Monday, February 20, 2012


Every decade or so, as generations shift, new programmers come to country radio from contemporary formats.

That's how I got into country four decades ago, and I'd bet it's how you came to the format as well.

And, as usual, country has a way of growing on the newcomers, ingraining itself into their sensibilities just as they help to add contemporary flair, ideas, approaches and style to keep country growing with the young end of our target.

Recently I was surprised to hear one of the former-CHR programmers who is now doing country say that he now feels that the process of music decision-making is the "most political" of all radio formats.

If true, that's too bad, because until the early-1990's when the country boom took country music revenues to heights never seen previously and then after consolidation Jacor's Randy Michaels tried to work through Tri-State Promotions as they acquired more and more stations, opening the door for Jeff McCluskey, who in 1999 paid Cumulus a reported $1 million to influence the growing groups' music programmers, independent promotion in country music radio meant folks who only attempted to build relationships with music directors and sell music to them with creative ideas and seldom any financial incentives.

If things are more political now, I'd call Clear Channel's Doug Montgomery and Clay Hunnicutt the "Mitt Romney" of our business with their position of incumbency grown over the past two decades since those initiatives, which brought other aggressive promotional indies from contemporary and rock formats to country radio and Cumulus' Jan Jeffries and Mike McVay the Rick Santorum of the competition between radio's largest conglomerates as they strive to trim playlists, pay down debt and yet send a message to the music community that they remain open to doing business with them.

CBS' Jeff Garrison may be the Barack Obama of the threesome, working to grow artist relations for the company (which once owned 18 country stations in the top 20 markets and had higher cume for their country stations than anyone before they sold off a few of them several years ago, hoping the economy treats them better in '12 than it has in '10 and '11) has to be feeling the pressure of those other two breathing down his neck in the race for promotions ownership, as Nashville labels, managers, indies and publishers start to feel increasingly like influential think tanks, lobbysts and SuperPACs as they attempt to mold coalitions with everyone, trying to seem friendly with all, even as their revenues slide precipitously.

For them, the stakes are even higher than ever, since listener research continues to show, for example in A&O's 2012 Roadmap country perceptual study, despite attempts at new media marketing direct to music consumers, that terrestrial radio exposure remains the most effective mass sales driver of music sales.

Other group owners let alone stand-alone mom and pop stations in medium and small markets must feel a bit like Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, with their passionate and loyal fans, hoping that's enough to "win the popular vote" so even if they can't possibly "win in the Electoral College" due to the tools available to the big guys, they can at least get a piece of the pie during "a brokered convention" when - at the very least - a new album is released or a concert comes to town.

Call me naive, but in spite of all that level of perceived politics in our business today I, along with those small guys, hold onto the belief that a great song, a true artist, a pair of ears and a responsive audience who still responds to an undeniable hit can still make an unknown into a superstar starting at any radio station in any size market.

Hopefully, the music promotion community won't forget that, and will continue to support little guys too as we all work together to create excitement for country music.

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