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RetroCountry...

t's the Golden Year 1981 and I had recently been hired as the Operations Manager/Program Director of a woebegone AM in Richmond VA. The station played Adult Contemporary music and had a high service profile, a format direction set up, in fact, by a consultant who was long gone by the time of my arrival. In fairness to him what I inherited had gone through several other pairs of programming hands.

The station was hovering at about a one-share. Yup, only one percent of the market listened to the station. This was not good. The only spots on the station were freebies thrown in when they sold a package on the accompanying Burkhart-Abrams Superstars FM. It didn't take a programming genius to see that this was an impossible position for the station, trying to run a flanking attack on a long-established full service clear channel giant.

The GM (Greg Pearson, who now publishes an enormously successful suburban newspaper) and I wisely came to the conclusion that (a) there might be something else we could do with the station and (b) playing country music was probably that something.

Greg and I fussed up a "research paper" that clearly pointed out the new direction for the station (it was primarily based on the fact that John Travolta's Urban Cowboy movie had just turned the music world upside down) and presented it to the owner, Bill Rust.

SIDEBAR: Bill Rust was one of the pioneers of the broadcast industry. He held a fair number of electronic patents, including several mysterious projects he had created and turned over to the guvmint, and a group of radio stations. He also owned a big ol' green RV in which he would travel from station to station and from which he would terrorize his employees. Bill liked to "tweak." I remember telling our engineer to "Please, remember the settings" whenever Bill visited so that, afterward, once he had driven out of earshot, we could fix the audio.

But Bill Rust really DID NOT like country music. Greg and I did our tap dance, though, and for some mysterious reason (I think it was the part of the research paper that projected earnings) he said, "OK. Do it."

So I hired Bob Elliot, at that time with Burkhart Abrams, traded out a BUNCH of records with Peaches and we set about recreating the radio station. Up until that point the only country music I had ever been exposed to were the Eddy Arnold records my Father played at home; this station was not playing my Father's country music. We ran that sucker up to a ten share in-demo in just over six months. I, of course, took all the credit and Elliot got all the money in his monthly fees. Since then, other and much more competent country Program Directors than me, including my friend Tad Griffin, have managed to do even greater things with the format in Richmond.

Time moves on and so do radio people. In 1990, I became the Accidental Program Director at KIX104, inadequately replacing one of the very best radio people I have ever known, John King. A few weeks after John left KIX, he called me and we had a long discussion about the future of country music. Within days I had installed a "Hot Country" format on KIX...of course, Ray Massey, at WIL, copied everything, lock, stock and sixgun within hours of our new format's debut. Yawn. Been there, done that, and always at least a day ahead.

But, as the alcoholic knows that one drink leads to more, I should have known that playing that first Garth Brooks song was the wrong thing to do...

And then I got whacked as the KIX PD and, later, in July 1992, as part of the morning show, by my all-time favorite GM. My run in country music lasted from the early '80's to the early '90's.

Bottom line is this: I really do believe that there is a place in radio for the Urban Cowboy era music as a stand-alone format. I'd certainly listen to it, if only to remind myself of my favorite and most successful segment of my radio career. But there are millions and millions of 35+ listeners who might listen too. Is that worth programming for? I bet it is. But then I don't own any radio stations...

Here's a free playlist. Cut and paste to your heart's content. Once you get it set up and either on the air or streaming, let me know. I'll be your most faithful listener. And, oh, what stories I could tell you about some of these performers...

Mike Anderson

These are the songs that were the heritage of the Hot Country formats. They were the bridge between the "Countrypolitan" music of the 70's and the production and presentation of the 90's and on.

This "Urban Cowboy" era music brought millions of boomer listeners to the format and represents their earliest emotional tie to country music. Not all would be played in the same tier/power as the others; and many would be purely image songs, played in lunar or pluto rotations. Additionally, there are a fair number of AC songs that were mainstays of the format and are included on this list. They may or may not fit in any application of this list today.

Whatever. Use this 1100 song (plus or minus) list as you'd like. I may eventually get around to setting up rotation categories; if you'd like a copy of that, check back here now and again. Or take the initiative and set the damned categories up on your own. There are no wrong answers!

Download the list as an Excel file
View the list as a web page.
View the list as a PDF file
 

 

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