“The Big 615” of Garth Brooks Vs. the “Y’all 106.7” of Randy Travis

A couple of really important moves have been made recently in the country radio space that could have implications on the format moving forward. But the two moves spearheaded by big country legends from the 90s take two decidedly different directions.

For years there has been an obvious hole in the radio market where fans of more classic country have been dramatically underserved. Though there are some traditional country radio stations out there, they’re often in rural areas, independently owned, and commonly with weaker signals compared to competitors.

On Thursday, June 8th, a new radio station was launched in Nashville. After spending two hours playing the 2 Unlimited hype song “Get Ready For This,” 106.7 FM played “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis, with Randy himself behind the board to help christen the moment. It was the launch of Y’all 106.7, replacing Hot 106.7, officially changing a pop station to a classic country one.

Y’all 106.7 focuses on hits from the 80s and 90s that are both summarily ignored on today’s country radio, as well as wildly popular as country fans young and old continue to hearken back to the era as superior to the present day. The launching of Y’all 106.7 in Nashville could portend important things for the format moving forward.

We already know that catalog music is commonly more popular than the “popular” music of today. We’ve we’ve also seen festivals like Key Western Fest and the Two Step Inn feature more 80s and 90s performers. If more stations like Y’all 106.7 continue to pop up, it could spark a trend, and perhaps seed a popular classic country format similar to the classic rock radio format that was especially dominant for some 30 years.

Let’s not forget though, this has been tried before with Cumulus and their “NASH Icon” format in 2014. They even partnered with Big Machine Records to launch the NASH Icon record label, signing 80s and 90s artists like Hank Williams Jr., Martina McBride, Ronnie Dunn, and Reba McEntire. But by 2015, the mastermind of the whole NASH brand, Lew Dickey, was out. Big Machine later shuttered their NASH Icon record label, and Cumulus mostly moved on from the idea.

One of the problems with NASH Icon was they continued to play current country hits beside the more classic country ones, misunderstanding the listening habits of classic country fans. Most fans of classic country would rather hear hip-hop before they would many of today’s country stars. A format that includes today’s country along with some of today’s independent artists such as Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, and Sierra Ferrell might work (and does in the few markets where it’s been tried). But mixing classic country with today’s country can be like oil and water if not done right.

This is the issue with the new Garth Brooks radio format called The Big 615 launched last week exclusively on the digital streaming platform TuneIn. Brooks lured DJ Storme Warren away from SiriusXM to help launch the station, and promises that it will play more classic country songs, which listening in and looking at the the “recently played” menu of the station, it does.

“Terrestrial radio is an agenda to the labels. Works great. Worked great for me, right?” Brooks said in a press conference about the station. “But what happens on terrestrial radio is as long as the labels have you, then you’re on the radio. The second something happens and you’re not with that label, the career goes into some other stage. Our thing is, I think there are some artists that outlive their label. One of them for me is George Strait. I want to hear the new stuff from George Strait. I want to hear [it] right next to Luke Combs. I want to hear the new stuff from The Chicks…”

Firstly, George Strait has not been dropped from his label MCA Nashville. They’ve just ceased to promote his singles to radio in any significant manner. But the issue with The Big 615 is that even though the format might focus on more classic country artists such as George Strait, it still also focuses mostly on the new singles for these artists as opposed to their back catalog material.

The biggest problem is The Big 615 is also playing the current singles from artists such as Maren Morris, Luke Bryan, Kelsea Ballerini, Morgan Wallen, and Cole Swindell. This is a deal killer for many classic country fans. And even though Garth Brooks says he doesn’t want artists to stop being played even when they are let loose from major labels, the nucleus of The Big 615 is still artists that were once on the mainstream country radio format in the first place.

You may hear Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” on The Big 615. But you’re never going to hear “Feathered Indians” from Tyler Childers, or “Loud and Heavy” by Cody Jinks, even though both of these songs have now gone Double Platinum according to the RIAA, and without significant help from radio. The BIG 615 is still very much an animal of the mainstream.

If you listen into The Big 615, you also might hear a new single from Garth Brooks called “Only Country Music” that is pretty good. But it really helps underscore how self-serving this new radio format is to Garth specifically. Since Garth is not on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, or any other streaming format except for Amazon, he still needs radio, unlike Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks. It’s clear over the last few years that Garth has been frustrated how his singles have been performing, similar to the singles of artists like George Strait and Alan Jackson.

It’s not that there isn’t an appetite to hear the new singles from country legends that the mainstream country format has put out to pasture. But if you play them right beside the singles from Walker Hays and Sam Hunt, it will be a deal killer for those classic country fan bases. They’d rather hear just about anything else.

We’ll have to see how both Y’all 106.7 and The Big 615 do over time. But the biggest hole in the radio market still seems to be a station willing to play more classic country songs, current country songs from classic country-inspired artists, and perhaps even some of the more mainstream stuff of substance from artists like Jon Pardi, Lainey Wilson, and Ashley McBryde. This is where there is a cohesiveness in appeal that radio continues to miss, and one many festivals are starting to pick up on with big success.

Editor’s note: The Randy Travis camp wants to clarify that he only helped launch Y’all 106.7 and is otherwise not affiliated with the station, and that he has no issue with the new Garth Brooks radio station on TuneIn.

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