Three Theories & A Timeline That Examines The Lack of Women on Country Radio

Right now one of the hot topics of debate in country music is inequality of women on country radio. While many are trying to change the toxic culture, I’ve been trying to figure out how we got here in the first place. So being a data nerd I set out to look at the numbers and to test some of my theories as to what has brought country to this place in regards to women artists. My first theory: Women get punished for not following major trends in country music. Another theory: the 1996 Telecommunications Act hurt women at radio (h/t to Zack for reminding me of this Act). My final theory: The collapse of rock radio hurt women due to its male dominated audience flocking to country radio. Below I lay out the timeline of events from 1994 through 2017. I combed through Billboard’s chart data and list the number of women-based acts to achieve a #1 that year out of the number of artists to reach #1. In parenthesis are events and trends with other significant stats.


  • 1994 – 4 of 30
  • 1995 – 5 of 28 (Rock radio decline begins)
  • 1996 – 12 of 28 (12 solo women; 1996 Telecommunications Act enacted)
  • 1997 – 6 of 23 (5 solo women)
  • 1998 – 13 of 26 (10 solo women)
  • 1999 – 8 of 19 (7 solo women)
  • 2000 – 6 of 19
  • 2001 – 6 of 22
  • 2002 – 2 of 21 (Patriot country begins)
  • 2003 – 1 of 19 (Zero solo women; Dixie Chicks achieve last #1; Rock radio crashes)
  • 2004 – 4 of 21 (Patriot country fades)
  • 2005 – 3 of 20
  • 2006 – 3 of 23
  • 2007 – 4 of 25
  • 2008 – 7 of 26 (Taylor Swift & Carrie Underwood account for 6 of the 7)
  • 2009 – 6 of 30 (Swift & Underwood account for 2 of 6)
  • 2010 – 7 of 29 (4 solo women: Reba, Underwood x2 & Miranda Lambert)
  • 2011 – 9 of 34 (3 solo women: Reba, Swift & Lambert)
  • 2012 – 6 of 35 (Bro country begins to emerge at end of year with success of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise”; 4 solo women: Carrie x2, Swift & Lambert; Billboard Country Airplay chart created & implemented)
  • 2013 – 6 of 31 (Zero solo women)
  • 2014 – 4 of 35 (Peak of bro country begins; Taylor Swift officially leaves country music; zero solo women)
  • 2015 – 3 of 39 (One solo woman: Kelsea Ballerini)
  • 2016 – 8 of 40 (Bro country done; 4 solo women: Underwood x2 & Ballerini x2)
  • 2017 – 5 of 34 (2 solo women: Lauren Alaina & Carly Pearce)

NotesĀ 

  • Figuring out the decline and crash of rock radio was tricky. Ultimately I decided to determine it based on data complied by FiveThirtyEight that took a deep look at classic rock radio. If you click on the link above, you’ll see a graph that shows Classic Rock songs plays by release year. In 1995 the amount takes a big drop and never really recovers, finally crashing to basically nothing in 2003. It has very few blips in the graph after this year (most likely Nickelback songs). So based on this data, this seemed to indicate the decline and crash of rock radio.
  • The Billboard Hot Country Songs chart was the main chart used for this timeline up until the creation of the airplay chart, which is indicated in the timeline above.
  • Outside of solo women artists, an act/group/feature had to have a woman be a major part of the song/group for it to be counted. So groups like Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town do count towards the counts, along with features like Ashley Monroe on Blake Shelton’s “Lonely Tonight.”
  • If you want to learn more about the 1996 Telecommunications Act, I linked it’s Wiki in the timeline. Zack of Swamp Opera also wrote a great piece covering it I recommend checking out.

Theory Observations

  • Theory #1: Country radio & audiences punished women for not following major trends. Verdict: True
    • Every time a major trend began, women artists were hurt in someway. In both major trends I list above, women really didn’t go with it because they were male-dominated trends. Plus you know not exploiting tragedy for profit and not wanting to be objects on tailgates.
    • There’s only one instance of a woman act reaching #1 with a trend song: it’s ironically the Dixie Chicks’ last #1 song “Traveling Solider.”
    • Over the course of three years of Patriot Country, women acts reached #1 only 7 of 61 possible times. Only 11.5% of the time, even worse than bro country.
    • Women really never recovered after this trend if you look closely at the numbers. If you take away Reba, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert, the numbers remain extremely low. These four artists are the only reason the numbers show a “recovery” in the late 2000s.
    • After bro country begins, zero solo women reach #1 for two years. Kelsea Ballerini breaks the drought in 2015 with a song that is arguably sympathetic of bro country. It’s until 2016 that a solo woman tops the chart with a song that definitively doesn’t appeal to trends.
    • Only two solo women top the charts in 2016, twice each: Underwood and Ballerini. Lambert and Reba have been completely abandoned by radio, while Swift has left the genre (you have to think this played a factor in her leaving).
    • In 2017 both solo women, Lauren Alaina and Carly Pearce, who topped the chart got On The Verge deals with iHeart. For those unfamiliar, it’s an artificial bump that labels gerrymander for behind the scenes with iHeart.
  • Theory #2: The 1996 Telecommunications Act hurt women at country radio. Verdict: Highly PlausibleĀ 
    • While the number of women to reach #1 declined the year after the act was installed, in 1998 women had their best year in the modern era. They comprised 50% of the #1 country songs that year and 10 of 13 were solo women.
    • 1999 saw women topping the charts over 40% of the time, 2000 saw over 30% and 2001 saw around 27%. Then a sharp decline begins with the coinciding of Patriot country.
    • But something else also happened that was significant over these years and truly started to show their effects in 2002. According to Zack’s research at Swamp Opera, in 2002 “only 10 companies controlled 65% share of the radio audience.” Radio was also more restrictive of playlists in the fallout of 9/11.
    • So you could come to the conclusion that this hurt women at radio, but these numbers don’t definitively conclude it either. It would require extensive research of playlists during this time period and interviewing radio programmers from this time period too.
  • Theory #3: The male-dominated audience of rock radio flocking to country radio in the wake of rock radio’s collapse hurt women. Verdict: True
    • While I say true, I have to add a caveat: I think it compliments the trends theory, rather than be a major cause itself. The reason I say this is because these trends were male-dominated, so naturally they appeal to male-dominated audiences. With rock radio audiences firmly entrenching themselves in country music by 2004, it aligns perfectly with the decline of women reaching #1 on the chart.

Conclusions

  • The major male-dominated trends of Patriot Country and Bro Country crushed women at country radio.
  • The male-dominated audience of rock radio infiltrating country audience’s tipped the balance of country’s audience and hurt women too.
  • The 1996 Telecommunications Act could have played a role in hurting women at country radio. But it’s not definitive.
  • Everybody in the country music community needs to leave radio in the dust. It’s a useless relic of the past that no longer serves a purpose towards the audience and certainly not towards women artists.

An Even Closer Look at Country Music’s Streaming Numbers

After writing up my piece on the success of the few in country music today actually embracing streaming, I decided to take an even closer look at the numbers to present an even better look at the genre. Since Spotify is the only platform open with their data and numbers, I will be using data from their platform. Listed below are the number of monthly listeners for 110 artists in country music. They cover a wide spectrum of the genre from past to present, mainstream to independent to give an accurate cross-section of how country music streams. They’re listed in order of highest to lowest listeners per month (numbers in millions unless otherwise noted).

  1. Florida Georgia Line – 12.8
  2. Maren Morris – 12.6
  3. Sam Hunt – 6.4
  4. Johnny Cash – 6.4
  5. Thomas Rhett – 6.3
  6. Dan + Shay – 5.9
  7. Jason Aldean – 5.5
  8. Luke Bryan – 5.5
  9. Keith Urban – 5.1
  10. Kane Brown – 4.9
  11. Kenny Chesney – 4.9
  12. Luke Combs – 4.8
  13. Blake Shelton – 4.6
  14. Dolly Parton – 4.4
  15. Zac Brown Band – 4.3
  16. Eric Church – 4.1
  17. Dierks Bentley – 4.1
  18. Rascal Flatts – 4.0
  19. Dustin Lynch – 4.0
  20. Darius Rucker – 4.0
  21. Carrie Underwood – 3.9
  22. Old Dominion – 3.9
  23. Tim McGraw – 3.9
  24. Chris Young – 3.8
  25. Cole Swindell – 3.8
  26. Jon Pardi – 3.7
  27. Chris Stapleton – 3.5
  28. Jake Owen – 3.4
  29. Brett Young – 3.3
  30. Lady Antebellum – 3.0
  31. Rodney Atkins – 2.8
  32. Alan Jackson – 2.6
  33. Morgan Wallen – 2.6
  34. LANCO – 2.6
  35. Russell Dickerson – 2.6
  36. Chase Rice – 2.6
  37. Josh Turner – 2.5
  38. Jordan Davis – 2.5
  39. Willie Nelson – 2.4
  40. Kelsea Ballerini – 2.4
  41. Brett Eldredge – 2.4
  42. George Strait – 2.3
  43. Brantley Gilbert – 2.3
  44. Little Big Town – 2.3
  45. Brooks & Dunn – 2.1
  46. Miranda Lambert – 2.1
  47. Brothers Osborne – 2.1
  48. Randy Houser – 2.0
  49. LeAnn Rimes – 1.9
  50. Kip Moore – 1.8
  51. Kacey Musgraves – 1.7
  52. Midland – 1.7
  53. Dixie Chicks – 1.6
  54. Dylan Scott – 1.6
  55. Justin Moore – 1.6
  56. Travis Tritt – 1.5
  57. Faith Hill – 1.5
  58. Sugarland – 1.4
  59. Mitchell Tenpenny – 1.4
  60. Chris Janson – 1.4
  61. Waylon Jennings – 1.3
  62. Alabama – 1.3
  63. Danielle Bradbery – 1.3
  64. Easton Corbin – 1.3
  65. Jerrod Niemann – 1.3
  66. Linda Ronstadt – 1.2
  67. Walker Hayes – 1.2
  68. Hank Williams Jr. – 1.1
  69. Merle Haggard – 1.0
  70. Lauren Alaina – 1.0
  71. Gary Allan – 1.0
  72. Alison Krauss – 1.0
  73. Emmylou Harris – 1.0
  74. Clint Black – 910,070
  75. Dwight Yoakam – 905,476
  76. Reba McEntire – 888,062
  77. Jamey Johnson – 885,822
  78. Jo Dee Messina – 824,219
  79. Carly Pearce – 791,799
  80. Kris Kristofferson – 769,426
  81. Cody Johnson – 746,301
  82. Trisha Yearwood – 733,258
  83. Cody Jinks – 725,912
  84. Maddie & Tae – 662,298
  85. Aaron Watson – 630,905
  86. Josh Abbott Band – 628,100
  87. Hank Williams – 621,728
  88. Lee Ann Womack – 617,337
  89. Patty Loveless – 577,957
  90. Sammy Kershaw – 570,943
  91. Tyler Childers – 555,986
  92. Sturgill Simpson – 536,202
  93. Loretta Lynn – 482,320
  94. Turnpike Troubadours – 469,565
  95. Blackberry Smoke – 468,455
  96. Randy Rogers Band – 419,794
  97. Drake White – 414,573
  98. Wheeler Walker Jr. – 393,758
  99. Gretchen Wilson – 393,311
  100. Colter Wall – 385,205
  101. Tanya Tucker – 374,499
  102. The Judds – 292,489
  103. Wade Bowen – 288,212
  104. Ashley McBryde – 277,619
  105. Whitey Morgan and the 78s – 237,902
  106. William Michael Morgan – 204,518
  107. Lindi Ortega – 163,118
  108. Margo Price – 153,908
  109. Nikki Lane – 146,890
  110. Paul Cauthen – 145,392

 

Notes

  • Something interesting that immediately caught my eyes is where the most listeners for each artist come from. The vast majority of artist’s top five cities were Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Houston. Some notable exceptions…
  • Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Jordan Davis, Morgan Wallen, Jake Owen, Margo Price, Danielle Bradbery, Russell Dickerson, Chase Rice, Old Dominion, Dan + Shay, Zac Brown Band and Mitchell Tenpenny, all have the same list except replace Houston with New York City.
  • Maren Morris’ top five cities are London, Quezon City, Philippines; Los Angeles, Chicago and Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Alan Jackson’s top five cities are Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and Oslo, Norway.
  • Lady Antebellum’s top five cities are Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris’ top five cities are London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo, Norway.
  • Kris Kristofferson and Alison Krauss’ top five cities are Oslo, Norway; Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
  • Linda Ronstadt’s top five cities are Mexico City, Los Angeles, Chicago, London and New York City.
  • LeAnn Rimes’ top five cities are London, Quezon City, Philippines; Jakarta, Indonesia; Makati City, Philippines and Los Angeles.
  • Johnny Cash’s top five cities are London, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Oslo, Norway.
  • Randy Rogers Band and Wade Bowen’s top five cities are Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth.
  • Aaron Watson, Turnpike Troubadours and Cody Johnson’s top five cities are Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and Austin.
  • Josh Abbott Band’s top five cities are Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Austin and San Antonio.
  • Blackberry Smoke’s top five cities are Dallas, Atlanta, London, Chicago and Houston.
  • If an artist didn’t make the list above, it was simply because I chose to stop at 110,00 and wanted to provide a variety of artists across several decades of country music. Some did not make it though because they have less than 100,000 monthly listeners and I chose to not to include these artists.
  • One thing to keep in mind when looking at these numbers is the amount of variables involved in amount of monthly listeners. High-profile features can give a nice boost. Some artists have huge catalogs that can help them have a bunch of monthly listeners, but not necessarily have something from their current album streaming well. One hit can carry an artist’s almost entire streaming numbers, while some have their numbers spread evenly.
  • The Billboard Country Streaming Songs chart factors in Apple Music, Google Play, YouTube and other streaming platforms. Some artists do better on certain platforms and worse on others.
  • Eight of the top 15 artists on this list are ones I mentioned previously as embracing streaming. Brett Young is the lowest of those artists on the list at #29.
  • One last thing: All of these numbers are public data. I’m simply the messenger organizing these numbers into a readable list. Feel free to go on Spotify and see the numbers for yourself and check out any artist I did not mention.