Study finds men outplaying women on Canadian country radio 8.7 to 1

Carrie Underwood, the top played female artist on Canadian country radio, had 395,000 spins compared to top male artist, Keith Urban, who had 579,000 spins. The male to female airplay ratio was 8.7 : 1 in 2018, according to the latest study from University of Ottawa researcher Jada Watson. (photo: Amanda Young/CarrieUnderwood.fm)

Men are outplaying women on Canadian country radio by a ratio of 8.7 to 1, according to the latest study from University of Ottawa researcher Jada Watson: Gender Representation on Canadian Country Format Radio (2005-18).

The study examined gender representation in country music, focusing on Canadian radio airplay as tabulated by Mediabase for their year-end charts published between 2005 to 2018, as well as on weekly charts in the same timeframe.

Watson’s study found that the gap between the number of songs by men and women steadily increased. In 2005, female artists had 35 songs (23.3%) on the year-end country airplay reports, declining to just 16 songs (10.7%) in 2018 – a decline of 54.3% in the number of songs by female artists on the year-end reports. The gap between the number of songs by men and women increased steadily from 52.7% in 2000 to 78.1% by 2018.

Few female artists reach the top 10

Women average two songs a year in the Top 10 of the year-end reports between 2005 and 2014, declining to no songs in the Top 10 in the final four years of the study period. The last Top 10 song by a female artist was Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic”, which peaked at #2 on the year-end report in 2014.

On a weekly airplay basis, there is a more than 69% gap between the number of songs by men and women in the Top 10 on the weekly airplay reports each year. Songs by female artists drop from 19% in 2005 to a low of 6% in 2015, and slowly rebound to 11% by 2018. While there is still a 42.3% decline overall, the increase in 2018 suggests a positive change in programming of female artists.

Male artists had more #1 songs than women in every year of this 14-year period, increasing 55.6% from 12 to 27 songs between 2005 and 2018. An average of four songs by female artists peaked at #1 between 2005 and 2009, dropping to one in 2010 and then zero in 2011, followed by 7-year fluctuation between three and one songs peaking at the top of the chart.

Over the course of 14 years (711 weeks), male artists spent 576 weeks (82%, the equivalent of 11 years) in the #1 position, while female artists spent 81 weeks (10%, 1.6 years), and male-female ensembles spent 58 weeks (8%, 1.1 years).

Canadian radio has more influence

While the study’s results show similar levels of gender inequality as Watson’s report on U.S. country format airplay released earlier this year, Watson argues that because the Canadian country radio market is much smaller than its American counterpart (35 Mediabase weekly reporting stations vs. 321 in the U.S.), individual stations carry more influence.

“As a result of fewer stations, Canadian airplay charts tend to be a much faster moving ecosystem, and individual stations have greater power to influence an artist’s performance on a chart,” writes Watson.

“Broadcast radio plays a vital role in the development of the genre’s cultural space, and significantly impacts broader industry decision-making practices,” continues Watson. “Not only does radio influence how labels and publishers sign, produce and promote artists, it also impacts the trajectory of the careers of artists, who depend on airplay exposure for other career opportunities. Spins are routinely used as criteria for determining artist eligibility for industry accolades and/or events. While using spins as a criteria for determining a genre’s leading artists might seem logical, it is an increasingly problematic metric in a culture plagued with gender inequalities.”

More female programmers needed

Amanda Kingsland

Amanda Kingsland, Program Director and Music Director for Country 101.1 (CKBY-FM) in Ottawa-Smiths Falls and National Music Director for the entire Rogers Country Brand, says the issue is a cyclical one.

“Labels need to have female acts turning out music, radio needs to play them, consumers need to buy, stream and go see female artists,” Kingsland told Broadcast Dialogue. “But they will only know and support them if labels sign them and radio plays them…and on and on it goes.”

Kingsland says of the Mediabase reporting stations in Canada right now, only six have female program directors. She’d like to see the radio landscape become more balanced across the board.   

“I would also love to see more female writers, producers and label heads,” said Kingsland. “This industry, like all industries, is better when all members of the industry are represented. There are many male PDs playing females…we all just need to talk more, play the best songs and keep working at having the best country music in front of our audiences.”

One of Kingsland’s initiatives at Country 101.1 has been to established the “Girl Power Hour” to address the gender imbalance in country music. The show earned the 2019 Canadian Country Music Award for Country Music Program of the Year, in addition to a fourth consecutive win for Kingsland for Music Director of the Year (Large Market).

“We wanted to make sure listeners and fans knew that they had a part to play in making this better too. We wanted to show artists, other industry members and ourselves, that actively working to make it better…would make a difference in the country music landscape,” said Kingsland.


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