Monthly Archives: May 2019

Kudos to R.J. Curtis – But is it the right Question????

Kudos to R.J. Curtis

Yesterday the CRS held a webinar called “A Discussion Of Gender Balance At Country Radio: Part One”

I had thought that R.J. Curtis would stay away from this topic.  Curtis kicked off the webinar by correctly sighting the motto, “Growth Through Sharing.”  The founding members of CRS believed that the country format could be stronger than Pop, Rock, and Adult Contemporary formats by sharing research, ideas, promotions and concepts within the format itself.  They also believed that when radio and records embraced each other that those synergies would make country stronger.

There was one mention of Dr. Jada Watson.  She did not do any research. All she did was compile Mediabase reports.  Jeff Green did more than Watson!

What did we learn yesterday?

Jeff Green did an excellent job of showing us the percentage of singles released to radio by females.  There were also excellent graphs showing the percentages of singles by females that got airplay of certain levels.  Jeff’s biggest reveal was that when the measurement of country radios largest markets by PPM technology there were changes. Country radio played singles longer than before.  That meant shorter playlists and fewer adds.

Jeff also pointed out that County is a top-performing format.  He also pointed out that the cumes of country radio break in favor of women listeners.  I wish he had talked about the real currency we worry about.  That is average quarter hours.  While the cumes of country are 55% female there and even more important metric.  Nielsen boils radio listening down to a uniform currency called average quarter hours.  One person listens for one hour that is four-quarter hours.  Four people listen 15 minutes each that also is four-quarter hours. Females deliver 68% of the average quarter hours to radio!  Women listen longer than men (in the aggregate) to country radio.  The point is that country radio programmers research and caters to female listeners.

We all know country radio ultimately will tune their metrics to optimize cumes and time spent listening and time spent exposed.

Hey, Jeff, the entry of Soundscan changed things too!

Technology has allowed us to get a clearer picture with more accuracy.  Larger samples with precise attribution mean more accuracy and a much higher level of confidence.

There was no mention of MScore.  That’s okay.  John Shomby covered the basics of radio programming and ratings very efficiently.  MScore is a product that takes the Nielsen meter holders and shows the tune in and tune out on each individual song.  Programmers use it to increase the rotation and plays on songs that perform well and inversely reduce the rotation and plays on songs that perform at a lesser level.

My claim is that our programmers don’t care about gender when we increase or decrease the spins on a song.  We care about the relative strengths of the songs based upon the response of the listeners.  This is truly the free market at work.

The discussion of “GUT” cited as a top reason to add records is interesting.  John Shomby explained that a programmer knows his or her station and audience.  Then they make adds based upon a fit into that station’s sound.  He referred to it as a strategy.  In our research, we find that our listeners think the ideal station has more tempo that our station has now.  So we then have a bias against ballads. We tune the programming to drive the tempo more.  That way we are a better product matching the ideal the listeners want. The same might go for other music metrics like a desire for more gold, more twang, etc.  We call these “music lanes.”  Calling it “GUT” really besmirches what it actually is.

Think of it this way.  Captain Sully Sullenberger “used his gut” to land a plane on Hudson after his plane lost both engines.  Well yes and no.  Yes, if you consider “GUT” his years and years of experience and training.  No, if you call it thousands of hours of flying planes, classes in Flight School and reading reports of NTSB Crashes from the past.

Rachel Skaggs presented data on the number of female artists who have won Grammy’s.  Also, industry polls on “I wish I had written that song” and songs on country radio counted in Billboard.

I thought John Shomby helped bring clarity to the Grammy issue.  Grammy’s are very disconnected from Country Radio.  Over the years we have had many artists get Grammy’s that we did not play much on Country Radio.  The list is long.  Glen Campbell from 2015,  Asleep At The Wheel, Alison Krauss, Sturgill Simpson, and R.J. made mention of that 2004 compilation “Songs of the Louvin Brothers.”  So when I hear, “but it won a Grammy!”  I say do the listeners care?

Music Critics were mentioned.  I’ve told many record promoters over the years, “if Robert K. Oermann likes a record I’ll stay away from it.  However, if he doesn’t like it I’ll give it a try.”  These are the opinions of a class of “journalist elites” who have never programmed a radio station where they were pressured to drive ratings in the real world.

I’m not sure R.J. is willing to bring up in Part 2 of this discussion, “are we asking the right question?”

The description of the webinar starts  “There has been plenty of debate recently challenging Country music to find a better male-female balance when it comes to radio airplay.”

What is “Better Balance?”

Isn’t that like  “Trucks are outselling sedans!  Join our discussion to get a better balance of sedans to trucks in America” ????

I understand the optics of the percentages of females at country radio.  The current metrics are not the result of misogyny or sexism.  They are the result of the free market.

I have long challenged someone in Country radio to program a rated station in a PPM market to play 40% to 50% females. (I strongly believe the rating result would prove that the way radio is operating today results in the highest possible time spent exposed.)

We want a “better balance” because we don’t want sexism.  We want a “better balance” because we want fairness.

Welcome to America and a Free Market.

We do have equal opportunity. The doors of every record label are OPEN for business.  Female acts can send demos and make their pitch for record contracts.  The woman of Nashville can start an all-female label if they like.  All female owned, all female executives and an all-female roster. Why that might even drive the one metric mention by Jeff Green that seems to be meaningful, the number of singles released by females. (30%)

As to the number of spins on country radio, those 30 percent of releases get reduced in airplay and spins.

So we have equality of opportunities but NOT EQUALITY OF OUTCOMES!

The spins on country radio are up to the response of the listeners.  Jeff Green did not drill down to see that during the late 90s (95/96/97/98) when we were playing our highest percentage of females what happened to time spent listening.  I’ll tell you it went down considerably.   That is when I studied this issue AND tested it.  I programmed stations with lower percentages of females and defied that national averages on time spent listening.

My question to the CRB… is a “better balance” an artificially inflated number of females?  Or is it the desire for the numbers to be different than what our actual listeners want as the result of listening to our Country radio product and brands across America?

Keith Hill – I believe in Growth Through Sharing!


Maybe someone from iHeart will email me.. is Tenille Townes – Somebody’s Daughter not “One The Verge” Anymore?????


Marissa Moss are you paying attention?  Dr. Watson?


Keith Hill    252-453-8888

Uh Oh, Say It Ain’t So Tenille!

The iHeart Country Music Festival is over.  I’m not sure when the “on the verge” for Tenille Townes is over.

Looks like it might be sunsetting.

You mean those plays weren’t organic?

Keith Hill


Let the Free Market Work for All of Us!

Charts Can Be Deceiving!

Charts Can Be Deceiving

Welcome back to class folks.  This is the place for FREE WORLDWIDE CLASSES in Understanding Country Music Radio, Charts , and The Play of Females on Country Radio.

So far I have maintained that country radio plays songs more when they test well and less or not at all when they test poorly. For the most part that is true. However, there are times radio stations play songs that they are told to play!


Let me explain.  Everyone knows what payola is.  First, it’s illegal for a radio programmer to take something of value in exchange for airplay.  So to be clear, what I am going to write about is not payola.  Plus, ever since Elliott Spitzer caught some programmers about to get big screen televisions for playing records, that practice has stopped.  In fact, the record labels have lawyers who make sure the labels activities are in compliance.  Every email you ever get from a record label will have that “legal-eze” below the person’s email signature.  Something like, “Note: Nothing of value was given or will be given to a radio station or radio station employee in exchange for airplay.”

I happened to agree with Scott Borchetta, “Music Has Value.” There are good and honest hard working folks who promote music to radio.  Promoting music to radio is a legitimate enterprise.

Welcome to 2019.  There are some new things at work. 

I’m going to assume that all of you have completed, “Music On Radio 101, 201, 301” because foundationally, a lot of this grows out of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  That’s a law that essentially addressed the telephone industry.  However, it did have a line or two about ownership of radio stations that changed the radio industry a bunch.

Fast forward to today.  The Mediabase charts that Dr. Jada Watson and all of us look at have some important metrics that you need to know.  The Country Mediabase panel is comprised of 156 radio stations. 52 of them are owned by iHeartMedia Inc.  That’s about one third of that panel.  So if those iHeart programmers all like a record, it can do pretty well.

Sometimes these PD/MD/Brand Managers play songs they don’t want to.


Well they do want to play them because they want to keep their jobs.  So, truthfully your honor, they did want to play them.

It’s easy to appreciate that iHeartMedia corporate does things that are helpful to the individual stations.  Certainly, a big festival in Austin on May 4thwould be a great event to have to promote, broadcast from, and send listeners to.  Plus it’s in the very middle of the Nielsen rating period.  So, if you’re the brand manager of an iHeartMedia station, you love this kind of corporate support.

Those programmers certainly have no problem playing Tim McGraw, Florida-Georgia Line, Dan + Shay, and Luke Combs records to support the show.  In fact, playing more of those artists will help you in the ratings for sure!

Someone at iHeartMedia corporate had to work with the labels to get all of this done.  It’s not hard to believe that a label or two would say… ,“we will give you a new act of ours for your show.”  The label knows in turn they will get plays of this new artist as part of the promotion on iHeartmedia stations.  Imagine for a moment Columbia Records saying to iHeart, “we have a terrific new female from Canada who is huge up there already and we want to break her in the states.  We will send her to play your festival in Austin at no cost to iHeart, and in turn we hope that you will support her with on-air plays and mentions.” 

The iHeart executive says, “great.”  “Yes, I can’t make any measurable or specific promises, but we like to use our brands (stations) to promote our festival.  So, we will encourage our stations to play her record.  In fact, we have an internal term for that.  We call those acts “on the verge.”  So, you can be confident of our selfish efforts to promote the festival.

The deal is done.  The record label offers the act without the specific promise of anything in return.  They just want the exposure of the act.  They also hope and believe that stations will play the new act’s record to promote the festival.

iHeart gets a terrific new female to add to the festival.  That’s the definition of a WIN-WIN!

Now imagine you’re programming a meaningful iHeart station that carries some pretty good weight on the Mediabase panel.  You get a friendly email from iHeart corporate programming that states you need to play Tenille Townes – Somebody’s Daughter 40 spins every week for the next couple of weeks.  The email says, “it’s our On The Verge act and Tenille will be at the Festival May 4th! Thanks in advance for all your hard work in building equity into this very important iHeart Country Music Festival. See You There!”

If you check records in Mediabase, those 52 iHeart stations comprise about 20% to 30% of the plays and audience impressions on most songs (songs by Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood etc.).

Because of their benevolence, Columbia Records in turn gets a nice reward.

Those 52 iHeartmedia stations all play Tenille Townes. And not just play the song, but spin it at levels similar to those of power testing top 10 charting songs.

 The result is that those 52 iHeart stations today comprise 74% of the spins and 80% of the audience reach and impressions for Somebody’s Daughter by Tenille Townes. 

 (That means the other 104 stations are contributing 20%-25% of the plays on the Townes record.  They don’t have a festival to promote!  However iHeartmedia does!)

So, when regular folks look at the charts and see Tenille Townes at 30, they think, “wow this must be a good record with that station count.”  A cursory look at a few stations (WNOE, WYNK, KSD, WQIK, WDXB, WBUL, WDRM, WSSL, WCOS, KTEX, KXKT, WBBS, WBCT), and they are giving the song an eye popping 25 to 40 spins a week!

The truth is there is tremendous bias to play Tenille Townes. 

I wonder if more than 10% of those iHeart stations would play it were it not for the “on the verge” email from corporate?  I suspect that without the “on the verge” initiative, the spin counts would not be that robust.

Hey, let’s check that record after the Festival is over. They might continue to play it in support of an “after-glow” and “celebrate the Festival after the promotion.”  The real test will be what happens two, three and four weeks from now.  If the Townes record continues to climb, then Columbia will have done a righteous job.  They will have primed the pump of success.  After that initial advantage of exposure, the song might organically take off.   IF that happens, we will have a new face with more equity.  Check back in upcoming weeks, because I will check for you!

Because Dr. Jada Watson based a big “study” on Mediabase charts, she needs to understand that some of those chart positions are less than organic and natural.

Written by Adjunct Professor Keith Hill with a BA in real world experience. (Beware of folks with a Doctorate in Musicology who have never worked in radio and never added even one record!)

iHeartmedia is the parent of iHeartradio, and went through Bankruptcy Protection.

Class is in Session – Lesson “Carrie Underwood”

Class is in session! You do a job long enough you learn a few things. So we know 2, 6 and 11 are bad numbers for record promoters.

When country radio today gets a new record from Carrie Underwood we are BIASED in favor of playing it. WHY? Because she is a superstar with equity. Her face is on the Mt. Rushmore of Country Music Stars.

Cry Pretty never tested very well. Capitol fought that one hard. It was the title cut from the new album. They channeled their best Monte Hall and got that song to #9. It was a heavy lift. Then came Love Wins. It also tested uh… less than Capitol would have liked. But we played the song because it was Carrie. Their job as record promoters is to “promote” and they did but fell short and the song will forever be a #11.

I’m sure we all have great faith in Southbound. To me it is sonically better. Even the very biggest female in the format get bias in her favor but the songs didn’t test well enough to get the songs to above 11 and 10 respectively.

Next class will be about newcomer Tenille Townes.

This is me way back in Seaford, Delaware when 1280 WSUX (that’s right WSUX-AM) was country. It was a day time only station and in the summer was on the air till 8:45pm. That gave me an after school summer job. They made me music director. This was 1976. Red Sovine -Teddy Bear which I added was on the air. I knelt down because I wanted it to capture the studio equipment in the picture. Adjunct Professor Keith Hill with a BA in real world experience. (Beware of folks with a Doctorate in Musicology who have never worked in radio and never added even one record!)

Dan + Shay “Speechless”

Just so you know.  I will remove the tape and keep talking!!!!!!

Coming soon more lessons about Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Tenille Townes records.  I did not say “payola” .. I whispered  “new payola.”

Keith Hill