My Kind of Country

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

Pandora’s box, country radio’s square

The Country Radio Broadcasters Association and the CMA recently commissioned a study, conducted by independent market research firm Coleman Insights, on the listening habits of country radio listeners, and their satisfaction with the medium. Presented at this year’s Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, the study polled 5,000 radio listeners and also asked the same questions of a group of industry insiders – only their questions were in the form ‘do your listeners think?’ instead of ‘do you think?’. The results mostly said that listenership is strong and steady, and that, for the most part, consumers are very satisfied with what they hear on the radio. The industry had a slightly dimmer viewpoint.

Key findings offered in the study say consumers are listening more to country radio than one year ago and it’s mostly because the music and/or their favorite station has gotten better since then. A strong 5-to-1 margin believe the music itself is better than it was a few years ago, and I’d have to concur with them. Interestingly, the industry personnel polled think their target audience has tuned out, and blame new media choices as the primary factor. The industry also has an equal-to view on the quality of music coming out of Music City, contrasting the five-fold majority from listeners. The people making the music think it’s “about the same”, while the consumers think it’s gotten better

Often thought to be backward and slower to pick up new technologies, country music audiences are shown to be joining the technological revolution at the same rate as the general population (those who aren’t country music listeners). Nearly half of the listeners say they have a smart phone, iPod, and use FaceBook, but perhaps most threatening to terrestrial radio is that one-third have used streaming internet radio like Pandora. A later paragraph suggests that AM/FM radio would seriously be hurt by the addition of services like Pandora in automobiles.

In this study, Pandora is perceived as FM radio’s biggest threat. Many kinds of new media and technology are mentioned, but none takes precedent like Pandora. Combating the rise of the streaming service, country radio programmers are urged to create online streaming services and/or apps that offer “customization, ease of use, and fewer commercials”.

Still, the ‘connection’ to country music, and the discovery of new music and artists, remains the driving force behind the bulk of country radio’s listeners, and that puts them on pretty solid ground with their current audience. I’ve traditionally relied on radio to discover new music myself, but in the past 2 years, I’ve found most of the new artists in my collection via reviews by writers I like, unanimous online praise, etc. So, I’ve found word-of-mouth (or screen) to be just as vital as radio to my recent discoveries. Because while I concur that country radio is better than it was 5 years ago, I’d still contest that it’s but a ghost of its 15-20 years-ago self.

What do you think of the study’s conclusions?  Do you think country radio has gotten better in the past few years? Are you listening more, or less? And what do you make of the industry’s pessimistic view of their medium?

11 responses to “Pandora’s box, country radio’s square

  1. Ben Foster March 16, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I think mainstream country music might be getting a little better, but only a little. I don’t quite profress the same level of optimism as those involved in the study. I think there was a slight improvement last year over 2009, but I think it will still be a long slow upward climb (which may or may not fully take place).

    I do still listen to country radio occasionally, but I find myself more often gravitiating toward my CDs and iPod. I also get a couple of AM stations that occasionally play some good old country, including WSM, which of course is the mother of all country stations. Sometimes I check to see if the FM stations are playing anything good, but I often do a lot of station-hopping whenever the cruddy songs start coming on.

  2. Joe March 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Though I still follow the charts week to week out of curiosity, I haven’t regularly listened to country radio in probably four years. I stopped listening mostly because I became disenchanted with the narrow play lists but also because I finally purchased an iPod. Even if the format returned to the 90’s standard of quality, I’m not sure I would revert back. It’s difficult for mainstream radio to compete with the freedom and variety afforded to listeners by these new mediums.

    With that being said, I certainly hope the state of country radio improves and finds ways to stay relevant. It obviously still plays an essential role in introducing new talent. I think it has improved in the last year or so, with the embracing of talent like Miranda Lambert and Sunny Sweeney.
    But if they want to compete, radio will have to stay innovative and more open to playing offbeat artists and classic material. But that’s likely wishful thinking in the age of corporate controlled radio.

  3. CountryMusicFan March 16, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I think as far as improvement, it comes out to be a wash. Radio is still focused on playing “pop country.” Now I love some of the newer artist such as Jason Aldean, but I can’t remember the last time I heard a song on the radio, in my area, from Jamey Johnson. It is all focused on getting the biggest audience they can at the moment. I think that is why we don’t hear as much “country” music now. They can get the pop audience to tune in for some of the newer artists. I think instead of playing a Taylor Swift or Rascal Flatts song 12 times a day, they could mix in some real country music. That’s why I listen to CDs more in my vehicle, and at home I never turn on the radio. I can discover great artist online, such as Brantley Gilbert, that I would never here played on radio.

  4. Jake March 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    I’m liking my radio stations more because they are playing more of the old stuff (anything from the 90s and back). I remember listening to the country radio stations in 2006/07 and they ONLY played the new stuff! New artists were getting overplayed and overexposed on radio which made me dislike many of them. Now alot of my local stations are playing a better variety of country songs so I don’t get sick of the old or new stuff.

  5. Leeann Ward March 16, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I don’t know if I feel the same as the study, but I agree with Ocasional Hope’s conclusion though.

  6. pwdennis March 16, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I listened to country radio steadily from 1964 until 2000 or thereabouts (except for 1969 & 1970 when my father was stationed in London. Since 2000 I ave listened to over-the-air country radio everlessfrquently until I just listen to a chart survey every couple of weeks to see if there’s anything I like. Other than that, it’s ESPN Radio(‘Mike & Mike’) in the morning and XM 10 & 13 the rest of the time

  7. Razor X March 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    I don’t think country radio has gotten better in any significant way. While there are artists like Chris Young, Easton Corbin, and (finally) Sunny Sweeney now getting some airplay, they are still very much the exception and not the rule. Frankly, I don’t have the patience to sit through all the bad stuff and wait for something I like.

  8. Rick March 17, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I think AirHead Country Radio is still playing a similar mix of mediocre pop-rock oriented crap like they have for most of the last decade. Its pleasing enough to the easily satisfied, non-discriminating listener group they’ve attracted but unsatisfying to fans of quality country music regardless of the sub-genre. Shallow lyrics, topics repeated ad-nauseum, weak melodies and bombastic production combined with sound-alike songs is not a recipe for an interesting radio experience.

    I still follow the charts and listen to snippets of new singles as they are released, but haven’t listened to Top 40 country radio for going on 3 years and have no desire to ever go back. The ascendancy of first Carrie Underwood and then Taylor Swift was the one-two knockout punch that made me glad to get out of the ring…

    By the way, I still listen to a lot of terrestrial radio on a daily basis, but Top 40 country is not in the mix. I’m too cheap to pay for Sirius/XM even though I know I’d like it.

  9. Andrew Leprich March 19, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Perhaps country radio has slightly improved from where it was 2-3 years ago, but the music is still not nearly interesting enough for me to tune in on a regular basis. After years of relying on radio as a primary source of new music, I stopped listening entirely in 2009 and have no desire to go back.

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