‘Refinery 29’ and ‘Yahoo!’ Report False Data on Women in Country
An article posted in the two major publications claims listeners will hear 44 men on country radio before they hear a woman. But the real number was supposed to be 4.4.
On Friday, April 26th, a new study conducted by the University of Ottawa’s Jada E. Watson was released that once again underscored the lack of representation for women on country radio. Analyzing 19 years of Mediabase data, the study pegs the overall representation of women on country radio at 19.6%, or a 3.9 to 1 ratio men to women since 2000. The new study includes a lot of other deeper data analysis, and also underscores how the lack of representation on radio is adversely affecting the careers of country’s women, and continues to get worse over time. Over the life of the study, representation for women went from 33.3% in 2000, to 11.3% in 2018 according to the research.
As alarming as these findings might be, they’re not nearly as bad as the websites Refinery 29 or Yahoo! characterized in a recent article posted on the study. As Saving Country Music was working on an article about the new findings (which will hopefully will be published soon), it came upon an article written by Courtney E. Smith published on both the Refinery 29 and Yahoo! platforms entitled, “Want To Hear A Woman On Country Radio? You’ll Have To Sit Through 44 Songs By Men First.”
The article goes on to regurgitate data from the study in a completely slipshod manner, either accidentally or intentionally falsifying the findings, and rearranging a decimal point to come to its outlandish and incorrect conclusion.
“The rate of play went from 33.3% to 11.3%, hitting its lowest point in 2014, when women earned only 7.3% of airtime,” Courtney E. Smith reports in the article. “That means, their study found, songs performed by men are played at 44:1. You’ll hear 44 men before you hear one woman on country radio.”
This information published by Refinery 29 and Yahoo! is patently incorrect. And even if it was correct, it still wouldn’t result in country listeners having to listen to 44 men before they would hear a woman. Even if “7.3% of airtime in 2014” was right (which it isn’t), this would still mean that even at the worst moment on country radio in the last 19 years, you would still hear 13.7 men before you heard one woman, not 44. This also would represent what you would hear in 2014, not currently. But the 7.3% number in 2014 isn’t even correct. Instead, this appears to be a misplaced data point not pertaining to the percentage of women on country radio overall, but the amount of songs representing women on the 2014 year end report taking into consideration the very top songs of the entire year.
As for the “men are played at a 44:1. You’ll hear 44 men before you hear one woman on country radio” statement, this seems to be the result of a misplaced a decimal point. The only number that appears to coincide with the “44:1” statistic from the data is a “4.4 to 1” ratio of men to women being played on country radio over the 19-year duration of the study. In other words, over the span of the study, you would hear an average of 4.4 men before you heard 1 woman, not 44.
Even during 2018, the ratio of men to women according to the new study was still 9.7 men for every one woman played. That number itself is pretty shocking in how poorly women are being represented in the format, but it’s nowhere close to the 44 to 1 fallacy emblazoned in the title of the article published on Yahoo! and Refinery 29.
The article also falsely claims, “The conversation around (not) playing women on country radio started with a blog post in 2015, when a consultant told radio programmers that if their playlist is a salad, women should be the tomatoes.” First, it was not a “blog post,” but an interview with self-proclaimed radio consultant Keith Hill, who was being asked about the issue because it was already a hot topic within the country music community. Second, this was far from the beginning of the women in country music conversation. Saving Country Music had been covering the topic since 2012, as had other outlets during the decline of female representation on radio brought about by the rise of the Bro-Country era.
The next question is how did a title and an article this egregiously false get published in two major American periodicals? Is it just absolute journalistic negligence, or is there an agenda behind this mischaracterization, either to stimulate clicks, or to somehow impugn the country music industry for rampant sexism with numbers that are wildly embellished?
As Saving Country Music reported in the midst of the Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” controversy, downright false reporting and incorrect facts are being employed to embellish stories about the lack of diversity in country music. Both The New York Times and The Guardian falsely cited a notorious Twitter troll named Shane Morris as a “former country music executive,” when he was never an executive at all, and instead was well-known throughout the music community for threatening the children of musicians, music fans, and posting reams of discriminatory remarks on Twitter and other platforms for years. Morris had falsely claimed in a viral Twitter thread that the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart had not one African American artist crest the chart in over 40 years, when Charley Pride alone had achieved 29 #1 songs during the period.
Pitchfork, Salon, and other outlets also purposely moved the timeline of Lil Nas X’s removal on the country charts to falsely characterize Saving Country Music as stimulating the action. Despite publishing clear evidence of the incorrect information posted in these periodicals, no corrections have been made by any of these outlets.
In all of these cases, the reporting on country music is being done by journalists who do not cover country primarily, while the same falsehoods often get parroted out though media echo chambers, especially persistent on Twitter. The 1.32 million followers of Refinery 29 on Twitter were exposed to the false information of this recent article, which was then repeated and retweeted because of the shocking implications of the charge, similar to the false assertions made by Shane Morris. The “too shocking to believe” aspect is what often fuels the spread of this misinformation.
The issue of representation of women in country music is a serious one, and the new study presents a lot of important talking points. But the continued unchecked false reporting by multiple media sources is not only a distraction from these important topics, it’s damning of the entire media industry, especially when the falsehoods go uncorrected.
Saving Country Music will have more coverage on the new study soon.
April 29, 2019 @ 8:57 am
Seeing Yahoo publish a story full of lies is really no surprise. Finding out people still use Yahoo is.
April 29, 2019 @ 9:51 am
I wonder how AOL feels about this?
April 29, 2019 @ 9:18 am
Major News Media just wants to stir controversy these days. Can’t go a single day without some big scandal or injustice.
April 29, 2019 @ 9:31 am
Maybe when there are more women than men country artists we will hear more women? I mean, really, hasn’t the idea of more male than female artists resonated with anyone that may be a reason why we hear more men than women?
Rock radio is the same.
This is a tired old ongoing “controversy” that really needs to be put to bed.
April 29, 2019 @ 8:39 pm
What???? Who says there are more men than women artists? It’s not a scientific study but lurking around Nashville
as I do at open mics, conferences, writer’s rounds, etc there seems to me to be as many women as men banging on the doors. Maybe only men know the secret knock
April 30, 2019 @ 5:11 am
I am obviously talking about those who make it on the airwaves and garner somewhat national attention. Not referring to those in the trenches, although I would still assume that there are more males than females.
April 30, 2019 @ 6:15 am
Except that it is MUCH more difficult for female artists to ever “make it to the airwaves’ and “Garner somewhat national attention” than their male counterparts in country music.
That’s kinda the point here. The numbers in this article are inflated, but there is a problem.
The playing field is nowhere near level.
April 30, 2019 @ 6:35 am
Yes, to get there it is more difficult. No arguments there. There have been many articles and posts here and other sites about this overall problem.
I still hold to the push/pull theory “for the most part”. If the demand is there and that demand results in MONEY for the corporate folks, they will capitulate. Some say that demand is created by continually pushing male over female. Might be true to a point. Even so, if there is a resounding demand form the public that results in money-in-the-coffers for the powers-to-be, it will not be turned down.
There is demand for such grotesque acts like Sam Hunt due to the fact his audience is overwhelmingly female. So diversity has come into the country
music scene in the last several years. Much of the female audience goes for male acts. Not totally mind you, but much of them do.
The continual complaining and whining by female artists and the associated websites I think actually diminishes rather than enhances the solution. It’s like the player who is always the sub raising his/her hand and saying, “Let me play coach. Put me in coach.”
I do not profess to know the solution other than if the demand overcomes the objection, demand will win because it is MONEY. Even narly Nashville will not turn down more money. Nashcrap is stupid, but not that stupid.
April 30, 2019 @ 8:27 am
The truth of the matter is that there are just less women making music, and country music specifically, compared to men. We know through career studies data, and other data like the Austin music census they conducted a few years ago that women are just less likely to pursue the occupation of musician, primarily because it involves a lot of risk. And when women do get into music, it’s more likely to be in pop. This is an important discussion point when trying to achieve gender parity, as well as when making accusations of sexism based solely off statistical discrepancies between men and women.
That being said, the amount of women being played on country radio is probably not representative of the amount of women making country music, and if you have systemic programming that compels programmers to only include so many women, this is a big problem. The quality of the song and appeal of the artist should be how country radio is programmed, not the gender of the artist. Only then will you have an equal playing field regardless of sex.
You cannot guarantee equality of outcome, only equality of opportunity. And right now you can make a strong case women are not receiving the same opportunities as the men.
April 30, 2019 @ 8:09 pm
Well said. I like many others who post here do not profess to know the inner workings of the industry. But if there was more demand, wouldn’t that create opportunity? Isn’t Musgraves an example? The darling of the Grammy’s and being pushed by the media yet her critical acclaim has not resonated in the same proportion to album sales. etc. That may be an example of creating an opportunity for someone but the audience not backing it. Nothing against her, just an example and observation.
If there were more stations playing female singers, even adhering to some quota, and the awards shows doing the same, I do not think in the current climate that would cause the audience to suddenly ring up the numbers.
Exposure and expectation are two different things. However, there is no doubt that opportunities are harder for the women regardless of the reason.
April 29, 2019 @ 9:40 am
Screw Country Radio and Major News Media outlets.
On a kind of related note, I’ve been listening to Tenille Townes’ EP “Living Room Worktapes” on repeat since first hearing her.
April 29, 2019 @ 5:14 pm
She has a new song called “I Kept the Roses” it’s not on that EP. It’s really good!
I don’t like the new version of Somebody’s Daughter. I think the musical arrangements damn near ruin the song. I actually heard it on radio & almost didn’t recognize the song. Her stripped down music is fantastic!
Atomic Zombie Redneck
April 29, 2019 @ 10:16 am
It does seem that much of the recent innacurate “reporting” is aimed at demonizing country music and attempting to portray the entire genre as a bunch of sexist, racist rednecks. And as you stated, the majority of “journalists” making these claims aren’t even fans of country.
Meanwhile, the metal community is fighting it’s own battle from within to expunge neo-Nazi and white supremacist black metal bands. The only time the media covers the issue is when some moronic kid burns down a couple churches and the media turns his love of black metal into a click-bait headline.
April 29, 2019 @ 3:17 pm
as a fan of both metal and country i agree 100% with all of that.
April 29, 2019 @ 10:39 am
Thank you for fighting against false news. This is why I like your blog becuase it represents factual, well researched stories.
April 29, 2019 @ 12:05 pm
Those stories do a real disservice to the cause, since the focus is now on the mistake. And when the retraction/correction comes out, the actual numbers won’t seem nearly as shocking and thus, they’re more likely to get ignored. “Wait, it’s 4.4 men for every woman singer? That’s not nearly as bad as 44:1…” It’s a real shame.
April 30, 2019 @ 6:12 am
Exactly. There IS a problem with the lack of women being played on country radio. The problem is real, the exaggeration of the numbers only serves the narrative of those who deny the problem. After the correction, they will all say, “see? Told you there was nothing to see here.”
May 2, 2019 @ 7:21 pm
Great article. I’m glad you’re talking the review seriously. I think it’s crucial to call out egregiously misleading articles, especially when you appreciate the actual issue. This problem is prevalent in politics as well, which makes it hard to support my “side”.
May 3, 2019 @ 10:20 am