Quotable Country: Side Salad

A SaladGate supplement.

Click the bullet after each quote to visit the source.

If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out. The reason is mainstream Country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists. I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component. I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19%. Trust me, 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.
— Keith Hill’s original remarks to Country Aircheck, a country radio trade publication.

This is the biggest bunch of BULLSHIT I have ever heard. I am gonna do everything in my power to support and promote female singer/songwriters in country music. Always.
— Miranda Lambert, responding to same.

Don’t worry babe. I see an opportunity here. I big ole vagina shaped opportunity.
— Jennifer Nettles.

Martina McBride’s Facebook post on Hill’s remarks got more than 16,000 likes and plenty of comments, including some from well-known artists and songwriters…

Carlene Carter: Good God Ladies! Are they still as silly as they were back in the 90’s! I was told early on by WB that women just didn’t buy women’s records. And since they were the people buying not to count on sales in the same way as men could. What a complete crock!

Shelly Fairchild: How would we have ever had a Carrie Underwood if it weren’t for artist like YOU, Loretta, Dolly, Tammy, Patsy, and the list goes on…. I miss my heroes. I feel like I live in The Truman Show much of the time where it’s all fake.. And controlled… And I don’t have things to look up to. People to model myself after. It isn’t lost on me that most of the programmers and PDs are males either. It’s tough when you don’t feel represented. I think it’s time for a bit of a revolution.

Jerry Salley: Country radio “research” “experts” have been and continue to be the single largest reason the country music industry is in decline as a genre. The few that are making all the money don’t realize this and think everything is just great. But we have the fewest “professional” songwriters, publishers, record labels and employees since I came to town in 1982. As recently as last week, there continue to be lay-offs at the PRO’s and labels. If we were “growing” we would be hiring instead of laying off. We need to get back to local Program directors picking what they play for the audience in their area (including MORE female artists!! Not less) and letting “the people” decide who gets played the most by letting the request lines light up again instead of allowing a very small handful of radio experts pre-determining what the masses are “entitled” to hear!! IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC. Just my two cents worth.

Chuck Cannon: Big Al [Anderson] and I were talking the other day and he said, “Little buddy, it’s gonna suck til they let the girls back in.”

I feel like the more these ideas and philosophies are allowed to perpetuate, the harder it is to keep them from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to labels investing in female acts, writers writing great songs for females, and radio giving them a fair shot.
At the end of the day, hopefully it has started a healthy conversation that can really make a difference and push aside once and for all these archaic and out-of-touch ideas about what females want to hear on their radio stations.
— Speaking to The Tennessean, McBride offered an incisive statement on the matter.

Radio programmers often say that their listeners respond negatively to female voices according to research – not all that surprising given that radio stations rarely play them. The truth is, many listeners are suffering from Stockholm syndrome. For years they’ve heard so much male country (and I’m not even talking about bro country, though that’s a legitimate issue in its own right), in country radio’s effort to attract disenfranchised rock radio listeners, that they’ve become accustomed to not hearing women at all. Now, unsurprisingly, they prefer hearing men over women.
— Grady Smith, writing for The Guardian.

This points to a development path for female-led singles going forward. Due to the familiarity gap, female singles may be slower to research out of the gate, but sticking with ones that show strong early passion and/or favorables (as the current singles from Mickey Guyton, Maddie & Tae, and Kacey Musgraves do depending on the survey consulted) can yield hits for radio in the end.
— Windmills Music offered a data-based look at “Country Radio & The Anti-Female Female Myth.”

Nobody is asking for radio quotas, or even 50/50 representation, or even 2 to 1. How about just judging each song on its own merits, regardless of the sex of the artist? And how about the industry really taking a self-reflective look and trying to solve this problem from the inside out, instead of just presenting window dressing solutions with its “Women of the Future” functions and other such nonsense that seem to relegate women as artists with special needs.
— Saving Country Music’s Trigger had a trenchant overview of it all.

Anytime you take an art form and draw narrow lines around it, you are always wrong. You never look smart in the long run by saying female artists don’t test. […] Everybody needs to cool off and do their jobs. They will recognize talent when it walks through the door and there will be much celebration. These imaginary rules that have people laughing at us have got to stop.
— Even CMT president Brian Philips felt compelled to weigh in.

My job is to trick people to listen longer. You know how I do that? I never give them onion, onion, onion. I never give them carrot, carrot, carrot. I never give them a half hour of lettuce, lettuce, lettuce. And guess what? I never give them tomato, tomato, either. It’s just a strategically measured mixing.
— Meanwhile, Keith Hill – remember him? – offered some clarifying(?) comments to CMT.com’s Alison Bonaguro…

What you need to do, Alison, is start a crowdfund and raise money to purchase a little pipsqueak radio station in Nebraska or Iowa, and you program it with mostly women. I guarantee it would not be successful.
— … which did not entirely dispel anyone’s impression that he was missing the point, since nobody was talking about playing ‘mostly’ women – just more women, on more of a level playing field – and a pipsqueak station in Iowa wouldn’t stand a great chance in today’s age of conglomerated media anyway. Regardless, I’m sure Bonaguro appreciated the career advice from a leading consultant.

Apparently I am a black-and-white ’60s politically incorrect guy by using the tomatoes analogy for females. I am not sure if it would have been better to use carrots or onions.
— Keith Hill also spoke to The Tennessean. He thought maybe the issue was that he had chosen the wrong inessential salad ingredient…

When I said don’t play them back to back, it isn’t like there would be a Haitian earthquake if you did, but your ratings wouldn’t be as good. The reason is the time spent listening is driven by the perception of variety, so you don’t want to play slow song, slow song, slow song, and you don’t want to play fast song, fast song, fast song. The reason why you want to spread things is to create that impression of changing variety. […] Even if women were 50 percent of a country music database [instead of 13-20%], I wouldn’t play them back to back. I would play them every other record. If they were 25 percent of the database, I would play them every fourth record.
— … but nevertheless clarified that playing women back-to-back cannot cause earthquakes (I’m sure the people of Haiti appreciated the shout out) and showed off his ninja-like percentage-to-fraction conversion skills. He did not bother to to explain how it’s possible to create an “impression of changing variety” when 4 out of 5 songs are by some dude.

Country Music’s Idiot Of The Year award snatched away from Gary Overton by the incredibly stupid Keith Hill! Keep those interviews coming!
— Somehow, Jason Isbell remained unimpressed.

Based on the Tennesseean interview, Hill is neither ready to make nice, nor back down. He said his comments accurately reflect country radio’s listener habits, and he’s seen proof stations shed listeners if they play songs by female artists consecutively, no matter how controversial it may sound. With neither side budging, it seems everyone will have to accept that Hill says “tomato,” they say “human being deserving of equal opportunities to promote their art.” Probably best to call the whole thing off.
— Hill’s comments and the responses to them were so explosive that even mainstream, out-of-genre outlets like The Onion’s A.V. Club picked up on them.

I’ll tell you what a label guy said to me one time when I was 19 and watching a show. This is terrible, but I’m going to say it. He said, “You know how we figure out who we sign? We either want to be him or we want to f— her.” That’s really nice, but that was in LA.
— Natalie Hemby, quoted in a Country Aircheck “Women in Country” special from February that’s worth revisiting for the way it articulates/addresses some perspectives similar to Hill’s in a more thoughtful manner. Albeit without any colorful, insulting salad metaphors.

Finally, since it’s not real until you can wear it: Farce the Music has a SaladGate T-shirt for you.

New posts, by email, whenever we’ve got ’em.


  1. Em Holmes says

    Hill’s best comment was to Emily Yahr in the Washington Post when he decided to critique the quality of the music produced by women ““If women want to get played on the radio, produce better records,” he said. Given that radio play is the primary way to launch a career in the country music industry, he offers this: “They should look for hot, salted butter popcorn sonics for your ears; better crafted lyrics; and the production needs to be mainstream. If they did, [radio stations] would be playing them.”


      • says

        Thanks for this round-up! Great title too.:)

        This is getting mainstream coverage. CBS This Morning had a good story on this controversy today. Norah O’Donnell even said that the clips of Keith Hills’ comments were so out there that they sounded like a parody.

    • PSU Guy says

      Hot, salted buttered popcorn sonics for the ears? Yeah…Brandy, Kacey, Mickey Guyton, Jana Kramer..this is the guy who’s going to lead you to the promised land. With advice like that, they should just throw him in the production studio now. He’ll be as revered as Chet Atkins in about ten years.

      Seriously, I saw a lot of this covered at country universe, and didn’t really bat an eyelash. It’s not shocking to anyone, and I’m to the point where i listen less and less to country radio. Most of the stuff currently out is either geared towards teenagers, or flat out unlistenable. But, his comments in the Washington Post are flat out demeaning, even moreso than anything else he’s stated. Putting the “good lyrics” line aside (I’d love to know what he considers good lyrics)…he’s basically saying that to get play on the radio, you can’t do anything traditional, and need to have a song that’s as catchy/inescapable as possible. I sadly believe this is code for…”if you’re female, you need to release songs that are current, meaningless, and that have a good beat and are easy to dance to. Also, if you look good in cut-offs and a bikini…that’s a plus, too.” Maddie and Tae….Keith Hill truly sees you as the “girl in the country song” that you sing about.

      Not only is this demeaning to the artists not getting airplay…it’s kind of insulting to the ones who are. Miranda Lambert, and even Taylor Swift before going pop certainly released catchy material, but I like to think they put a little more lyrical meat to their songs than this goofball implies. I’d even say the quality of their music is stronger than most of their male counterparts. And while I’m not a huge fan of Carrie Underwood, she’s certainly has tried to tackle some subjects of substance in her music as of late. To basically have their work compared to an easily digestible, yet tasty snack…well, it would be a tough kernel to swallow if I were in their shoes. (alright…last lame pun of the day).

      So, where does this lead us. Well, obviously not towards country radio. But I write all of this to reiterate what CM said in four words…”Wow…this guy sucks.”

  2. Andrew says

    I used to be music director for a pipsqueak station in Nebraska. While I didn’t load up with mostly women we did have a decent mix and had more listeners than our main competitor, which stuck to the current top 40.

  3. Dana M says

    I don’t listen to country radio ‘cos it sucks. But just looking at my latest favourite songs playlist of 98 songs, 30 are men and 68 are women. As for Top 30 most played, it’s 7 men and 23 women. In the end though, they just need to play better songs and I’ll give country radio a listen, until then I’m not tuning in and so their “research” will always be skewed to those female listeners who just want to listen to Luke Bryan’s latest hit.

  4. Erik North says

    I’m just glad that this clown, and really the whole “focus group” mentality that has caused mainstream country music to really…how shall I put this…suck these days, didn’t exist in the mid-to-late 1970s when Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris were each making their own impacts on the genre, and influencing many of the very female artists that people of his ilk try to deny airplay to.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>