We Get Letters (And Sometimes We Rant)
August 28, 2014
My piece last week (The 'Ville 8/21) regarding Taylor Swift and her "official pop album" declaration of August 18th, the concurrent release of her debut single, "Shake It Off," and its accompanying video elicited plenty of feedback.
As I said then, Country radio is all-in with support of Taylor, as "Big Time With Whitney Allen" host Whitney Allen wrote after reading last week's 'Ville: "People have accused her of being pop since the start, and now they are pi**ed she has made a pop album. Lol. You go Taylor, You are everything."
And former NRG Media/Wausau, WI OM Ritch Cassidy encouraged people to "Stop complaining and let people make music. We just never know what we might get out of it." Cassidy correctly provided us with some historical perspective: "Remember when that blind pop pianist made a Country album and later was honored with a Hall of Fame exhibit? Or when that 'Rocker' left the security of the First Edition and made a Country record? Or the Rockabilly star who lost his lead singer and best friend only to create an outlaw movement of his own?!?!"
If you remember the message of the song (how COULDN'T you, it's pretty much everywhere BUT Country radio), Taylor pooh-poohs her doubters and haters, with the song title, basically saying it all.
Well alrighty then.
When an artist like Swift has news, it's covered way beyond my little weekly column here on All Access (shocker!). Countless other publications, mainly consumer-focused, chimed in with mostly negative press toward Swift, her "Shake It Off" mantra apparently lost on them, too.
What frustrates me so much (okay, pisses me off; there, I said it) when reading all the vitriol surrounding Swift and her new pop song, is the amount of people who just vomit words onto a page, opining about Country music -- what's so wrong with it and how to fix it -- while being so completely and recklessly uninformed about the format at the same time. It's nothing short of exasperating.
These self-anointed pundits have a snapshot of Country permanently etched in their brain, a Polaroid way past its expiration date, btw. Meanwhile, the people currently responsible for making Country music as successful as it is, are living in the now, seeing and reacting to things as they really are.
That's because – all due respect to others – the Country format while by no means perfect, is the most self-aware, self-regulating, collegial, strive-for-the-greater-good of them all. Therefore, somebody -- and I'm happy to be that person -- needs to tell all the interlopers who seem so Hell-bent on saving us from ourselves: "Back the #@%! off – we got this."
In addition to the feedback I posted, Country radio's support for Swift was further solidified last week by Albright & O'Malley & Brenner's quick survey of 60-or-so Country PDs, MDs, talent and station executives. It showed 89% of them were familiar with "Shake It off" and they indicated by a four-to-one margin, they're hopeful she'll once again cut a Country song in the future, with 30% agreeing the format will miss her presence (read O'Malley's blog here).
Are you like me, a bit surprised -- pleasantly, I should add -- at this unanimous show of support? Think about it: Taylor been a tough artist to program since album two. Her direction began skewing pop, she became such a huge star quickly and her music was not confined to Country radio airplay. So her songs immediately showed high fatigue, traditionally a scary callout stat for Country (While in pop, it's a sign of a real hit record). Fit scores were often dicey too, and this tested the science half of the art and science programming balance for Country PDs.
But Taylor was always great to Country radio programmers – and their daughters. How many Facebook shots of PDs surprising their girls with a willing Swift at a meet-and-greet were posted in the last seven years? Above and beyond that professional perk, Taylor is a genuinely sweet young woman who says the right things and does good deeds for others, all of which makes her an outstanding example for young ladies to follow.
Additional feedback from last week included this from Doug Davis who wrote, claiming, "They remixed the Country sounding songs into pop hits, surely you can remix "Shake It Off" into a Country hit, with its fast bpm that old style banjo playin' -- might have a window here for a comeback!"
Hmmm... I don't think that's the point with this new song, however I do think in this case, "surely" and "remix" cannot be used in the same sentence when referring to "Shake It Off." It is what it is, Doug. Let it go.
From CynicalSuburbanite, "Wait, you mean she hasn't been doing pop all along? Seriously, she has just been doing pop with a twang!"
Okay, or ... twang with a pop.
Changing gears, I was really curious to hear what readers thought of recently launched "Tailgate 107.3 – Party Songs For Party People" (The 'Ville, 8/14). The former Classic Rocker in Charleston, WV retained its WKAZ call letters on August 8th, but that was all, as it began playing an up-tempo mix of party songs comprised of one-third Country, one-third Top 40 and the rest, a goulash of Classic Rock, Hip Hop, Urban and other various sounds one could only classify as "whatnot."
To review, a sample music segment went something like this: Becky G "Shower" to Zac Brown Band's "Toes" to One Republic's "Love Runs Out" followed by Luke Bryan "Shake It For Me."
Before publishing the column, I mentioned "Tailgate" to KUZZ/Bakersfield PD Tom Jordan, who later wrote, "After you and I spoke about this station I started streaming it. And CANNOT STOP! I LOVE IT. In the early-mid '70s I worked for John David (now with NAB) in Joplin, MO at KFSB doing a "Town & Country" format. One Country song, one pop song. Forty songs, over-and-over. And guess what? It worked then, so why not now? There is so much fun music today, not just Country or pop. But really FUN music. Can a station make it doing this? Only one way to find out but I will say it has me hooked!"
A person known only as Radiowatcher 2014 sampled "Tailgate" too, but wasn't convinced: "Ratings will ultimately tell the story but I sure wouldn't bet the farm on this one. They're assuming that there are a lot of people with wide musical tastes. Most people that like Country or Rock hate Hip-Hop and Urban and vice-versa. Will they find some people who will like this concept? Probably; enough to garner competitive ratings? We'll see."
Derek Lutz gave "Tailgate's" architect, West Virginia Radio Northern Division Regional Market manager Christian Miller kudos for trying something different, with this caveat: "Perfect timing on the name but will it mean anything on a 34 degree February day? Interested to see if someone else tries it."
Miller hopes other people will give the "Tailgate" concept a whirl. He's trademarked the name with aspirations of syndicating the format, similar to the "Jack" or "Hank" format brands.
If you remember, Miller told me he was fully aware that, "A lot of consultants over 50 think this is ridiculous, stupid and won't work." Not surprisingly, that comment touched a nerve, as one comment, signed, "Over 50 Consultant" chimed in with, "There are so many holes in this concept that I don't even know where to start."
One major-market Country programmer I spoke with, who asked not to be identified, told me Miller's idea is a good start but needs some refining. "Dump all the old shit," was his first bit of advice. "Have a true Top 40," he continued. "Play the hottest of the hot – every week - in both Country and pop."
I've kept listening to "Tailgate" on-and-off since posting the original piece and continue to enjoy it. Yes, I agree some of the Classic Rock tunes are a head-turner at times and the station feels a tad wide, musically. I remember somewhere, somebody telling me, "The narrower the focus, the broader the appeal." But then again, Miller isn't thinking in conventional radio terms here, as he told me at the outset of the piece, "It's ridiculous that we just do radio the same way, and never do anything different or exciting."
Being the party person I am, you know I'll keep listening and watching for results.
I always love your feedback – hit me direct here, or go to comments below. Thanks again for reading.