Country Radio’s Chart Slowdown: ‘We Must Still Take Chances … or We Will Become Irrelevant’

Country Radio’s Chart Slowdown: ‘We Must Still Take Chances … or We Will Become Irrelevant’

Dustin Lynch‘s “Thinking ‘Bout You,” featuring MacKenzie Porter, logs its 27th week in the top 10 of Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, establishing a new record for longevity in the region.

On the list dated April 23, the collaboration ranks at No. 8 with 17.9 million impressions in the tracking week ending April 17, according to Luminate, formerly MRC Data. The single, which Lynch co-wrote with Andy Albert, Hunter Phelps and Will Weatherly, has spent 50 weeks on the survey overall. It began a six-week domination on the list dated Dec. 11, 2021, becoming Lynch’s eighth Country Airplay leader and Porter’s first.

Dating to the chart’s January 1990 launch, “Thinking” one-ups Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood’s “If I Didn’t Love You,” which held in the top 10 for 26 weeks, after it ruled for three frames beginning last October. It became Aldean’s 24th leader and Underwood’s 16th.

Notably, Lynch and Aldean both record for Broken Bow Records. (Porter is signed to Big Loud and Underwood records for Capitol Nashville.)

Looking at the five longest lasting titles in the Country Airplay top 10, the top three have joined the elite club within the last year. In third place, Chris Young and Kane Brown’s “Famous Friends,” which wrapped as Billboard‘s No. 1 Country Airplay song of 2021, having led the ranking for a week last July, endured for 23 frames in the top 10.

Rounding out the five longest stays, Russell Dickerson’s debut hit “Yours” and Lonestar’s crossover smash “Amazed” each spent 21 weeks in the tier. “Yours” led for two weeks starting in January 2018, becoming Dickerson’s first of first of four straight career-opening No. 1s, and “Amazed” dominated for eight weeks beginning in July 1999, becoming the group’s third of nine leaders (before going on to crown the all-genre, multi-metric Billboard Hot 100 in March 2000, sparked by pop and adult formats’ acceptance).

It’s no secret that today’s country radio programmers, who are competing with multiple other platforms, from streaming to social media, lean heavily on research to largely determine the longevity of songs.

“We are happy to see great songs hang on for a long time,” says Nashville-based vp of country programming for Cumulus Media Charlie Cook. “The Dustin Lynch and MacKenzie Porter track is the perfect example. The song clicked with listeners, and we continue to see great research numbers on the song each week, so why would we move it out of power [rotation]? I appreciate that the record companies need to move titles through the system – and we want to help them with that, too – but we believe that playing the best testing songs the most is the best way to help them build on their artist’s brands and appeal to radio listeners at the same time.”

Cook continues, “The Jason-Carrie is another song that the listeners can’t get enough of, and still [Aldean and Underwood have since] been able to release new individual titles, so radio gets double duty from these superstars. That’s a win-win-win-win for both artists, the listeners and radio.”

Aldean’s latest, “Trouble With a Heartbreak,” ranks at its No. 15 high on Country Airplay (12 million in audience) and Underwood’s new single “Ghost Story” bullets at No. 33 (2.8 million).

Lynch, too, has followed “Thinking” with another hit, as his new single “Party Mode” pushes 32-31 for a new best (2.9 million).

Clay Walker, director/programming and operations for Audacy and based in Greensboro, N.C., concurs with Cook. He calls “Thinking” and “Didn’t” “tracks that simply cut through to our fans. Even though we’ve seen [their] chart peaks, these songs are perfect examples of how much our listeners care less about a title’s path to the top and more about hearing songs they’re most passionate about. Fact is, my job as a programmer is to support our audience by giving them the songs they care about the most, and that means keeping super hits in power until they say otherwise. In both cases, everyone wins.”

Not all in programming positions fully agree, however.

Says Randy Chase, executive vp of SummitMedia, “There is nothing better for radio and record companies than a monster smash. ‘Thinking ‘Bout You’ had it all, and the consumer still can’t get enough of it. Radio needs more songs like this, and our goal with every song we add is to create a power recurrent that becomes a power gold.

“The downside of big songs like this,” Chase counters, “is that they lull radio into a false sense of security where we subconsciously say, ‘These other songs aren’t hits. I have all the hits I need!’ Competition for consumer engagement is fierce. When we leave songs in heavy for 18 months, the next ‘Thinking ‘Bout You,’ ‘Famous Friends’ and ‘If I Didn’t Love You’ die a long, slow death in the middle of the chart because our power category has become simply another recurrent category, and the flow stops.

“To remain competitive,” Chase offers, “if we continue to shrink our playlist, another entity will build the next mega-hit. It might be a radio competitor or worse … a DSP. We must utilize the right music architecture and our gut to be master playlist cultivators and keep the music pipeline flowing. We don’t have to play everything, but we must still take chances to build the next record-setting song, or we will become irrelevant.”

Country Radio’s Chart Slowdown: ‘We Must Still Take Chances … or We Will Become Irrelevant’ Dustin Lynch‘s “Thinking ‘Bout You,” featuring MacKenzie Porter, logs its 27th week in the top 10 of Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, establishing a new record for longevity in the region. On the list dated April 23, the collaboration ranks at…