Last week, Maren Morris's song "The Bones" became the No. 1 song on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. She's the solo first woman to get to No. 1 in an entire year, since her previous single, "GIRL," made the trek to the top. No other woman in country music has had back-to-back No. 1s on that chart since Kelsea Ballerini and Carrie Underwood did it in 2016. How can that be, you ask? Because country radio doesn't play women nearly enough.
One of the reasons that radio programmers say they keep electing to play women less than men is because they think that women don't like to hear other women on the radio. A new study from CMT and Coleman Insights Media Research took that question to the people and found that, actually, women (and everyone else listening to the radio) want to hear more women.
In a survey of 1,000 radio listeners ages 25-54 who were screened to be fans of country radio, the findings were clear: 84% of listeners want equality for women artists in radio play, seven in 10 listeners want to hear more women on the radio, and 28% of listeners would tune in more if more women were being played on the radio.
“The age-old myth that ‘women don’t want to hear women’ has led to a multitude of unproven public claims about female voices on the air, including ‘you can’t play two women back-to-back’ or ‘ratings drop when you play women,’” said Leslie Fram, senior vice president, music and talent at CMT. “When we approached Coleman Insights about this specific line of research, we were shocked to learn no one had ever commissioned data on the listeners themselves. CMT took it directly to the fans and what we found couldn’t have been more clear: listeners want equal play and women do want to hear women on the radio.”
CMT recently announced an Equal Play Campaign and reset its music video playlist to reflect a 50/50 split of women and men artists.
Exactly how bad is it for women at country radio? A new study from SongData, prepared in partnership with CMT’s Equal Play Campaign, shows that 10% is a statistic that seems to be following women around at radio. That was the percentage of daily spins for women on the Weekly Airplay Reports in 2019 (an accounting of how many spins songs get at radio), the percent of songs on the Billboard’s Year-End Airplay Chart in 2019, and other relevant airplay stats.
SongData found that although this is a 1.2% increase in radio play for women from 2018, the gains happened largely in overnight and evening play — radio's highest exposure times are midday and mornings. So, they played more women but did it when fewer people were listening.
"Any increase at the amount of spins for songs by women in 2019 is thus neutralized by the time at which these songs are spun: the potential impact on an audience is negligible and women’s voices continue to be nearly invisible to radio listeners," writes Jada Watson, Ph.D. M.I.S. and principal investigator at SongData.
What can be done about it? It's incredibly simple: play more women and play them when it counts. If radio continues to not do that, women will continue to be "nearly invisible."