Earlier this year Sony Records executive Gary Overton caused a commotion when he told a group of radio programmers in an attempt to overemphasize the importance of commercial radio stations, "If you're not on country radio, you don't exist." He was fired a month later (the official word is it was a "mutual agreement" resignation)...probably not because of what he said but because he let a "trade secret" out. That is the way the mainstream world looks at people from Dale Watson to Wayne the Train the Sturgill Simpson: despite the sold-out concerts they aren't played on the radio so they "don't exist," meaning Nashville's "establishment" doesn't have to deal with people who are still making real, legitimate country music.
Oh, but that's nothing compared to the newest outrage. Keith Hill, a "radio consultant," made comments earlier this week that said country radio stations need to stop playing female singers.
This began in Country Aircheck magazine, where Hill, who states on his web site that he "has unparalleled knowledge of all music scheduling systems" and "brings insight into the strategic strengths and weaknesses of every station in your market," said that country radio stations lose listeners when they play female singers. His advice: "If you want to make ratings in country radio, take the females out." He then moved his foot from his mouth all the way down his throat when he added, "I play great female records, and we've got some right now. They're just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."
Rising Americana superstar Jason Isbell was blunt in a tweet: "Country music's Idiot of the Year Award snatched away from Gary Overton by Keith Hill." Given how Overton is now in the unemployment line, Isbell added, "Keep those interviews coming!", probably in hopes that Hill will soon join Overton there.
I don't know what's more upsetting: the fact that this guy thinks women country singers are irrelevant or even detrimental to music, or that he uses sexist terminology like "tomatoes" to define women's roles in music in 2015.
Let me be clear on something: I do not call 99% of the garbage they play on country radio today "country music." Having said that, let's look at some facts regarding what is passing for "country music" today. The only million-selling album last year was by a woman who used to be called "country" (Taylor Swift). In 2014 Kacey Musgraves beat out three guys to win the "Country Album of the Year" Grammy for Same Trailer, Different Park. Kevin John Coyne points out in his Country Universe retort that the only person to sell 5 million copies or more of an album in the past 20 years who wasn't a woman was Garth Brooks.
What Keith Hill said is reprehensible, and he shouldn't get a pass for it under any circumstances (and he portrayed himself as a "victim" of "social media"-fueled "emotion" in a feeble attempt to clarify his comments in RadioInk). The bigger issue, however, is the fact that "radio consultants" have a job to begin with.
If radio stations would listen to the individuals who are actually listening to the stations and not some nationally-based numbers cruncher the stations would probably be more diverse and have more listeners. But no, all the stations want to play the same songs every hour on the hour. Most stations no longer have a request line to hear what their listeners want, basically allowing consultant firms to make that decision for them.
They get what they pay for. And what they may be paying for is boycotts of the stations and the advertisers thanks to the ridiculous comments by their high-priced "consultant" who effectively just insulted 50-70% of their listening audience.