Shut Up And Sing
August 22, 2016
You know what I’m sick and tired of? Bullshit and rhetoric. It’s everywhere, of course – so therefore, unavoidable – but last week the Crap-o-Meter was pegged for me when the Dixie Chicks came to Nashville for a show.
I haven’t written about the Chicks since they announced their “DCX MMXVI World Tour” last November, but the mainstream press was all over their Music City concert stop last week, recklessly using terms like “redemption,” “banned,” and “blacklisted” when covering it.
This dates back to 2003 when all the unfortunate drama went down with The Chicks and Country radio – do I REALLY need to rehash all that again? If you’re reading this, you’re in radio – probably Country radio – and if not, you have something to do with Country music, so you know what went down. If not, read my column from November, and get a quick history lesson. What’s unfortunate and frustrating is that with time – 13 years now – the narrative about the band being “banned” and “blacklisted” has somehow morphed into a black-and-white, face-value given. The Chicks are victims; Country radio is the villain.
When the latest tour was announced, I asked Country programmers about their interest and excitement level, wondering if they’d want to participate. Somewhat prophetically, Albright & O’Malley & Brenner partner Becky Brenner wondered, “The question is, will the Dixie Chicks allow Country radio to be involved?”
The answer turned out to be no. We first heard about the exclusion of radio on-site at the Cincinnati show. But Country stations weren’t welcome at last week’s Nashville date, either, even though all three FM Country outlets told me they wanted to be – and would have been, if allowed. So Country radio has shown a willingness to get involved – in spite of no new music from The Chicks in 10 years. Further, nobody in Country radio that I know has uttered a peep of negativity about the band. Rather, everything I’ve heard about this show from radio people who’ve seen it is a smashing revue. Let’s be honest – The Chicks recorded music was always brilliant, and so were their live shows.
That part about no radio presence, I kinda get. Kinda. You know, neutral and all. Radio deals with that all the time. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Natalie Maines of The Chicks sent a tweet on Thursday, August 11th that can best be described as random and without provocation. It got plenty of national consumer press, which heralded Maines as some kind of defiant, underappreciated victim/hero. Here’s what Maines tweeted:
“I get banned for not liking Bush and now Trump can practically put a hit out on Hillary and he's still all over country radio! Hypocrites!”
Wow! I mean, so much to process here. You’ve got a former President, two White House hopefuls, all sorts of politics, and – apparently, just for the Hell of it – Country radio thrown into the mix. #Rude. Maines has the right to tweet whatever she wants. However, I would suggest she get her facts straight before doing so.
First, The band didn’t get “banned.” Did some Country stations stop playing their songs? Yes. Yes, they did. Did ALL of them? No. In fact, most stations continued playing Chicks music, despite the onslaught of negative phone calls and emails threatening never to listen again. The smart PDs – ones with experience, diligence, and patience – quickly determined that many of the nasty, vitriolic emails came from people who didn’t actually listen to their station. Those people were just piling on and joining the mob mentality taking place. So those PDs didn’t “ban” anybody. But some PDs did panic, and took the easy way out. See, most programmers will tell you the listeners own the radio station, so when they’re uncomfortable with something on it, they have every right to voice their opinion – just as Natalie had every right while onstage in the U.K. back in 2003.
The stations that took the extreme route and pulled music clearly overreacted. To be fair, and what I’ve said many times over the years, is that in some markets, radio did what radio does – sometimes overzealously – and that is pounce on a hot topic, try to make hay with it, and in this case, try like hell to get their call letters on the 6:00p news. And yes, that happened. But not on a nationwide basis. The national media jumped all over the story of stations pulling Chicks music and made it bigger than it actually was. As Brenner told me back in November, “I still contend that it was never really a huge deal for the real Country fans. I think conservative talk fans, and the media, stirred the pot and forced the issue to escalate far higher than was necessary.” We recently saw a similar phenomenon when Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” was allegedly “banned” – in the words of the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers – because it supposedly advocated a homosexual relationship. That was all hype, too, as “Girl Crush” went on to peak at #2 on the Mediabase Country singles chart while becoming a multiplatinum-selling single for the band and garnering numerous industry-voted awards.
Also, Natalie didn’t catch hell for “not liking” President Bush. She got in trouble for being ashamed of him, which many people interpreted as a lack of respect for the office. At that time – in 2003 – a lot of people “didn’t like” Bush, but they still respected the fact that he was President.
I can’t and won’t get into the Trump vs. Hillary argument and who supposedly “practically put out a hit” on who, because I don’t get political (that’s Natalie’s domain, apparently). But her zinger at the end – about Trump “Still being all over Country radio” was gratuitous and unsolicited. She basically reached into the crowd here, plucked an innocent, unsuspecting bystander (Country radio), and inserted it into her own vortex of lingering bitterness. That alone was unfair, uncalled for, and totally uncool. But perhaps worse than all of that? It was completely uninformed. #Disappointing.
Trump “all over Country radio? Okay, how? Where? I mean, I’m pretty on top of new releases from all sorts of artists – but I don’t recall Donald Trump releasing a Country single that’s getting any airplay on Country radio right now.
So I can only assume Natalie means political ads run on Country radio – right? Well, I did some checking on that, and according to Media Monitors, which keeps track of all radio advertising, during the week she sent out this tweet – between August 5th and 11th – guess how many Trump ads have run on Country radio so far? (Cue Jeopardy theme) … Aaand, we’re back! See, Media Monitors can also tell what ads ran in specific formats. For Country, it’s a grand total of zero. Zero; zilch; zip. Nil; naught; nothing.
And, not for nothing – but merely for the sport of it – I went ahead and looked up how many Dixie Chicks spins appeared on Country radio in the same timeframe as Natalie's tweet. Trying as best I could to make this an apples-to-apples comparison, I looked at the top 85 markets, as did Media Monitors, and saw 131 plays for Chicks music that week. Is 131 a small number? That’s a relative question. The last Dixie Chicks single sent to radio dates back 10 years, making any Chicks song played on Country radio a gold title. But gold is also a relative term for the format right now, as 72 percent of the average Country station’s vintage on the Mediabase reporting panel is 2014-2016, with less than one percent – in most cases – comprised of songs 2006 and earlier.
Nonetheless – during the week Maines claimed Donald Trump was “all over Country radio,” in fact, the Dixie Chicks were having a far better week than The Donald with our format. Not only that, if Trump had run any ads on Country radio – which we now know he didn’t – he’d have had to pay for that time. The Chicks' 131 spins were free of charge, as was all their previous airplay. And, if you want to get technical – Natalie may not, but I do – any Trump ad that runs on the air is limited to sixty seconds, while most Dixie Chicks songs are at least three minutes in length. Yep, their week on Country radio? Far, far better than Trump’s.
So, who’s the hypocrite here?
To be fair – some would say, overly – this tweet is just Natalie being Natalie. This is her nature; outspoken, sassy, rebellious. It always worked well for her - except that one time. I guess I’m more irritated by media who would just take this info and run with it as gospel, without verifying any of her claims. During the primary debates, we’ve already witnessed the ability to fact check candidates in real time. Here we are – 11 days later – and this story has been run in and out of the news cycle, but nobody seems to care that Country radio has been unfairly and inaccurately attacked.
Well, I do.