I know what you’re going to say. “NeW yOrK CiTY!” like that guy in the old Pace Picante Sauce commercial. Or if you pride yourself in having any sort of semblance of taste, maybe you’re wondering why anyone in 2021 would still be listening to mainstream country radio at all.
Well it finally happened. America’s largest radio station owner iHeartMedia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the wee hours of Wednesday night/Thursday morning. But just like the recent Cumulus Media bankruptcy, the fact that this is a Chapter 11 means little will change in the radio landscape.
The country music genre used to be full of people who were passionate about the art form. They found purpose behind bringing the music to people, and that is why they decided to become performers, songwriters, side players, DJs, managers, publicists, roadies, journalists, or whatever it took to push the music forward.
iHeartMedia will likely be filing for its own bankruptcy soon enough, but the situation is so difficult for the radio giant, they can’t even come to a resolution with creditors to file for bankruptcy protection at the moment. Cumulus Media used Chapter 11 to resolve some $1 billion dollars in overhanging debt, iHeartMedia’s debut is a whopping $7.7 billion.
The first shoe has fallen in what promises to be a prolonged period of massive reorganization and debt restructuring in America’s radio landscape, as one of the largest radio station owners has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Cumulus Media has filed voluntary petitions to reorganize under Chapter 11.
This is not another article about Chris Stapleton. This is an article about mainstream American country music radio. Yes, Chris Stapleton won big, again. But Chris Stapleton’s impact still remains paltry on mainstream country radio. The question is, will country radio listen? Or will country radio be left with anybody listening to it?
How people listen to music is clearly changing, but much of the country music industry isn’t following suit. In a town that employs scores of people just to push songs to radio, Nashville doesn’t know how to behave any differently than they did 60 years ago. Entire companies are based around trying to sell songs to country radio. The difference now is radio is no longer the only game in town.
Lew Dickey, the embattled and polarizing CEO of Cumulus is out, and his replacement has been named as Mary G. Berner, a seasoned media business operator who joined the Cumulus board in May. Lew Dickey founded Cumulus Media in 1997, and has served as the company’s CEO for 16 years. Dickey will stay on at the company, but in a downgraded role as a Vice Chairman.
Cumulus Media’s NASH concept wants to become the one stop shop for corporate country consumers, and the country industry is more than willing to play ball as long as the company spreads its capital around to launch grandiose ventures and continues to play its artists on the radio. But there’s a problem. A big one.
As first hypothesized by Saving Country Music in December of 2014, Hank Williams Jr. is the newest signee to NASH Icon—the joint venture between Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group meant to give new life to aging artists who’ve been passed over by mainstream country radio. Hank Jr. joins Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn in NASH Icon’s inaugural class.
Where is talk of the format split on the agenda at CRS? You would think it would be dominating the proceedings. I mean, we’re talking about what would be the largest overhaul of country radio in its existence. But is it even being discussed, or are people more focused on the big Garth Brooks party as he tries to retool after his retirement and make up for now two failed radio singles.
While nobody was paying attention, the Dickey Brothers of Cumulus Media added yet another tentacle to their increasingly tentacle-rich country music venture known as NASH. NASH TV boasts videos and programs from some of NASH radio’s biggest shows. Then you can get extremely niche-like with shows such as “Picks From The Sticks” and “HickXtreme.” Cue the incidental comedy.
NASH Icon is ramping up for a big 2015, making some significant moves on Monday (1-12) to start the year where 2014 ended: stirring conversation about where country music is headed and potentially stimulating a format split that would see more older country music return to the airwaves en masse. The long rumored signing of Ronnie Dunn to the label has been officially announced.
It looks like Hank Williams Jr. might be the next signee to the Cumulus Media / Big Machine Label Group joint venture known as NASH Icon meant to give new life to aging artists who’ve been passed over by mainstream country radio. In the midst of Hank’s ACCA performance, he switched over from a cowboy hat to a black hat with gold lettering that simply read “ICON” across the front.
Monday night (12-15) was the inaugural airing of what is attempting to be country music’s 4th awards show called the American Country Countdown Awards, or ACCA’s, and the ratings couldn’t have been worse. A big media push prior to the awards couldn’t account for an overcrowded awards show space and a lackluster presentation, and the overnight ratings for the show were abysmal.
NASH Icon once again is #1 in Nashville. But how is NASH Icon faring outside of Nashville? Sure, Music City is an important battleground as the ‘Home of Country Music’ and the home market for iHeartMedia’s rival flagship country station. But for the country format to formally split, it’s going to take much more action across the country in major markets.
Cumulus Media’s NASH Icon radio concept mixing older country music in with more contemporary songs continues to gain steam, while yet another radio format called NASH Classics is on its way, and some big signings to the label side of NASH Icon appear to be imminent. John Dickey gave the first indication that the media giant could be giving classic country music a bigger home on the radio.
The signs continue to point towards the country music radio format officially splitting in two, with Top 40 country, and “Icon” country covering music from as far back as the 80’s vying for equal share of the country music listenership. Now another local radio station has switched to the new country format, and the verbiage accompanying the format change shows just how much sway NASH Icon is having.
Tuesday morning, Reba McEntire appeared on Cumulus Media’s NASH-branded country music flagship broadcast America’s Morning Show to make a big announcement, and as speculated upon in the days before, Reba told the world she was the inaugural signee with Scott Borchetta’s and Cumulus Media’s joint record label NASH Icon.
Hold the presses. This whole Nash Icon / country music format split business just got a hell of a lot more serious and interesting. On Monday (10-6), the ratings for radio stations were released for Nashville and other locations, and within those numbers was a bombshell for the country music radio world. In Nashville, the NASH Icon affiliate beat the biggest pop country station.
“What will NASH Icon be, and will it make a significant improvement to country radio?” This has been the question on the mind of many country music fans ever since NASH Icon was announced. Now that there are actually radio stations broadcasting the new NASH Icon format, we can listen in and hear just exactly what NASH Icon is.
Ever since the partnership between radio owner Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group called NASH Icon was proposed, the big question has been if it will it result in the country music radio format splitting in two. It is time for country to fragment,” John Dickey said plainly on the conference call, while offering more detailed insight than ever into exactly what NASH Icon will look like.
Cumulus Media officially launched their “NASH Icon” brand to radio on Friday (8-15), changing two Georgia radio stations over to the new format that favors country music released from a 25-year “classic” period. Atlanta’s Oldies 98.9 W255CJ has changed over to NASH Icon 98.9, and Sports Radio 102.1 in Savannah will now be known as NASH Icon 102.1.
So we now know who the big winner was for the Garth sweepstakes. But who was the biggest loser? That is certainly what you could call Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records in the situation. Why? Because they had the biggest stake in the Garth sweepstakes, because of Big Machine’s joint venture with the radio world’s Cumulus Media called NASH Icons.