Brittany Thompson, Program Director of Pure Country 99 and 98.3 FLY FM in Kingston, is trying something a little different: giving female country artists equal time on Pure Country 99.
“It’s a topic that’s been talked about in our industry for a very long time, every so often it resurfaces,” said Thompson. “There’s never been substantial action that’s taken.”
Just last week, a radio station in the US tweeted that they couldn’t play two female artists back to back, igniting strong responses from huge female country stars like Kacey Musgraves and Kelsea Ballerini, along with Jason Isbell and others. The station, based in Saginaw, Michigan, has since taken down the tweet.
“Being a radio program director, male artists usually do test better than female artists,” said Thompson. “Most stations base their playlists off this research. We’ve allowed male artists so much expose over such a long time. It feels like we’re in a cycle, and it’s not a reflection of the quality of the artist or the quantity of the music available. When you test anything, the more familiar you are with it, the more likely you’re going to start to like it. It doesn’t matter if we put out a million tests, we’re probably always going to see that there’s going to be higher numbers for men.”
Thompson and the station’s experiment will run for one week, playing an equal mix of female and male country artists between radio’s prime time, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We listen to new country songs every week,” said Thompson. “And we’ll hear a new great song from a female and wonder why it’s not getting any traction. So the conversation came around back to this idea. And at the end of this, we legitimately hope that we’ll get a great response and then that we can use this research.”
So far, since announcing the endeavour on social media, Thompson is encouraged by feedback from listeners.
“The response has been great,” she said. “The biggest negative response we have is that ‘women don’t test well.’ To me, it’s not that women aren’t good, it’s just that they don’t have the same platform. I also program FLY FM, and we can easily have 5-7 female artists in a row. Playing females isn’t a thing on that pop format. In country, programmers are actually scared of women. It’s like they think ‘This is a great song, but, oh, I couldn’t put it on the radio or people will be flipping off the station.’ I just don’t think that’s true, and I’m hoping we can make a statement.”
Pure Country is owned by Bell Media and is part of a national brand of other Pure Country radio stations across Canada. Pure Country 99 replaced 98.9 The Drive, an alternative rock format, in May.
“It’s only our station here in Kingston that’s doing this,” said Thompson. “I was really happy to get approval to do it, and a relatively quick turnaround, too. This all started to erupt on Thursday.
“I think Kingston is an open-minded, cool town to try something that’s almost progressive,” she continued. “And I thought, you know, if we don’t do this now, we can have this conversation six months from now and be able to say ‘Hey, at least we did something.’”
Thompson’s ultimate goal is to be able to have research to prove that this can work.
“Our stations in Kingston aren’t measured the way that Toronto stations are,” she said. “We can’t go back and say ‘We want to see this particular week’ and get all the stats, so the best way for us to get a response is to see support on social media, and through phone calls and emails, something that we can actually have that’s tangible.”
Using this information, Thompson is excited to see real change in the way country radio is programmed.
“Our hope is that at the end of this, we can say ‘Don’t be scared of women on country radio,’” said Thompson. “The hope is that people can look at this music and make decisions based on what they believe is best. Either the male song or the female song, just pick what you believe, you know, you’re in a position to make this decision. Pick what you think is best. Don’t pick the safe choice. We certainly don’t expect all equal play all the time. We’ve experimented with playing ‘unknown’ female artists in the past, and both women and men have responded positively, so we’re excited to see more of the same. A lot of country music listeners are female, and we want to get past this notion that women don’t want to listen to women in country music. That is certainly not the case with pop music.”
Chris Morris is a writer, Kingstonist advertising sales rep, musician, marketer, and event manager. In his spare time, which is clearly abundant, he plays dodgeball, ultimate, and video games. He also listens to a ridiculous amount of Phish, Grateful Dead and old-timey music.