We’ve heard for years that Country radio programmers have rules against playing songs by women back-to-back – it’s a practice that has been passed down through generations, encoded in programming manuals, and spoken about at conventions. There haven’t been enough “hits” by women, they say, so these songs had to be “spread out for diversity.”
Last Fall, Jan Diehm of The Pudding contacted me with this question after reading Marissa R. Moss’s Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be. She wondered if it had been studied. It hadn’t. So we teamed up to develop a project to investigate and after seven months of work we are sharing our new study: “They Won’t Play a Lady-O on Country Radio: Examining Back-to-Back Plays by Gender, Race, and Sexual Orientation.”
Just how bad is it? …
Through a study of daily logs of 29 Country stations in the largest market areas, we have examined 24-hour programming across each month of 2022 to get a sense of how often, if at all, these stations’ listeners would hear songs by women, artists of color and LGBTQ+ artists back-to-back. The results are unsurprising, to be sure, but they are actually far worse than anticipated.
Across these stations, songs by women are played back-to-back an average of 0.50%, and consistent with SongData’s findings about daypart programming, the majority (46.1%) of these back-to-back plays occur in the overnights. More critically, most of the songs by women that are played back-to-back are recurrent (43.7%) or gold catalogue (36.2%) songs, meaning that current singles by women are played at a low-rotation and not played in proximity.
The picture is bleaker for songs by women of color and LGBTQ+ artists, whose songs received less than 1.0% of the airplay in 2022. Songs by women received 11% of the airplay in 2022 (10.97% for white women, 0.03% for Black and biracial women), but 20 of these stations studied play songs by women at a percentage below this national average and most did not play songs by women of color or LGBTQ+ artists at all. We provided a song data dashboard at the bottom of the study so that you can click through and explore representation and back-to-back airplay for women, artists of color and LGBTQ+ artists on each station studied.
The carousel below shares a summary of findings for the stations studied.
A note on our title: we drew inspiration from Tami Neilson’s song “Queenie, Queenie” and are grateful that she gave us permission to use lyrics as the study title.