A 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?