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Top 40 for white people? What Country radio could learn from indigenous broadcasters

Music lovers everywhere will want to see The Sapphires, a wonderful film about four Australian aboriginal girls who start as a Country music group, transition to Soul, and find fame and fortune entertaining US troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s. Great singing,  charming performances, and based on a true story.

The Sapphires

The Sapphires in their Country music phase. [hopscotchfilms.com.au]

Which brings me to an interesting discussion happening over at Edison Research about the future of country music radio in the United States. Edison warns that at one point Country  “had a personal relationship — a friendship — with its listeners.” But not so much now:   “Country radio continues to talk to them in the same marketing slogans of two decades ago. And now those are augmented by social media messages that are always selling something — not very friendly.”

Bottom line: “Country radio, despite its special purchase on listeners’ affections, is in danger of becoming a primarily in-car experience like radio listening overall. Country is not immune to radio’s diminishing place on the night table, or in the house altogether.”

As usual, a reader comment on the Edison post puts the dilemma in plainer and more candid terms:

“Seems those who came to Country from shows like American Idol are now outnumbering those who inherited the format or ‘Gone Country’ in the ’90′s. To that end, the Top 40 for White People format seems to be where things are trending and treating it as such is an important part of the equation. I’ve been seeing heritage Country stations becoming more and more vulnerable as they rest on their laurels. Today’s music makes its own emotional connection and I don’t think playing songs that have only special meaning to a shrinking percentage of your audience does justice to the songs that can impact all of your audience. Time marches on and so should we.”

It’s not like Country Music radio has disappeared from the dial. The latest Arbitron listener report (2012) says it commands a 14.1 percent share of all listeners 12 years of age and older. Speaking personally, I like Country Music, but I don’t enjoy listening to it on Country radio stations in the USA, precisely because it is so honed to a white, socially conservative demographic. The streams with country music that I love the most are run by the original country people—indigenous broadcasters, both here in the USA and in Australia.

I particularly recommend Brisbane’s 98.8 FM (“for the best country”), which is part of the National Indigenous Radio Service of Australia. There you can hear Doc Walker and Trisha Yearwood alongside indigenous singers like Andy Alberts and Bobby McLeod. Here in the States we have Greg McVicar’s excellent UnderCurrents music service, distributed by Native Voices One.

I doubt that I am unique in wanting to hear the concept of “country” music more broadly defined and broadly programmed. There is at least one commercial station in the USA that does that—KPIG near Santa Cruz, California. Any others I should know about?



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4 Responses to Top 40 for white people? What Country radio could learn from indigenous broadcasters

  1. Mark T March 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    Check out Austin’s KOKE-FM at kokefm.com Legendary call letters recently revived. The original KOKE-FM from the 70s was the first “progressive country” station back when Waylon and Willie were first shaking up Nashville. They were the inspiration for KFAT, ancestor of today’s KPIG.

  2. John Jackson March 31, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    KNBA 90.3 FM in Anchorage, Alaska. A Native owned public radio station that serves up a diverse smorgasbord of music. ‘The truck Stop’ airs between noon and three PM on Sunday, featuring vintage and contemporary cuts. ‘The Arctic Cactus Hour’ airs between six and eight PM on Saturday evening, with a teaser show thursday between 12 and 12:30 PM.
    Thanks for the article!
    John Jackson
    Anchorage, Alaska

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top 40 for white people? What Country radio could learn from indigenous … – Radio Survivor | Country Music Friends - March 31, 2013

    […] Top 40 for white people? What Country radio could learn from indigenous …Radio SurvivorMusic lovers everywhere will want to see The Sapphires, a wonderful film about four Australian aboriginal girls who start as a Country music group, transition to Soul, and find fame and fortune entertaining US troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s. Great … […]

  2. Top 40 for white people? What Country radio could learn from indigenous … – Radio Survivor | Todays Country Music - March 31, 2013

    […] Top 40 for white people? What Country radio could learn from indigenous …Radio SurvivorMusic lovers everywhere will want to see The Sapphires, a wonderful film about four Australian aboriginal girls who start as a Country music group, transition to Soul, and find fame and fortune entertaining US troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s. Great … […]

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