New Study: Gender Representation on Canadian Country Format Radio (2005-2018)

by Jada E. Watson

Over the last five years there has been increased attention to issues regarding gender representation in country music culture generally and on country format radio in particular. The vast majority of these studies have focused on representation on US country format radio (Ghosh 201220132015; Watson 2018 ; Annenberg 2019; Watson 2019a, 2019b), with limited attention to the growing gender imbalance on Canadian country music radio.

Today SongData is releasing a Report on Gender Representation on Canadian country music radio. This Report analyzes gender representation on Yearend Reports (2005-2018) and Weekly Charts (2005-2018) published by Mediabase. A 6-page Brief provides a snapshot of the study’s findings. The full analysis can be read in the Report.

In a September 2014 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Nick Patch stated that the genre’s “gender imbalance has grown wider than the brim of a Stetson.” Reporting on the situation on the eve of the annual Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMA) that year, Patch observed that women were being edged out of the genre – pointing to the complete absence of female artists among the 15 nominations for the top three awards. Three years later, Global News’s Chris Jancelewicz conducted a study of Canadian country format radio. Tracking playlists across a 12-hour period on three Corus-owned stations (Country 104 in Woodstock, Ontario; KX96 FM in Oshawa, Ontario; and 93.7 JR FM in Vancouver, British Columbia), Jancelewicz found significant disparity between male and female artists. Despite increasing popularity of the genre amongst Canadians, the results show that songs by female artists made up 8.0-14.9% of Canadian country format programming.  

As gender imbalance has become an increasingly dire situation for country music culture, one Canadian program director is using her platform to support women. Ottawa’s Country 101.1 FM launched a special program “Girl Power Hour” on 27 August 2018 (as reported in The National Post). Amanda Kingsland, the station’s Program Director and Roger’s National Music Director for the Country Brand, developed the program with her staff at Country 101.1 with the goal developing a strategy for promoting female artists. The one-hour program airs on weeknights at 6:00 p.m. (eastern standard time), and features classics alongside current country artists. Following its successful launch in Ottawa, Roger’s added the program to their stations across the country. In addition to programming, Country 101.1 partnered with GallantMEDIA to present Fav Five Females customizable tank tops and T-shirts. Fans can select their five favourite female artists to be printed on a shirt, with proceeds donated to Women in Music Canada. While some might argue that specialty programming ghettoizes female musicians, this type of programming works to reverse the exclusion of women by reintroducing them to audiences and providing a platform for new artists. More critically, it shows the industry that it can be done in a consistent manner. They increased their programming recently, with the introduction of “Girl Power Play” – two daytime segments that highlight the genre’s female artists. Rogers Media has been nominated for a 2019 Canadian Country Music Award for the program at this weekend’s award ceremony in Calgary, Alberta.

Canadian country format radio differs from the American model discussed in previous research studies in both size and scope. First, the Canadian country format radio market is much smaller than its American counterpart. There are currently 38 Country format stations monitored by Mediabase in Canada, 35 of them reporting their playlists to the weekly charts. This, in comparison to the 321 Mediabase-monited stations in the USA – 157 of which are reporting to the Published Panel. US country format radio is four times larger than the Canadian country radio landscape (eight time larger overall when looking at all monitored stations). As a result of fewer stations, Canadian airplay charts tend to be a much faster moving ecosystem, and individual stations have greater power to influence an artist’s performance on a chart. The second notable difference in the Canadian model concerns content: radio broadcasting in the country has, since the early 1970s, been governed by Canadian content (CanCon) rules that regulate the composition of broadcast radio in the country. These regulations stipulate that Canadian broadcast radio must program a certain percentage of content that was at least partly written, produced, presented or contributed to by persons from Canada (as defined by the MAPL system). While the present study does not have for its goal to evaluate if or how Canadian country radio is complying with CanCon regulations, it is important that they be considered within the broader climate of gender inequality. 

This report examines gender representation in country music, focusing on Canadian radio airplay as tabulated by Mediabase for their yearend charts published between 2005 to 2018, as well as on the weekly charts of the same timeframe. SongData offers the first study of gender representation of Canadian country music culture, looking at how men, women and male-female artists factor into radio airplay. Crucial to this study is not just the three-level gender analysis (at the core of all SongData studies), but also representation of Canadian artists in this cultural space. This study’s results show similar levels of gender inequality as the report on US country format airplay – most disconcertingly during the last five-to-seven years. Indeed, as with previous studies, these results show a significant lack of diversity on country format radio in Canada.

However, despite continued decline of female artists across the yearend and weekly reports, the study also point strongly to increased representation of the Canada’s female artists starting in 2011, and stabilizing through to 2018. While this support has not often been enough to push Canadian female artists into the Top 10 of the charts in strong numbers, there has been continued improvement overall. Notably, Lindsay Ell and Meghan Patrick ended a 10-year drought of Canadian women at the top of the charts, registering the first #1 records since Terri Clark in 2008.

“Inequality prevents merit-based success.’
Brandi Carlile, Rolling Stone Country interview

Broadcast radio plays a vital role in the development of the genre’s cultural space, and significantly impacts broader industry decision-making practices. Not only does radio influence how labels and publishers sign, produce and promote artists, it also impacts the trajectory of the careers of artists, who depend on airplay exposure for other career opportunities. Spins are routinely used as criteria for determining artist eligibility for industry accolades and/or events. While using spins as a criteria for determining a genre’s leading artists might seem logical, it is an increasingly problematic metric in a culture plagued with gender inequalities. For example, an artist’s eligibility for several of the awards presented at the CCMA Awards is determined, in part, on radio airplay and/or sales statistics, including Male Artist, Female Artist and Group or Duo of the Year, as well as the all-encompassing Entertainer of the Year, Apple Music Fans’ Choice and Rising Star. Based on the results presented in this study, a Canadian female artist would never even be deemed eligible for contention for the awards open to all artists. In fact, this is also a problematic criterion to use for determining Female Artist of the Year, as there are many Canadian women who have strong streaming numbers but limited radio airplay.

This is not up to radio alone: labels and publishes also need to build more inclusive signing practices. Program directors need to have enough women in their databases to include them in their playlists. Having had the opportunity to see the tools used in Canadian radio programming, I can see the challenge in building balanced and diverse playlists when when there are only a handful of artists available to them.

In such a context, unless something changes – whether in radio programming or award criteria – it seems unlikely that a female artists would be recognized for top awards. To echo the words of Brandi Carlile in interview with Rolling Stone Country‘s Marissa R. Moss, inequalities such as these prevent merit-based success for female artists. Merit and ability cannot be part of this discussion until there is – in the words of The Highwomen – a crowded table, with a place for everyone.

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