Charlie Cook On Air

Format Explosion

I was talking to my friend Lon Helton the other day about the state of the Country format and whether we are on the precipice of another explosion like the early ‘90s when Garth was the most important performer on the radio.

I won’t speak for Lon—he has the vehicle to do that—but we agreed that we are there again and this time it is because of that lovely young lady who apparently owns the musical world. Taylor Swift is a phenomenon. I am not going to say anything new here. Every one already knows how important she has been the music business and to Country radio.

Ken Kragen used to talk about the rule of three. It is important to make three impressions if you expect to make a lasting impression the consumer.

Taylor is the champion of three. In less than a week’s time she wins the Entertainer of the Year Award at the CMA show, appears on 60 Minutes (more on that in a minute) and then cleans up at the American Music Awards show.

Taylor’s 60 Minutes bit may have gotten lost on east coast and Central time zone viewers because football games on CBS went 30 minutes late. Her appearance was at about 8:15, already into the AMA (where she, Lady A and Blake Shelton won awards) on ABC and Sunday Night Football on NBC (where Faith Hill sings the game on). But I watched it. And I was blown away.

It often appears that Taylor is the only person in the room that is surprised when good things happen to her, or when she wins something and the 60 Minutes reporter asked her about that. I believed Taylor when she said that she is surprised and feels fortunate every time she wins something. She might work on a genuine smile in place of her shocked response, but that’s just me.

I was absolutely taken by how grown up she is today. Like many of you, I met Taylor early in her career. She was always confident in her ability and she was attractively gangly at the start. Today she is a real CEO of a REAL big company and she is running it like one of Scott Borchetta’s race cars. On all cylinders.

The turning point, if the format is going to explode again is when it is everywhere. When every time you turn around you see Country Music and Country Music performers. Then the sky is the limit.

Taylor is there every time we turn around. She dominates the charts. I have not seen one reviewer give her anything less than glowing accolades for her show. She wins something on every music awards show.

I believe that Taylor has opened the door for the next wave of crossover Country artists. The Band Perry had a number one AC song. Sure, it was a special song and jumped out of the radio but something had to grease the skids for AC and CHR programmers to give it a listen. Lady Antebellum continues to chart on AC stations.

Is it possible that these three are the next wave of crossover Country artists? Is it possible that they are going to nudge out Keith Urban, Faith, and Tim McGraw who were staples on many AC stations for years?

These additions would be a great move for the format because these acts have stayed true to their Country Radio roots, as did Keith, Faith and Tim. Come on, would any of us be surprised if Taylor spent more time with contemporary radio and less with Country? Not really. But she is a bigger person than I. She came to the dance with Nashville and she has stayed with us.

We can be pretty safe in knowing that the Perry Kids and Lady A are going to stay fixed in the format.

With Country acts on non-country TV and the CMA show doing so great in the ratings (and by the way kudos to the CMA and ABC for spending a LOT of money marketing the show) we stand on the edge of another explosion in the format.

Hopefully the general public brings their wallets with them.


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