Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Country Radio Seminar Turns 50

As broadcasters convene in Nashville for the 50th annual Country Radio Seminar (CRS) running Wednesday to Friday, they will find their industry in a much different position than it occupied during the first convention in 1970, reports Billboard.

At that time, the U.S. boasted roughly 600 full-time country stations. They were mostly locally owned AM signals in smaller markets with the music presented between blocks of news, talk, farm reports and play-by-play sportscasts. Callout research, satellite radio and streaming platforms did not exist, so the country program director and music director were often the genre's lone tastemakers in a given market.

Now 2,000 stations program country full time, with corporate program directors sometimes making decisions for more than 100 stations, most of them FM signals with one or more country rivals in the market.

The pie is larger, but the competition is greater, stock prices play a larger role in management decisions and Nielsen Music now measures many markets year-round through Personal People Meters rather than the old, intermittent diary method. In context, the radio industry -- which felt in another era like an exciting gateway to a larger world -- seems an extraordinarily conservative medium.

"It's very high risk," says Country Radio Broadcasters executive director R.J. Curtis. He is overseeing this year's CRS in tandem with Bill Mayne, who will leave the organization in May. "That's why you see radio playing it safe."

While Country radio remains No. 1 in terms of its ability to expose the genre, though its role has changed as a platform for music discovery. Some stations still own a tastemaker reputation in their market, as they would have in 1970. But SiriusXM and streaming platforms are eroding that point for terrestrial country as a whole. The genre's stations arrive at the 50th CRS as a major voice in country, but not the sole one.

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