LL: You have seen a lot of changes in radio over four decades.
JA: It’s a completely different business in every way.
LL: Country radio ain’t our grandparent’s format anymore?
JA: Country is a format where, every 7 or 8 years, there’s a new set of younger artists that come in. Randy Houser is the George Jones of today. There’s a lot of others as well, but the format doesn’t stay the same. Hank Thompson saw that more clearly than George Jones did. There are certainly a lot of artists that have a lot of sour grapes as (the format) moved away from them. George is certainly one of those who went through a tough time. In any pop music form, you have to be pretty adaptable, and be a pretty good marketer. You have to listen to where the audience is going and try to be where they are. Some artists will do that while others couldn’t care less where the audience is, “This is me. You can kiss my ass if you don’t like it.”
LL: Many people say that today’s country sounds like bad ‘70s pop.
JA: I think there’s truth in that. That’s Kenny Chesney’s music you just described. But, there’s more than that going on (in country). That is only part of the mix. It’s always been like that. You would have said the same thing about Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo” or Pat Boone (in the ‘50s). Country music has always been watered down chicken rock, to some degree, but that is only part of it. There was George Jones and Johnny Paycheck years ago, and that (traditional country style) still exists today with an artist like Jamie Johnson. (Country is) not just one thing. It’s a variety of sounds that is more inclusive than most people think it is.
There’s a mix of sounds in country today. Have you heard Jamie Johnson? Oh, my goodness. He and Montgomery Gentry are in the mix. At the same station, they will add Taylor Swift. So I think that there is always a balance. There’s that sort of rock sound that today’s boomers like from when they were kids—that’s part of a country mix—and, yet, the more acoustic, natural and authentic sound is also part of it as well.
LL: Will there ever be an oldies country format playing those ‘50s and ‘60s vintage country hits?
JA: No I don’t think so. I think it will always be a variety.
LL: The Classic Country format comes the closest to being an oldies’ format.
JA: Classic Country has always been there, and continues to be there. We have some Classic Country stations that are #1 or #2 in their markets. A new Classic Country station just signed on in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago. The definition of Classic Country has changed. Country Classic today starts at about 1993 where at one time it was the ‘50s and ‘60s.
I think what keeps country (radio) from fragmenting, is that the older folks who like country seem to like the new music too. They like the older music, but they don’t dislike the new music. That’s true today.