Keith Hill is not a household name to the average country fan, but we can give him a huge shout out for raising the issue of the lack of airplay by women on country music radio this week.
Hill is a radio consultant. He's the kind of guy who advises radio stations what artists and songs to play to help them boost their ratings. That, in turn, enables them to charge more money (or less depending how things go) to their advertisers, the lifeline of most radio stations.
In the May 26 issue of "Country Aircheck," an industry publication, Hill said towards the end of the piece that women were not the ones driving country radio. In fact, he advised against playing them. Period.
In Hill's case, it was as if he opened mouth and inserted foot.
"If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out," Hill said. "The reason is mainstream country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75 percent, and women like male artists. I'm basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we're principally a male format with a smaller female component. I've got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19 percent. Trust me, I play great female records and we've got some right now; they're just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."
What he meant was that women are overwhelmingly the key listeners at country for 15-minute segments. Since women are 70 to 75 percent of the audience and like male artists, forget about the Miranda Lamberts, Carrie Underwoods, Martina McBrides, etc., etc., (can't add too many "etc.s" here as there aren't a lot of them at labels). And Taylor Swift isn't doing country these days.
This is a sad state of affairs, but hardly a surprise. If you look at the current Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the only females on the chart are Underwood and newcomer Kelsea Ballerini with her first hit country single. That does not make her a regular.
There's no Miranda Lambert (Don't worry. She'll be back quite). No Reba McEntire, despite having a new single. No Kacey Musgraves, who all the deserved hoopla about her, hasn't done that well at radio (Kacey, don't worry....I enjoy your music a lot, seen you live twice and liked you just fine!)
Part of the problem is that country radio stations play what others are telling them to play (that's how Hill earns his money) and are unwilling to buck the trend and go out on a limb.
Labels, of course, are not doing so great money-wise to begin with and aren't big on going against the grain either. That's why there aren't a lot of female artists out there. Or else you have folks who could be up and coming acts like Ballerini, Rae Lynn, Danielle Bradbery and not too many more.
Maddie and Tae are an interesting possibility. They're a young female duo with a hit song ("Girl in a Country Song") that smacks back at bro country. They're also good live and could make their mark, although whether the follow-up single, "Fly," will burn up the charts is a question mark. Right now, it's at 30, up 5 this week.
McBride is now with Nash ICON, a label for older acts. Faith Hill is on the sidelines. Lee Ann Womack took an ultra-long career break and is now on a small, but real good indie (Sugar Hill), but she's not going to be on the airwaves any time soon. Dolly Parton remains active, but radio? Ditto for Loretta Lynn, who's slated to release a new CD this year.
There are left of center singers who are real good - Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and a scant few others - but they're not going to be played based on what they're doing now.
Is there a solution? There's always satellite radio, which is more edgy or internet radio and the freedom that entails. Short of people turning off their radio or else calling up their favorite radio station and demanding that they play women, it ain't gonna happen. At least right now. Too bad because there are a lot of folks out there who want to hear "real" songs about people live their lives. It will take a female point of view for all of us to achieve that.
But it's not going to be with limited mindsets like Hill's. Maybe he's right. The women are like tomatoes. To my taste buds, they're far more tasty instead of most of what passes for country fare these days.