Country radio stations started off 2016 spinning the biggest smash of the 2010’s to date, as Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man” spent six weeks at Number One on Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart. Even though Billboard moved Rhett’s juggernaut to recurrent status two weeks ago (after an impressive 16-week run in the Top Ten) after the song fell below number ten in spins, Nielsen-BDS Country audience airplay reports from Monday reflected “Die A Happy Man” spent its 18th consecutive week in the Top Ten most-listened to Country songs in the U.S.
With “Die A Happy Man’s” amazing metrics (sales, streaming, callout results, and constant requests) clearly showing audience demand for the song, it appeared Country radio affiliates might have finally learned to hold onto songs longer — both in weeks at Number One and dropping the biggest songs more slowly after peaking — the preference of the genre’s listeners.
Even the next Number One song, Luke Bryan’s and Karen Fairchild’s “Home Alone Tonight,” seemed to show Country had begun embracing the reality a revolving door at Number One pleases labels but turns away listeners. Based on the song’s superior metrics, “Home Alone Tonight” looked prepared for a third week at Number One on the Country Airplay Chart.
Instead, Country radio pushed Granger Smith’s “Backroad Song” to Number One for a week that had appeared earned by Bryan and Fairchild. Admittedly, Granger’s song was fairly close in sales, but “Backroad Song” still trailed “Home Alone Tonight” in streaming, callout scores, and requests substantially.
Country continues reverting to the revolving door at Number One
After Granger’s week at Number One, Kelsea Ballerini led the Country Airplay Chart for one week with her hit “Dibs.” “Dibs” had decent (though far from spectacular) sales, generated a lot of listener requests, and had fairly good callout scores. So Ballerini likely earned her one-week Number One at Country Airplay — an impressive feat for a female Country artist. Nevertheless, Country airplay was less than kind to Kelsea the following week, as “Dibs” plummeted from Number One to number ten.
The week “Dibs” hit Number One, Carrie Underwood’s “Heartbeat” was the closest gaining song at Country Airplay. With Underwood’s standout metrics over the songs apparently competing with “Heartbeat” for Number One, Underwood looked likely to earn a multi-week stay at Number One. “Heartbeat” was also poised to give female artists even more exceptional back-to-back Country Airplay Number Ones.
However, even with lower scores in all metrics, Keith Urban’s “Break On Me” jumped from number six to Number One over Underwood, whose “Heartbeat” moved up from four to two. Still, “Heartbeat” was gaining in airplay, maintained solid metrics, and had moved back to Number One on the daily charts with Urban’s rather rapid decline. So surely Underwood would replace Urban at Number One…..
No — once again Country radio had other plans. Randy Houser’s “We Went” moved from number three to Number One, replacing “Break On Me.” All four of Underwood’s metrics, reflecting the songs superior popularity with the general public, favored “Heartbeat” over “We Went” by a large margin. Nevertheless, Country radio forced Underwood to settle at number two for a second week before finally allowing “Heartbeat” to reach Number One the following week — giving “Heartbeat” just one week on top of the Country Airplay Charts instead of three weeks.
Format ignores metrics showing songs’ preferences with the public
Based on the metrics showing the preferences of Country audience listeners, “Home Alone Tonight” and “Heartbeat” should have each stayed at Number One on the Country Airplay Charts for three weeks. The poorer-performing tracks — “Backroad Song,” “Break On Me,” and “We Went” — should have stalled at number two (or possibly even lower).
So after the temporary change in airplay priority associated with Rhett’s monster smash “Die A Happy Man,” Country format affiliates apparently switched their loyalty back to the labels over the listeners. This left the genre with six Number Ones, one two-week Number One and five one-week Number Ones, instead of three — two three-week chart-toppers and another one one-week Number One.
Mediabase lowers Country’s listener levels yet again
Apparently, this loyalty to labels over listeners has cost the format audience share. For the fourth re-weighting period in a row, Mediabase lowered Country’s impression numbers (seen on All Access and Kworb on March 19), or the size of the audience tuning into the format from the previous period. This continued lowering of listener levels indicates Country fans are unhappy with some of the songs played on their favorite format’s stations.
Most genres’ airplay charts closely correlate with how the songs are performing in sales, streaming, callout performance, and requests — all of which directly measure popularity with the general public. So the Country format remains an anomaly among its peers, repeatedly reverting to labels’ demands over the wants of the listeners.
With four consecutive re-weightings showing the format losing audience, why would Country affiliates want to continue tuning out listeners and letting the labels tell the genre’s fans what they want to hear? Obviously if fewer people are tuning into the genre’s stations, this reduces the number listeners with which labels can share their music. Hopefully Country stations will re-prioritize what should drive their format’s airplay (and ultimately sales and streaming) sooner than later, and start putting the people first.