My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Getting around the mainstream radio problem

op_attractopry01_lg2A topic I posted to The 9513 forum a few months ago, was recently resurrected. It was about the imminent (according to some) death of terrestrial radio, and how music could be marketed to the public without it. I’ve never been convinced that terrestrial radio is on its last legs. There is increased competition from satellite radio, the internet and MP3 players to be sure, but I think it will always have its place, much like broadcast television is still in existence despite a proliferation of other choices.

This opinion was reinforced by the recent media stories that Sirius XM may file for bankruptcy soon. If that happens, it will be a long time before satellite radio becomes the norm.

Still, the state of corporate mainstream radio remains a huge problem for country fans and artists that want real country music, complete with fiddles, steel guitars, and lyrics that have something to say and aren’t afraid to make you feel sad. Mainstream radio has made it loud and clear that it isn’t interested in that particular brand of country anymore, and the consolidation of radio stations in the hands of a few large conglomerates makes this a difficult obstacle to overcome.

So what are the alternatives for making real country music accessible to the general public again? The internet is a valuable tool, to be sure, but it takes a dedicated music lover to actively go out on the web and seek out the kind of music he or she can’t find elsewhere. Such people are always going to be a minority.

A few nights ago, while doing some research for a future blog entry, a solution occurred to me; one that almost seems so obvious — almost too obvious — that I wonder why I never thought of it before. What resource does country music possess — what resource has it always possessed — that no other genre has? What resource was used to create stars back before the internet, television, and huge corporate record label marketing budgets? The answer is simple — the Grand Ole Opry.

In the early days, the Opry had the power to make or break careers. Its influence has waned over the years, and many have gone on to become stars without it. It is regarded by some as a quaint relic, a nostalgic reminder of the genre’s past, but it has always been much more than that. It has remained relevant, and in the future, it could be as important to a struggling artist’s career as it was in days gone by.

In order for the Opry to become a truly dominant force in country music again, it will need to be made available to an even bigger audience than it currently reaches. That it can currently be heard on satellite radio and streamed on the internet is a very positive thing. And the fact that an hour-long portion is televised each Saturday night on Great American Country (GAC) is also a big help. If you’re only familiar with the televised version, stream it on WSM Online some time; you’ll be amazed at how much the television audience is missing. The logical next step is to get more of the Opry broadcast on television. I’ve always wished that GAC (and previously TNN and CMT) would devote its entire Saturday night line-up to the Opry, so TV viewers could see more of the veteran performers and still unknown newcomers in addition to the big-name guests. I’d also like to see some changes made to the membership requirements. I’ll grudgingly admit that the Opry sometimes needs to make compromises and induct some “big names” to bring in the crowds, as some of the more recent inductions reflect. But I’d also like to see membership offered to committed newcomers, who are knowledgeable about the music’s traditions and past, who might not have had a hit record, or even a record deal yet. Let us see and hear more of the artists, old and new, that conglomerated radio refuses to make available to us.

What are some other things the Opry can do to promote the artists and music that mainstream radio ignores?

16 responses to “Getting around the mainstream radio problem

  1. J.R. Journey March 3, 2009 at 12:00 am

    I think you’re on to something here. I’ve never streamed the show on WSM Online, but I think I will now. I watch the GAC version most of the time though – and I think they do a pretty good job of mixing the veteran artists with the contemporary on the televised portion.

    I would love to see the Opry as a star-making force again. I doubt it will ever happen on the scale you’re talking about, but it’s certainly a romantic thought, isn’t it?

    • Leeann Ward March 3, 2009 at 7:42 am

      After reading Behind the Opry Curtain, I long for the days when the Opry was a greater presence/influence in country music. I feel it’s still revered in a way, but not nearly in the way it once was. It certainly doesn’t help define a career anymore. People like Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney don’t have to show up or even acknowledge the Opry (though I know Chesney did perform there last summer with his band member that he produced) and they’re the biggest stars in the business. While I don’t necessarily anything should have the power, including the Opry, to make or break an artist, I do wish the Opry was more influential to careers than it seems to be at this point.

      • Leeann Ward March 3, 2009 at 7:43 am

        Oops, a couple of typos there…you can probably guess where they are…

        • Razor X March 3, 2009 at 9:29 am

          The Opry has a lot of resources at its disposal that it doesn’t seem to want to use for some reason. When Garth “retired” he told the Opry management that he’d appear there any time they wanted him to. As far as I know, they have yet to take him up on the offer. I think he’s made one appearance — when he inducted a new member (I forget who). Now of course,if really wanted to appear I’m sure he could make a phone call and be there anytime he wanted to. But if the Opry asked him to appear, say once every two or three months, and got some talented newcomers who are having trouble being heard at radio — say Ashton Shepherd — to appear on the televised portion of the show at the same time, I think that could go a long way towards establishing Ashton’s or (insert whatever ame you want) career.

  2. Razor X March 3, 2009 at 6:27 am

    GAC does do a good job with the limited amount of airtme they have. But the first time I streamed WSM and had the live GAC broadcast on at the same time, I was amazed to learn that they weren’t identical. There was a lot more included on the radio broadcast — even during that televised hour — than we got to see on the screen.

    The Opry may not ever again be the overriding factor in making new stars, but I think it’s being under-utilized and that it could play a bigger role if a few changes were made here and ther.

  3. Occasional Hope March 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Interesting thoughts. Who actually controls the Opry?

  4. highwayman3 March 3, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    I always wonder why many of the major stars ignore the opry. Kenny, Tim, Toby, they performed like once each in the past 10 or so years. It doesnt seem like its a big deal to them, (I recall Kenny wore like his gym clothes the last time, when he sang with Uncle Cracker a few years back, disrespectful) Reba’s a member and she hasnt performed since I cant even remember. I’m not sure why Lee Ann Womack doesnt sing often on it when she’s so traditional.
    It seems like its the same lineup week to week, The greats, Connie Smith, Jean Shepherd, Jimmy C. Newman and not alot of current star power. When was the last time GAC broadcasted a show? I dont think they did this year yet, I may be wrong. They only broadcast when they have a big name lineup.
    I think the artists themselves need to acknowledge it more and make a more effort to play it. A large portion live in Nashville, the opry’s on 3 nights a week, they require artists to sing at least 2 songs, they have their own band. So they just have to show up. It’s not asking alot to perform there.
    ps, it is nice to see Rascal Flatts in the upcoming lineup. Even though I dont like there music, it’s nice to see them supporting the Opry.

    • Razor X March 3, 2009 at 8:47 pm

      Actually, I don’t want to see acts like Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney performing at the Opry. I’d rather see people who we don’t get to see or here much from elsewhere perform there.

      I’ve often wondered why Lee Ann Womack and Sara Evans aren’t members. They seem like they’d be right at home there. I wonder if Sara’s messy and very public divorce has spoiled her chances of being invited to join.

      GAC broadcasts Opry Live every Saturday night.

      • highwayman3 March 3, 2009 at 9:17 pm

        I know GAC broadcasts Opry Live every Saturday, but I’m pretty sure alot of those are repeats. I know we get the same feed from GAC on CMT Canada. The last new episode was the Christmas one with Carrie and Martina way back in Dec. I checked the GAC website and it was all repeats for Feb, and into March, they are even airing a repeat on March 7th, which is the same night Josh Turner and Carrie are playing the Opry, a perfect star power combo for them to air a new broadcast. This is just the problem you were refering to, its hard for them to promote the artists when they only air new broadcasts every once in a while.

        • Razor X March 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm

          I usually just listen to WSM’s stream and don’t watch the telecast. I think this time of the year the Opry is broadcast from the Ryman. Does GAC only carry the program when it’s at the Grand Ole Opry House? I think they move the show back to the Opry house sometime this month.

  5. Chris March 3, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I guess there’s not much more to say, but I am shocked that Sara Evans and Lee Ann Womack aren’t members! Maybe the Opry should start there on inducting members that they’ve “missed” and then get them to perform more.

    • Razor X March 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm

      Chris, while artists have to be invited to join the Opry, they also has to let it be known that they’re interested in joining. One of the ways they do that is to try and book as many guest appearances as possible. This is why George Strait isn’t a member. He lives in Texas and would rather be at home when he’s off the road than in Nashville so he can play the Opry. And that’s more honorable than those who join and hardly ever show up afterwards.

      It’s possible that neither Evans nor Womack has let it be known that they want to become members, although they both seem to be the type of artists who would want to join.

  6. Paul W Dennis March 3, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Unfortunately both CMT and GAC have done a miserable job of broadcasting the Opry.

    Back when TNN gave us BACKSTAGE AT THE OPRY with Bill Anderson, and then 30 minutes of the Opry, at least we had logical programming. CMT’s Katie Cook and GAC’s Nan Kelley are both atrocious illiterates who clearly do not know the English language very well, considering how freely they throw around words like “amazing” and “awesome”

    It would be far better to simply televise an hour of the Opry each week and leave the mindless interviews to places like COUNTY WEEKLY , US and PEOPLE magazines.

    Maybe someday Opry management will get the courage to insist on proper television coverage and not just allowing GAC to allocate TV time for the current “flavor of the week” performer , while ignoring the artists who made the Opry

    • Razor X March 3, 2009 at 11:51 pm

      The thing that has annoyed me about all three of these networks is that they’ve limited the Opry to a 30 or 60 minute slot so they can get back to their regularly scheduled crap programming. Their Saturday night line-ups are rarely watchable, so why not just devote the entire evening to the Opry?

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