Carrie Underwood’s recent interview with Westwood One’s Elaina Smith has pointed once again to the elephant in the Country radio room: Why aren’t more women featured on Country stations? Certainly, it seems an idea whose time came eons ago. One has to wonder if this is a conservative bias, which is proving unfair to women, and, frankly, bad for business. What smart businessperson doesn’t optimize all of the resources at their disposal?
Underwood was on Smith’s Women Want To Hear Women audio/video podcast, a forum the co-host of Nash Nights Live recently launched to address the issue that seems to be a perennial for the format. The number of female artists on Country radio continues to shrink. Citing songs charted by Country Aircheck, The Tennessean reports the percentage of purely female country songs dropped to 10.4% last year, down from 13% in 2016. On what empirical financial evidence is this base? What kind of algorithm is being employed? And how, in terms of equality in broader society, can the current state of affairs not be a bad thing?
It goes so far as to be, at times, a totally backward ideology. In 2015, country consultant Keith Hill said he would coach stations to keep female-fronted songs to a minimum. “If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out,” he (in)famously said. “The reason is mainstream country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists.” Regardless of the source and accuracy of those figures, there are a lot of variables in play. For example, if you don’t put something on the air consistently, you merely build a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. It seems much easier to believe that this is pure gender bias. Like anything else: If you keep pumping it to the masses, of course they’ll latch onto it as “the norm.”
The notion that “women don’t want to hear women” has hardly survived the strictures of any kind of thorough, multi-dimensional analysis conducted by disinterested parties.
Radio needs to be doing everything right, now more than ever. This certainly doesn’t seem right. Thankfully, people like Carrie Underwood and Elaina Smith refuse to let it rest.