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Is country condemned to repeat itself?

Country Musings by Robert Loy, November 1996

Spanish-born George Santayana was a respected poet, philosopher, novelist and critic. My research hasn't been able to uncover what kind of music he liked, but he could easily have been speaking of today's country music scene when he said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Keep Santayana's law in mind and listen as I turn on the radio.

What I find on the dial in my mid-size market is two classic rock stations, a '40's and '50's station, a '50's, '60's and '70's station, an '80's station and a mix of '80's and '90's; an urban contemporary, a couple of easy listening, a couple of religious, a "beach, boogie and blues" an "alternative" rock, a classical and a jazz.

And three hot country stations.

What I don't have - and I'm betting you don't - is a traditional Top 40 station. Think about it, a format that once ruled the airwaves now all but extinct.

Why? There are various theories, but mine is that Top 40 didn't have any roots, any sense of history; it was always concerned with the "next big thing," so that when country came on strong in the early '90's it blew Top 40 completely away.

What does this have to do with the current king of the airwaves? Country has a long history, strong roots.

But it's doing everything it can to deny and disassociate itself from that history. Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings - as well as Johnny Cash and other literal living legends - still make great country music but can't get it played on the radio.

The playlist is full of forgettable fluff from the hot-looking beef or cheesecake flavor of the month, who themselves will have to disappear in a month or so to make way for some other 15-minute wonder.

I met a young man the other day who told me he was the world's biggest country music fan. I asked him if he liked Conway Twitty, and he said - and I quote - "Yeah, I like some of her stuff." And I heard distant bells tolling the end of country's boomtime.

If you don't think what happened to Top 40 could happen to country, let me just ask you this. Remember the last time country sold its soul for slick popularity, and how long it took to recover from that whole "Urban Cowboy" debacle?