Kingston’s Pure Country 98.9 (CKLC-FM) has committed to playing 50% women artists this week amidst the ongoing controversy over the lack of equal airplay on country radio.
The issue reared its head again last Thursday when country artists Kelsea Ballerini and Kacey Musgraves took to Twitter in response to a post from Variety editor Chris Willman. After hearing two female artists played back-to-back on an L.A. station, he jokingly asked if the station could be fined for that.
That’s when someone at MacDonald Broadcasting-owned 98 KCQ in Saginaw, Michigan station replied “We cannot play two females back to back. Not even Lady Antebellum or Little Big Town against another female. I applaud their courage.”
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I say this having been one of the few women who have been really embraced by country radio and having watched some of the bigger networks (and some of my friends that are pd’s and high up) make real changes in their programming to make it look more balanced. I am grateful. BUT. there is still inequality in airplay for women. And tweets like this prove it. And it’s my job to say it out loud and post about it, because of the girls moving to Nashville ( or wherever) that are ready to outrun and outwork and outplay everyone. They deserve to know that they have the same shot as the guys moving here to do the same. Country music- We have to fix this. For us and for them. How do we do it? Let’s talk. (Also- don’t lash out at this station, they are playing by rules set for them from their higher ups 😞)
Artists, fans and radio programmers on both sides of the border were quick to jump into the ongoing debate. According to research from SongData, headed by University of Ottawa researcher Jada Watson, the ratio of spins for songs by men vs. women on the weekly charts in the U.S. in 2018 was 9.7:1. On Canadian country radio, men are outplaying women by a ratio of 8.7 to 1. Watson has also found that women are most played in off-peak hours like overnights and least heard during morning and afternoon drive.
Brittany Thompson, program director and an on-air personality at Pure Country 98.9, saw the latest fray as a call to action.
“It seems like every six months we’re revisiting this issue,” Thompson told Broadcast Dialogue. “I’ve been a country fan forever and so being a program director, in addition to having just launched the station in May, I felt we were in a great position to try this. Kingston’s a great city, we’ve had so much great feedback from women and we get a ton of women requests during our request hour. It seemed like a great time to try something substantial.”
Thompson says station policy is always to listen and look at music on a song-by-song basis, regardless of who the artist is. The station already has some of country music’s perceived outliers in rotation like Musgraves and Ashley McBryde.
Starting today and continuing through the weekend, the Bell Media station has committed to playing 50% female artists between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. It will stand alone as the only Pure Country-branded station in the network to promote equal airplay this week.
People of Kingston showed their support this morning! Lots of honks! 🎉 Lets keep the momentum going to show that you shouldn’t be scared of more women on country radio!! pic.twitter.com/OUndBVnw2H
— Kingston’s Pure Country (@PureCountry99) January 20, 2020
“My hope at the end of this is to show people there’s interest, that people don’t have to be scared and people won’t turn off the radio. We hope at the end people will look at the song based on the quality of that song, not based on whether it’s male or female,” said Thompson.
Thompson, who holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Prince Edward Island, acknowledges that male artists test better than female artists with listeners, but she chalks that up to better exposure and a human tendency for people to like things they are familiar with.
“I hope programmers say look, they did it for a week and they had great listener support, and we’re going to take a chance and put this female song on. That’s how you start change and see more equality. It will balance out in time if that’s how you approach it. I truly don’t believe people are going to turn the station off.”
While Thompson says 90% of listener feedback has been positive, she’s already received push back from the support department at one of the station’s U.S. software suppliers.
“I had to reach out for support to know if I could reach a percentage for female artists at the end of the day, much like we do for Canadian content, and the woman on the other end of the phone told me I was going down a rabbit hole and I would destroy my ratings,” said Thompson.
“We’ve had most people say this is a great step in the right direction. And it’s been far reaching. We’ve had some people in the U.S. tag their local station saying ‘can you do this?’ We’ve had way more positive response than negative, but I’m prepared for the negative responses. We need a little bit of that to show this a real struggle.”
Thank you Kingston’s Pure Country for playing male & female artists EQUALLY for one week—-first one week then another then another, then watch your audience expand💥@women_want_more @thewomenofcoun @bevkeel @TracyGershon @FramLeslie https://t.co/4saF43A8G1
— Deep River (@DeepRiverTM1996) January 20, 2020
These people know what’s up. They’re Canadian. Let’s see some US country stations follow. https://t.co/q9c71nDVeg
— Courtney E. Smith (@courtneyesmith) January 20, 2020
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