New Study: Gender Representation on Country Music Radio

Jada E. Watson

I have been researching issues related to gender representation, discrimination and censorship in country music since for the last 12 years. Since 2015 and the infamous #TomatoBarb, researching gender inequality via chart data has been at the center of my work. I have had the great fortune of sharing this work with my colleagues at the International Country Music Conference, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, and PopCon. In September 2018, I published the results of my first study in Popular Music & Society, and there are more studies in the pipeline.

Today SongData is releasing a large-scale Report on Gender Representation on Country Music Radio. This Report analyzes gender representation on Yearend Reports (2000-2018) and Weekly Charts (2002-2018) published by Mediabase. A 5-page Brief provides a snapshot of the study’s findings. The full analysis can be read in the Report.

This report was prepared in consultation with WOMAN Nashville.

Issues related to gender equality have been at the fore of public and scholarly discourse surrounding the popular music industry for at least the last five years. A number of critical articles and reports have been published by leading journalists and scholars, sharing statistics on the precarious position of women within popular music in general (Annenberg 20182019; Prior, Berra & Pieper 2019), and the country industry specifically (Ghosh 201220132015; Watson 2019Archived manuscript; Annenberg 2019). Taken together, these studies show that, despite increasing presence on charts and radio in the late 1990s, women’s position has weakened in the industry since the early 2000s.

Despite heightened awareness and public discussion surrounding gender inequality in country music, and discriminatory practices in radio programming, the situation has worsened over the last three years. My 2019 publication on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart identified a 10% loss in the number of women debuting on the chart over the course of a two-decade period from 1996 to 2016, and a 27% drop in those reaching the #1 position (Watson 2019). This study focused on the impact of radio programming practices and on changing Billboard methodologies, showing how women have been pushed out of the long-running chart. 

The majority of the published studies have focused on the Hot Country Songs chart. Once the flagship country chart for Billboard, October 2012 changes to the chart methodology have profoundly altered the composition of the chart. From January 1990 to October 2012, the chart tabulated popularity based on country format radio airplay. In October 2012, Billboard announced their decision to apply the Hot 100 hybrid-method to Hot Country Songs, combining digital sales, streaming and airplay from all radio formats to determine weekly rankingsIt is crucial to underscore this point: before this methodological change, a country song needed country format radio-airplay alone to appear on and climb the chart. With the new 2012 formula, a song benefits from time spent on all radio formats and charts. Because cross-over airplay is tabulated in the method, Billboard does not differentiate between radio edits. As such, a song serviced  to both Country and Top 40 formats with different radio edits are now counted as just one unit (Billboard 2012). The impact of this methodology was thoroughly investigated in my September 2018 publication, which illustrates how the new method has radically changed the chart — significantly reducing the number of artists reaching the coveted #1 spot and nearly erasing women from the chart (Watson 2019). While these are critical issues with regard to gender representation, to be sure, this Billboard chart is no longer an accurate representation of country radio — an issue this report addresses.

This report examines gender representation in country music, focusing on radio airplay as tabulated by Mediabase for their yearend charts published between 2000 to 2018, as well as on the weekly charts between 2002 and 2018. This report shares new results of a data-driven analysis of the songs and artists that appear on country radio, looking at how many individual men, women and male-female artists receive radio airplay in this period. Crucial to this study is this three-level gender analysis. While country radio programmers only use two gender codes (male and female — using the latter for male-female ensembles), this study differentiates between female artists (solo/ensembles) and male-female ensembles in order to better understand the gender inequities in programming. 

Also new in this study is the discussion of spins. Focusing on the yearend spin counts for artists gives us a new perspective on how women factor into programming decisions. These results show that women are not receiving anywhere near the same amount of spins as their male colleagues, suggesting systemic issues of gender discrimination in radio programming far beyond what was originally presumed. The last five years (and in some cases 2018, in particular) emerge as particularly problematic for country culture, which lacks diversity and perpetuates gender biases. These results show us the results of programming decisions, and the impact that they have had on female artists and male-female ensembles. 

Inquiries and requests to use or reproduce graphics can be sent to Jada Watson at