The Controversy of Making Radio Sausage
I’m not a country radio expert. I do know radio and understand there is a science to programming music logs for appealing to core listeners and maximizing CUME, AQH and TSL. I get these things are researched and researched and researched. Radio music programming may actually answer the question every 10th grader asks, “When will I ever use Algebra in real life?”
However, I am also fascinated by the bluster this week over comments made to Country Aircheck Weekly by consultant Keith Hill.
This One’s Not For The Girls: Finally, Hill cautions against playing too many females. And playing them back to back, he says, is a no-no. “If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out,” he asserts. “The reason is mainstream Country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists. I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component. I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19%. Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” – (excerpted from the May 26, 2015 edition)
The backlash was swift.
“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,”- Keith Hill This is he biggest bunch of BULLSHIT I have ever heard.
— Miranda Lambert (@mirandalambert) May 28, 2015
After reading that Hill was getting mean tweets from outraged country star Miranda Lambert, death threats from fans and garnering negative headlines in USA Today, The New York Times and others, I saw another country artist, Martina McBride, talking about it on CBS This Morning.
My first instinct was, “Great. Here’s radio in the national spotlight again for all the wrong reasons.” I actually tweeted something like that at the time.
— Larry Gifford (@Giffordtweet) June 2, 2015
HIGHLIGHTS OF #SALADGATE DISCUSSION:
He’s been using the salad analogy, for various formats, for the better part of 25 years. His mentor used to use a soup analogy. “It doesn’t matter what the format is the first thing I tell them is to put in the salad bowl of the log: lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and peppers.”
He insists he’s not sexist or bias. ““Trust me, if playing 80% of females got me the highest ratings, I’d run over you in the hallway to put a female record on the air. I would walk over broken glass and chew razor blades to get to the studio to deliver what the audience will line up for.”
He wishes he would have considered his word choice more. “I wish I would have said make sure you don’t have too few females. Add until you get at least 15%.”
He believes the outrage focused on him is misplaced. “Their country radio that they were happy and satisfied with as a product was tuned to their taste by professionals like me to trick them and make them listen as long as possible. And then when somebody shows them our internal dashboard of metrics they go, ‘God! That’s bias.’”
Hill has also offered any Top 100 country radio station in the U.S. currently ranked #5 or better $5,000 to play 50% female artists for 6-months. He insists no station will take him up on his offer, because they know it will “tank.”
HOW MANY TOMATOES ARE ON THE SALAD?
I was curious. What is the percentage of males to females on country stations in the U.S.? I googled a handful of stations that share playlists of the last 50 songs on air (about 2 ½ hours of music) and did some quick math.
NASH FM 94.7 in New York City played 15% female solo artists including Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Reba McIntyre, and Miranda Lambert
KNUE in Tyler Texas played 10% female solo artists including Miranda, Carrie, Kelsea Ballerini, and Jana Kramer.
KFROG in San Bernardino, California played 18% female solo artists including Miranda, Carrie, Kelsea, and Gretchen Wilson.
KISS Country in Shreveport, Louisiana played 6% female solo artists limited only to Miranda, Carrie and Kelsea.
WYRK in Buffalo, New York was at 16% female solo artists including Carrie, Miranda, Kelsea, Taylor, and Maggie Rose.
Three of these stations are operated by Townsquare Media, one Cumulus, and one CBS. iHeart stations only show the last 12 songs played but were right around 16% female solo artists. No station played solo female artists back-to-back.
The TopHitUSA.com “Country Radio Airplay Charts” only features 12% solo female country artists.
It turns out, like every radio format in the country – even spoken word – “country radio” is playing the hits. Finding out what listeners want and feeding it to them consistently is how radio stations generate ratings. Yes, there is a bias to it. We’re only going to feature artists, songs, stories, or sports that appeal to the most people in the listening demographic. Next year that 15% could be 45% if the listeners tastes evolve and change or if radio goes back to the old days when DJs were hit makers and aided listeners in music discovery. Neither is likely to happen anytime soon.
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