Look, is it possible for us to make too much of this situation over country music artist Lindsey Ell having a radio appearance last Friday canceled on a CBS-owned radio station because she’s in a relationship with rival iHeartMedia on-air personality Bobby Bones? Yes, it is. But I’m not sure we’re there yet. And one of the reasons we’re not there yet is because of the “hush hush” nature with which the radio industry wants to deal with it. Whether in optics or substance, the industry telling Lindsey Ell and members of the media “chill out, we got this” is just the kind of brushing problems under the rug that resulted in the Lindsey Ell incident occurring in the first place, and is the last thing the media should be doing.
As Saving Country Music said in a previous article on the matter, it wasn’t just the Lindsey Ell incident itself, but how it was symptomatic of a much bigger problem with country radio—specifically the cozy relationships and back room deals that govern that media space, the unchecked rivalries and unspoken rules artists are supposed to adhere to, and result in the the best interests of the public and many artists regularly going underserved.
According to Bobby Bones, who addressed the situation on his radio show Monday (6-19), he has a list of 13 country radio program directors that he says he can prove are purposely not support Lindsey Ell because of his personal relationship with her. Whether it’s true or not, it’s certainly not hard to believe, or to believe the scores of people within the industry who used the incident to say similar such scenarios involving artists and rival companies treating artists unfairly happens all the time.
But Country Aircheck, which is one of the periodicals that regularly covers country radio matters and publishes weekly radio charts for MediaBase, says Lindsey Ell and the rest of the media need to move on already, and are seeking opportunity through the incident as opposed to just resolution.
“[It] has become a tale of two stories,” says Chuck Aly, writing for Country Aircheck. “One story is consumer-facing, with lots of chatter, moral outrage and social media buzz. The other is industry-facing and sounds largely like crickets.”
Basically what Country Aircheck is saying here is that since nobody in the industry cares, it shouldn’t be a big story. The media and the public outrage? Well, they’re just neophytes when it comes to these matters, and opportunists.
“There may be a connection between [Bobby] Bones and the [Washington] Post’s [Emily] Yahr, who has written a number of stories about the radio personality over the years. She has also been drawn to controversy…” Country Aircheck‘s Chuck Aly asserts.
Emily Yahr and the Washington Post initially reported how KNCI 105.1 FM in Sacramento admitted to excluding Lindsey Ell from the appearance due to her Bobby Bones relationship. Emily Yahr later followed up with Lindsey Ell in an article posted Monday in the Washington Post. However, no periodical has been as critical of Bobby Bones over the last few years as Saving Country Music, and SCM came to the defense of Bones and Ell over the matter as well, despite concerns if the relationship itself is a conflict of interest. But to accused Emily Yahr of having a bias “connection” with Bobby Bones is a pretty low blow.
Country Aircheck continues, “If the aim is telling stories, generating controversy and seeking ratings and readers, that Ell is being held back because she’s a woman with a visible personal life is certainly the way to go. If the aim is to advance Ell’s career, the story is quietly patching things up and moving on.”
But the problem with these issues plaguing country radio is they’ve been addressed too “quietly” for years now, and any grievances have been met with “crickets” for too long. Are Lindsey Ell and Bobby Bones being opportunist here by making a big deal of this incident? They probably are. But can you blame Lindsey Ell for taking virtually the only opportunity she’s been bestowed to create attention for herself and her music in the greater media, while also championing the very real issues facing female artists right now, or a wacky morning zoo radio show host whose made an entire career out of stirring controversy to gain attention? As for the Washington Post covering the issue, it’s good that the greater media is finally beginning the dedicate ink to the inherent biases plaguing the country radio industry. Perhaps that will finally put enough heat on the industry to address these matters in a substantive manner.
Look, if there wasn’t such insurmountable statistical certitude of the long-standing systemic exclusion of women in the country music radio format stretching out now for many years, then maybe the media wouldn’t be making such a big deal about a canceled Lindsey Ell appearance in a mid-level media market. But when you look at the current radio charts and recognize that there are no women in the Top 20, and only three in the Top 40 (up from two last week), then you don’t need some anecdotal Lindsey Ell account to understand there is a serious problem behind-the-scenes in mainstream country music that must be addressed.
Over two years since TomatoGate, and radio consultant Keith Hill saying point blank, “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” and the situation and implicit bias against women has only become worse. You don’t want the Washington Post and others exploiting a small story at the expense of the good standing of the country radio industry? Then fix the underlying problem. Get your house in order. And don’t tell people that the same collusive system rigged between record labels and consumer radio will solve it themselves if everyone would just shut the hell up about it already.