Your’n” hit #16 on the AAA format in 2019, and “In Your Love” currently sits at #12 on AAA. Childers has seen all kinds of radio success on Americana channels, and “In Your Love” has already hit #7 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart that measures overall consumption with radio play. “In Your Love” also debuted at #43 on the Billboard all-genre Hot 100 back in August.
#50 on the country radio airplay charts? It’s an insult more than anything. Until Childers gets to the Top 25 or at least the Top 40, it’s not worth making too much about. And no matter where the single lands, it will be too little too late for country radio. If anything, tip your hat to all the DJs who did play Tyler over the last many years.
And to be frank, “In Your Love” is a bit of a dry track for country radio anyway.