Charlie Cook On Air

Next Wednesday (Nov. 9) is the CMA Awards show. It is always a special night for the artists, the fans, and for ABC for years to come. I thought that this would be a good time to look at the format as it stands right now. I’ll do this again in the Spring just before the ACM show.

These ideas make coming up with topics for this column easy. Coming up with ideas is the hardest part of writing this column. So now and in the Spring. Two down, 50 to go.

To make it even easier I reached out to some friends to give me their perspective of the format as of November 4, 2011. Really, the ideas are the only hard part if you have any friends at all.

I asked them only one question. “What is the state of the format days before the CMA Awards show?”

I reached out to label bigwigs (major and indie), a disc jockey, programmers and other trade organizations. I did not ask Steve Moore, CEO of the CMA, or CMA Board Chairman Steve Buchanan because they are going to get enough print this weekend.

First to weigh in is Tom Baldrica, president of Average Joe’s Entertainment. “From my perspective, there is an excitement and vibrancy in country music right now—with authentic, real music (and musicians) being discovered, shared and evangelized by the younger demo. In addition to what they hear on the radio, they are scouring YouTube, attending live shows, sharing files and engaging with other fans of similar tastes.”

Having a level of excitement about the music and the acts is about all we can ask for. From Brad and Carrie to The Band Perry we do have exciting acts. It isn’t every year that a group in the New Category goes Triple Platinum the month before the award is passed out.

Paul Freeman, afternoon disc jockey at KKGO/Los Angeles is excited about the energy in today’s country music. “American Idol, The Voice, and the Apprentice (are) all giving Country Music national exposure along with really great upbeat music coming from Nashville this year.”

It seems like passion and appeal beyond the genre is important for radio personnel. “The format has done a great job in adding very vibrant talent to an already strong roster of artists,” says KEEY/Minneapolis Programmer Gregg Swedberg. “Our stars are stars, no matter whether we get proper credit from the rest of the world (and we don’t). Our audience is passionate about many artists. Sales are great, concert business is great, ratings are generally great, and there is an obvious path forward. We cross over into other formats and young people are interested in what we do.”

The CMA and ABC gotta love the “stars are stars” part of Gregg’s comment. In the past and today the format got boosts from TV and movies. The film Urban Cowboy gave the format a lift many years ago and there was a time when Country acts were on TV every week with Barbara Mandrell’s  show, Reba and Billy Ray Cyrus with some young lady named Miley. Or was it Hannah?

Today Trace Adkins is quickly recognized from his appearance on The Apprentice. Reba will be back on weekly TV next year and Taylor has acted on TV and in the movies. Brad and the Flatts were on the little screen in high profile situations.

Programmer extraordinaire Becky Brenner put her thoughts to music. You’ll have to hum along in your head. “Country is country wide, in fact it is worldwide and sizzling hot. Whether you’re a family man, a farmer’s daughter, a homeboy or an all American girl you can feel that fire! We should be proud of this house we built. I got a feelin’ we must be doin’ something right. Welcome to the Future. God bless the USA, we’ve all gone Country!”

Really! I asked you to hum along IN YOUR HEAD.

Echoing what Gregg said, Becky continues, “There has never been a more exciting time in the country format. Country music is connecting with more people worldwide than ever before.”

The recent announcement that the Wembley Festival is being resurrected in Great Britain is great news for Country fans in Europe and all around the world. Needless to say, it is also good news for Music Row.

Though John Anthony of WKWS in Charleston, WV, has some concerns about the broad appeal. “I’m excited to see the success of new artists such as Chris Young, The Band Perry, Zac Brown Band and Miranda Lambert,” he says. “But (I’m) concerned for the amount of Country songs that are crossing over to our sister AC station. Today alone, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, The Band Perry and Diamond Rio.”

The debate over whether Country Music should be played on non-country stations is one only going on in radio stations. I have heard record people say, “We don’t want (fill in the blank) changing his music to get on AC radio.” Hogwash. They tell Country radio that while NY is dialing and smiling to AC and CHR radio.

Arista Nashville VP National Promotion Lesly Tyson has a more solid position on the issue. She was asked a couple of weeks back in All Access, and she told me the same things, on the topic of whether she is concerned about Country acts crossing over and losing their identities. Lesly said, “I’m really not. Brad and Carrie, for example, are both Country artists. They have built incredible fan bases of people who love their music and love who they are as people. Exposing them to more people through their music when it works in another format does not change that in any way.”

Lesly makes a great point about the fan base loving them as people and what they stand for. We would never catch Carrie dressed like Rihanna (darn!) or Lady GaGa. I don’t think we’ll ever hear Brad Paisley and Chris Brown in the same sentence. (Now watch Robert Deaton put them together on the show next week).

I didn’t exactly go to anyone who would say anything overly negative about the format but what I heard here is that radio wants energy and tempo and records want diversity and more exposure.

Me, I want Carrie to rethink those Rihanna outfits.

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