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Tuning in Americana, the format that’s “Contrary to Ordinary”

For a style of music that can trace it’s origins back to the mid 20th century, Americana as a radio format is still fairly young.  Although the loosely-defined genre that would become to be known as Americana had been on the radio for about 20 years prior, the first Americana radio airplay chart didn’t debut until January of 1995 in the now-defunct trade publication Gavin.  Today, full time stations positioning themselves as Americana occupy an extremely small amount of the radio spectrum; the Americana Music Association’s weekly radio chart, arguably the most comprehensive coverage of Americana music being played both terrestrially and over the Internet, identifies only 57 stations reporting playing this week’s number one Americana album (as of this writing: Robert Earl Keen’s Ready For Confetti).  In fact, a look at the stations reporting for that chart shows a good amount of college radio specialty shows or streaming-only Internet stations.

Many stations, both commercial and non-commercial, report playing tracks that would be considered Americana on their playlists, yet few embrace the format completely.  This week, for example, The Jayhawks’ latest album Mocking Bird Time is the 2nd most-played album at Americana stations.  But the new Jayhawks’ single, “She Walks In So Many Ways,” is only the 16th most-played song at Adult Alternative stations, the format that has the most amount of crossover onto Americana stations.  Understanding there are so few dedicated Americana stations on the radio today, and the fact that the majority of them are independently-owned and operated, I wanted to look at a few I’ve recently come in contact with:

KNBT (92.1) – New Braunfels, TX – It wasn’t word of mouth, but a roadside billboard on I-35, that first attracted me to this station, billing themselves as Contrary to Ordinary.  Although located about 30 miles outside of San Antonio, KNBT appears in the ratings for the San Antonio metro area with a respectable .3 12+ rating, and just under 40,000 listeners each week.  KNBT has officially been an Americana station since 1996 after making the shift from a mainstream country format.  Independently owned by New Braunfels Communications, the station was named Americana Station Of The Year in 2000 by Gavin and in 2001 by publication Album Network.  KNBT is staunchly Americana, and doesn’t stray much into other formats: in the times I’ve listened to the station over-the-air and online, I’ve recognized a only a handful of tracks without a title or artist identification.

KHYI (95.3) – Howe, TX – North of Dallas and south of Sherman is Howe, Texas the home of KHYI, The Range.  Because of their rural location, the station has had a tough time making it past the fringe of the Dallas/Fort Worth listening area.  The Range struggles to be heard south of Plano and therefore barely registers in the DFW ratings book, but I don’t see that as a negative for the station.  The Range has the unique ability to program with both a diverse and local approach; small-market stations usually have to grapple with falling heavier on one side or the other of that equation.  And unlike a lot of other Americana stations, The Range plays a good amount of classic country (Tom T. Hall, George Jones, Ray Price) creating a local Americana station with a bit of Nashville’s WSM-AM (650).

KPIG (107.5) – Freedom, CA – Although not an Americana station through and through (recently played tracks have included Steve Earle and Merle Haggard, as well as Talking Heads and The Rolling Stones), KPIG was founded out of the ashes of another eclectic station, KFAT, which signed off in 1982 and is traditionally known as the first radio outlet of Americana music.  Since 2001 KPIG, and its simulcast KPYG, have been owned by Mapleton Communications, which owns 40 other stations in California, Oregon and Washington.  To Mapleton’s credit, the freeform approach to programming embraced by KPIG since it’s inception continues today; the only downside, although perhaps a necessity in the world of eclectic broadcasting, is a subscriber-only paywall, charging users to stream the station commercial-free.  But clearly the station has found an engaged audience; besides it’s worldwide following online, It’s interesting to note that the station commands a 3.0 12+ rating in it’s hometown market of Monterey.

Also, NPR has archived audio of the 2011 American Music Association Awards, handed out on Thursday, October 13th at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.  The entire 2 and ½ hour presentation, including a tribute to the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, can be streamed here.

Obviously, the list of Americana stations above shouldn’t be considered complete.  Feel free to leave information on Americana stations or shows, along with your thoughts on what makes your suggestion unique, in the Comments below.


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2 Responses to Tuning in Americana, the format that’s “Contrary to Ordinary”

  1. Craig Havighurst October 26, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    Brendan. Thanks for noticing and spreading the word. We who work in the field have good reasons to believe Americana will be a major force on the charts and on TV over the next decade. it’s music that fits hard times, and folks are craving the authentic. I’ll share this where I can. Please follow @chavighurst and @MusicCityRoots for ongoing.

  2. KoHoSo October 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    My two favorite over-the-air Americana radio stations that also stream online are…

    WHAY – Whitley City, KY – http://www.hay98.com/

    …and…

    WDVX – Clinton, TN – http://www.wdvx.com/

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