Say What? – Keith Hill

SaladUPDATE: Check out the impeccably researched work of Deb B, also known as Windmills, over at MJ’s Big Blog:

Country Radio & The Anti-Female Female Myth: A Data-Based Look


Via Terri Clark’s Twitter, this gem from radio consultant Keith Hill:

This One’s Not For The Girls: Finally, Hill cautions against playing too many females. And playing them back to back, he says, is a no-no. “If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out,” he asserts. “The reason is mainstream Country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists. I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component. I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19%. Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”

Tossed salad imagery aside, in what other professional setting would such blatant gender discrimination be openly advocated?  The breathtaking condescension toward female listeners in country music is nothing new, but it’s been more than twenty years since any such case could be supported by sales numbers.

Here’s a list of every country studio album to sell more than five million copies in the last twenty years.  See if you notice a trend:
  1. Shania Twain, Come On Over – 20 million
  2. Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces – 12 million
  3. Shania Twain, The Woman in Me – 12 million
  4. Shania Twain, Up! – 11 million
  5. Garth Brooks, Sevens – 10 million
  6. Dixie Chicks, Fly – 10 million
  7. Faith Hill, Breathe – 8 million
  8. Garth Brooks, Fresh Horses – 7 million
  9. Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts – 7 million
  10. Dixie Chicks, Home – 6 million
  11. Faith Hill, Faith – 6 million
  12. LeAnn Rimes, Blue – 6 million
  13. Taylor Swift, Fearless – 6 million
  14. Garth Brooks, Scarecrow – 5 million
  15. Deana Carter, Did I Shave my Legs for This? – 5 million
  16. Tayor Swift, Taylor Swift – 5 million
  17. Gretchen Wilson, Here for the Party – 5 million
 That’s right.  With the exception of Garth Brooks, every album was released by a female country artist.   The “lettuce” in the salad has operated under a sales ceiling of 4 million or less.   Bryan hasn’t gone past double platinum, and Shelton’s ceiling has stayed at platinum.  If it’s true that women make up the majority of country music record buyers, then it seems they prefer female artists to a much greater degree than radio play would indicate.  There are B and even C-level male acts with more #1 radio hits than most of the ladies on this list.
Kudos to Terri Clark for bringing this nonsense to wider attention.   Country radio was better when she was a part of it.  Just like it was better when the “tomatoes” included the ladies above, along with Reba McEntire, Wynonna, Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Tanya Tucker, Lorrie Morgan, Lari White, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack,  and more.


  1. This guy I just hate him he thinks he knows everything. Look,at the top selling song on iTunes Girl Crush by LBT with female vocals it’s amazing. Looking at the current top 30 of country Airplay though we only have Maddie & Tae Gloriana Kelsea Ballerini Carrie Underwood LBT and guess vocalists Catherine Dunn and Brace Potter if there was more women in country music things would probably wind up for the better.

  2. If the “lettuce” is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, then they ought to throw it out, because it is rotten! (IMHO)

  3. In response, Martina McBride had this to say on Facebook yesterday, with Sara Evans as one of the 14,729 people who ‘like’ the post:

    “Wow…..just wow. Just read this from a major country radio publication. How do you feel about this statement? I especially want to hear from the females. Do you not like to hear other women singing about what you are going through as women? I’m really curious. Because to me, country music is about relating. Someone relating to what you are really going through on a day to day basis in your life. Did you girls (core female listeners) know you were being “assessed” in this way? Is this how you really feel? Hmmm….”

  4. I’d like to think that of the 300 radio stations he consults, 299 of them would drop him today! The problem is, he probably consults for all the corporate, media-conglomerate owned radio stations at iHateLocalRadio, Cumeless and CBS Radio. So I’d have to imagine that his corporate clientele will keep him in place.

    Does this guy not have a wife, daughters, nieces, female friends? Are there no women in his life at all or is he just that insensitive and out of touch? I’d like to think his career just got flushed, but sadly I think the outrage will blow over in a week or two.

  5. Interesting that even in the ’90s when country sales were booming even George Strait and Alan Jackson didn’t reach 5 million not counting hits collections.

  6. Kevin, I was hoping/expecting you would cover this! Great way to put this guy’s drivel into perspective.

    I’d also like to give a shout out to Windmills Country for meaningfully tweeting about it extensively as well. It’s worth checking out.

  7. Also, his salad analogy is really baffling, because it doesn’t even make sense as something to make his point. He’s not meaning to say it, but comparing the male singers to the lettuce of the salad is essentially saying that they’re the filler/the necessary but boring part of the salad. And saying that the females are the tomatoes of the salad is pretty much saying that they’re the tasty part of the salad, especially compared to the lettuce.

  8. Sorry folks, but he is absolutely right.
    Female listeners have said for decades THEY do not want to hear female artists played back-to-back (men, for the most part, don’t care).
    Advertisers cater directly to women age 18-35. They make more than half the buying decisions in the country and I have focus tested this since the mid-80s. This is radio, not music. It’s important to know the difference.
    If you want to be politically correct, feel free to reject this. Call it misogyny, sexism or whatever (even though it is women-generated).
    Those stations that program double-digit ratings are doing what their listeners want to hear. Don’t blame the station.

  9. So, female listeners are willing to pay money to attend female artists’ concerts and buy their albums, but they don’t want to hear them for free on the radio? That just does not add up to me. I think if radio playedfemale artists, female listeners would get used to it and end up liking it, but radio doesn’t give females a fighting chance. Luckily, females are clearly willing to spend their money on female artists.

  10. When I worked in radio in the late 1980s, every male station manager warned me never to play two female artists back to back: “Listeners don’t want to hear a lot of women’s voices on the radio.” Funny how NO ONE ever called the station to complain when the other deejays and I did exactly that. The “radio listeners don’t want to hear female singers” argument was crap back then, and it’s crap now. Amazing that some old farts are still sticking to it.

  11. This has always gotten under the skin of professional women, yet I ask, “Who’s being sexist here?”
    I am doing what WOMEN are telling me they want to hear.

  12. I’ll just paraphrase here what I said elsewhere:

    While what Keith Hill said was abhorrent, I don’t think more women on country radio in and of itself is a good thing. Sure it sounds good in theory, but in practice it would likely mean more of the likes of Kelsea Ballerini, RaeLynn, and Haley Georgia, not more Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark. Which is, to put it bluntly, trading one pile of crap for another. If country radio was willing to play good, country-sounding music from folks like KM and BC, we’d also be hearing Sturgill Simpson and Aaron Watson. To put it another way, the lack of female representation on country is a symptom, a bad one, to be sure, but not the actual disease. The actual disease, I think, is a lack of good, substantive, country-sounding music from both genders.

  13. This is one of those cases where the average person doesn’t really want to know how sausage is made so long as it tastes good. The reason country radio is not doing so well could be because some programmers disagree and the result is that the best country station in Nashville is rated 7th. What Keith Hill talks about has been around since Patsy Cline was at the top of the charts, but it’s one of dozens of programming rules we had. You may never know the rest. Now I no longer serve as a PD, but I have programmed stations that were solidly number one in much larger markets and we never let people know how we made the sausage.

  14. I would like to take a minute to touch on the Martina comments that were shared by Johnathan earlier in the thread. I applaud Martina for making the comments about country being about someone singing about things that are relatable to everyday life and understand why shes questioning if that’s truly whats happening in today’s country radio format. However what I think Martina (and others) may be overlooking is the age of today’s “core female listeners” as she calls them. Now I’m not in the country radio industry nor have I done any scientific research on the subject but based on what I’ve witnessed in my area, country radio has never been more popular with females in the 16-24 age demo. In fact it seems like this age group is likely has the largest listenership demo in the genre at this point in time and are the ones driving what gets air time on radio right now. What I think Martina is possibly overlooking is for people of that core age demo partying in fields in jacked up trucks is in fact relatable to their everyday lives. Thankfully for those of us that don’t like the current glut of bros dominating the genre right now peoples tastes change and I suspect (well hope) that very soon as this core demo group matures a bit you will see a major change in whats played on radio as the industry chases the tastes of their largest group of listeners.

  15. And here I was thinking we were talking about salads.

    Are you seriously saying that the reason that some stations aren’t doing well is because they’re breaking the female rule or am I misunderstanding what you wrote?

  16. This is purely opinion, but I’m guessing that the reason some radio stations aren’t doing as well would be because people are getting tired of how current radio is selling. As noted above, music isn’t even selling like it once did. This, of course, is due to people having other ways to acquire music these days, but it’s also likely that the biggest artists being played on the radio isn’t making music good enough to compel people to spend their money on it. I don’t think it’s because people aren’t interested in hearing females on the radio. Also, with how similar country music is sounding to pop radio these days, country artists aren’t just competing with other country artists anymore, but rather, they have to compete with other pop artists.

  17. Buddy,

    Do you have any quality control checks on the type of music you play or are you simply trying to be the McDonalds of country music? That is to say, you don’t care a darn thing about the quality of product that comes out of your kitchen, so as long as you still have customers willing to buy it up, serving billions and billions. Do standards mean nothing? Is music radio just a subjective measurement of “listener’s tastes” by which to focus group, serve up and then make as much money as humanly possible until the kitchen catches fire and you move onto the next money-making scheme?

  18. Let me put it this way: Until now, this method of programming has resulted in stellar country sales for most female acts. If Martina McBride gets good attention following Kenny Chesney in rotation, research shows she will not get as much attention of she were to follow Faith Hill. Is creating a gender quota system more important than professional success?

  19. When country music was the most prosperous, both in sales and radio, females were very prominent on the radio. So, I’m still not buying the argument that playing two females in a row is a detriment to country radio.

  20. Also, how is it even viable to say that professional success is trumping a gender “quota system” now when all sales for music and popularity of radio are considerably lower than in the nineties and early 2000s when females were prominent on the radio and all sales and radio popularity were significantly higher?

  21. A couple comments:

    First, I don’ think it’s fair to use a list of the highest selling albums from the past 20 years. The way people consume music has changed drastically over that time span. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only albums on that list from the past 10 years are from Taylor Swift, who gained a lot of support from the pop realm. So I’m not sure how much this list really proves about the buying habits of current country radio listeners.

  22. Second,

    My experience completely lines up with what this guy is saying. I’m 21 years old and I go to college in southern California. I am one of the only guys I know who listens to country, but I’d guess more than half of the girls I know love it. And what songs do they like? Party songs from male artists. In fact, I’ve had several female friends say to me that they don’t like many country songs by women. They say it doesn’t sound right to them.

    Maybe this is a case of them just responding to what they are being fed by radio, I don’t know. And I’m only going off my firsthand experience. I haven’t looked at the numbers. Maybe it’s different in rural areas, or maybe my school and my friends are an anomaly. But what Keith Hill is saying lines up with what I’ve seen. I’m not saying this is good, but I do believe he’s at least partially correct.

  23. Kuzco I’m from the rural south and I’m seeing the exact same trends that you are in regards to young female listenership. In fact the trend may be stronger here since probably about %75 of young women listen to country here. The only difference between where you are and where I am is that here nearly all of the younger men listen to country as well and if you talk to them the type of country music they prefer to listen to when alone is 90’s country. However at parties they prefer bro country because that is what the girls want to hear.

  24. Leeann,
    Here are a few more programming rules Keith Hill would know about.
    1. Radio listeners have a proportional attention span, which means any change in programming is noticed and attention is highest at that moment. Let’s say you play a Chevy spot, followed by a Ford spot, weather-traffic break then Luke Bryan. The Ford dealer would be angry because you played two car ads back-to-back and the second ad always suffers. The sales manager would demand we play the Ford as comp!
    2. So let’s say you play Reba, followed by Martina, followed by Miranda. That is way less effective than playing Kenny, followed by Miranda, followed by Toby. The change in gender attracts people to the station making the Miranda song more appealing.
    3. Same goes (and here’s what I hate about radio) for “older” music. Hill’s comment about deleting a song every time they add a new one is actually an effective strategy, even though I hate what it does to traditional artists. His argument is that songs that slip down the charts should no longer be played rather than reduced to slow rotation. As long as radio caters to a new generation of listeners, this will always be the case.

  25. I still think that the reason women aren’t liking listening to females (if that’s truly the case), it’s very likely because they’re not used to being exposed to it. At any rate, it’s a good thing that radio is practically irrelevant in my life anymore. Besides NPR, I haven’t turned to a radio station in, literally, 5 or more years and I haven’t missed radio for a minute. I’m glad that I had it in the nineties when radio was good and when I was a kid with no money to buy music and no internet to hear music, but glad I don’t need it now that I can regularly buy music, but find it in ways other than limiting radio.

  26. Leeann I partially agree that the lack of exposure to female artists is a reason that more women aren’t played on radio but i would argue that the blame for that at least partially lies with the fans of the female artists themselves in a practice that 1 of the reviewers here (Kevin i believe it was) wrote about in an editorial some time ago. That is that fans of female artists tend to be very protective of there favorites position in the genre and tend to see any up and coming female as a threat to there favorite. I haven’t been active in any fan clubs for some time but between the years of 2006-2010 I was pretty active on Miranda Lambert’s fan club message boards and witnessed this firsthand. There was one particular fan group ( I’m not going to mention which one it was here) that was pretty famous for doing this during that time period. They even would go as far as looking up which radio stations had recently played a currently charting “competing” female online and contacting those stations, saying they were listeners of the particular station that didn’t like those songs. Miranda was even the target of what i can only classify as smear campaigns where Miranda and her fans had things that they had said and done that were taken out of context and viewed as slights toward this artist that this particular fan group tried to use to dim popular opinion of Miranda. Thankfully by the time this group had turned there attention toward Miranda she had enough fan support that she survived those attacks, but there were female artists during that era that didn’t. I will say that it seems as though female fan bases do seem to do a better job of playing nicely together these days but i fear the damage from past bad behavior has already been done, and may not be reparable.

  27. Glad I don’t rely on radio to find new music. If I only listened to country radio I probably never would have discovered female artists Brandy Clark, Jay O’Shea, Sarah Zimmermann, Stacey Lee Guse and Amy Black.

  28. It is very hard to make much sense of sales trends

    1) The period in which female artists have dominated album sales has largely corresponded with the period in which country music ceased being country music. A lot of those 5 million plus sales albums were selling to pop audiences. Rimes’ BLUE and Wilson’s HERE FOR THE PARTY truly sold to country fans but most of the rest of were pop records to some degree. In fact, Shania Twain’s UP was issued in three different versions, only one of which could be described as country, and European releases of her music had most vestiges of country instrumentation relentlessly scrubbed away. I suspect that male artists still outsell female artists when it comes to country audiences.
    2) I suspect the age of 5 million album sales is about over. Taylor Swift or some new artist with strong teeny bopper sales might be able to achieve such sales, but those sales figures will not exist in the country music. It should be noted that most of those seventeen albums with sales of 5 million plus were issued over a decade ago and are not at all reflective of current conditions

    3) Obviously there are still female singers who are actually creating country music, but they get little attention more here than on so-called country radio.

    4) Todd mentioned a problem that plagued the late lamented 9513 site – fans of one female artist spamming the site with negative comments about other female artists

    5) I buy a lot of music from artists who make real, not necessarily traditional, country music – I would guess the current ratio is about 60-40 in favor of male artists, but whenever artists such as Teea Goans, Lee Ann Womack or Amber Digby issue new albums I am out there purchasing. I discovered Kasey Musgraves long before the readers at this site did.

    6) I would like to hear more country artists and more good music played on country radio regardless of gender. Much of what I hear today is rubbish – replacing the bro-country rubbish with female country rubbish would be no improvement. Replacing bad music with good music would be an improvement

    6) Album sales as a measure of popularity are becoming ineffective in the digital era. We are effectively back to an era in which singles (or individual songs) will dominate

  29. So let’s say you play Reba, followed by Martina, followed by Miranda. That is way less effective than playing Kenny, followed by Miranda, followed by Toby. The change in gender attracts people to the station making the Miranda song more appealing.

    If such is the case, then shouldn’t the reverse hold true as well? Because country radio certainly doesn’t seem to have the same reservations about playing male artists back to back. I would think that the need for a change in gender would bring about something of a more even male-to-female ratio rather than the format being so thoroughly dominated by male voices.

  30. “If such is the case, then shouldn’t the reverse hold true as well?”
    The reverse is true. Male artists are often broken up as well as bands, traditional, females, up-tempo, down-tempo, rock-sounding tracks and tracks with heavy twang. The science is to keep presenting a variety which will keep listeners attention, so even bro-country back-to-back hurts the station by stagnating the listeners.

  31. by the way, before I start shoveling dirt over this dead horse, one more point you might find amusing:
    The same “no women back-to-back” rule exists in Adult Contemporary, Top-40, CHR, Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Alternative, Rap, Easy Listening and Big Band radio formats. Country stations did not invent this rule.

  32. Quality should rule at the radio.

    If all of the current great songs are male sung, then play them. If all the current great songs are female, then play them. I just don’t want to see an artificial 50/50 precedent set to appease the PC crowd.

    Ken Hill is a numbers’ guy. That is why his analogy suffers. He’s not creative, he reads the data and reports back. Could a lot of the data be self-reporting/a loop since mostly male songs are played? Sure, but he won’t recognize the difference.

    As mentioned earlier, most of those albums are from a different time and Shania and Swift albums are hardly country and shouldn’t be categorized as such. The point remains, radio is different than albums. I would bet money that Josh Turner’s delayed album would sell basically the same amount of units if “Lay Low” made the top 10 because he has the built in fan base.

    My biggest concern about this “crisis” is that mainstream media will jump on this story as a way to smear country music and country folk and misrepresent the problem as a generational cancer, when in reality it is a new virus.

  33. The face (meaning, the part that the general public recognizes as country music aka. most of the music played on radio or awards shows.) of Country music deserves to be smeered for so many reasons right now.

  34. I wouldn’t argue against that, but I could see plenty of “writers” throwing in some insults against country living. I would rather that country music fly under the radar.

  35. Also, I don’t think any reasonable person is demanding that female artists should get cold 50/50 airplay with male artists–that’s simplifying and devaluing the discussion/point–it should be obvious that the uproar is and has been about the fact that females are hardly played at all despite the fact that they’re making music as good as males. Obviously, people who love country music ultimately want the good music to rise to the top, whether it’s by males or females. But as it stands now, the only music rising to the top without major struggle is by males.

  36. As Jason Isbell says (check his music out) Keith Hill takes the award for dumbest thing said in an interview from Gary Overton. Honestly I’m just perplexed by this guy what an arrogant man.

  37. Lest we forget, country radio also has a bias against traditional country music, male or female.

    If you are not a young bro or Luke, Blake, or Jason, you are going to struggle.

  38. I’m not worried about reasonable people arguing for 50/50. I’m worried about the non reasonable people arguing for 50/50 and they are the ones who usually get their way in society because they yell the loudest. Plus, 50/50 fits in well with “equality.” Even if true equality is playing the best song regardless of gender.

    Not all males. Josh Turner doesn’t rise easily, but regardless, males are the easiest risers.

  39. To the point about Kevin’s albums number crunching not being fair because Twain and Swift can hardly be called country, I argue that today’s biggest male stars (Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, etc.) are no more country sounding than Twain or Swift.

  40. Leeann,

    No argument here. Dump them all into another genre. I’ll grab the shovel, you drive the truck.

  41. How exactly is it measured to find out if females do better following males as opposed to females? That seems overly specific.

    And, yes, people often fall back on what’s familiar. It’s why songs that sound like other songs get good call out; people instantly react because the song sounds familiar (because it is!) versus something that is different and thus takes some adjusting.

  42. Jason: How exactly is it measured to find out if females do better following males as opposed to females? That seems overly specific.

    While Hill didn’t present any specific data, it is technically possible to track this kind of thing. Nielsen/Arbitron increasingly measures radio station ratings via something called the Portable Person Meter (PPM), which is a device that a panelist wears and that detects the person’s exposure to media like a specific radio station. So that device can track tune in and tune out to radio stations and match that with the songs being played. Just like Nielsen has its households from which it extrapolates national TV ratings, Nielsen/Arbitron have their panelists from which they extrapolate radio station ratings.

    I didn’t mention this in the blog that Lee Ann & Kevin were kind enough to link, but there is an additional callout method linked to PPM technology, and that’s the “M-Score.” The M-Score tracks tune-in & tune-out for specific songs, and is another callout tool commonly used by radio stations.

    While PPM measurements obviously offer a great data source, there’s concern that they hurt new music prospects because of the familiarity advantage of recognizable hits. There’s also concern about sample size, especially when you start looking within a local market and are trying to draw demographic-specific conclusions. Just earlier this year (in the Feb 2nd issue of Country Aircheck Weekly), some country radio people were pushing back against the idea that 18-34 demo ratings were down by saying their sample size in that demo was so low, it was hard to tell what was going on. Of course, nobody seemed to be complaining when the 18-34 demo ratings were on an uptrend!

  43. I miss the 90’s when male and female artist were putting out real country music and there was room on radio for’s music isn’t country it is crap.singers need to stop trying to be rappers.yes women are and have always been a big part of country music. Another thing radio.television and movies need to do is take the age demogratics out of it stop catering to 18 ‘-34 put it out and let people decide for themselves .if they like it they will buy it instead of having stuff crammed down our throats.

  44. I’m just glad (as I’m sure a lot of other folks are) that Keith Hill’s mentality, what I call the obnoxious “focus group” mentality, didn’t exist (or at least wasn’t as pervasive) in the middle to late 1970s–because otherwise you might well have been out of being able to hear Dolly, Loretta, or Tammy, and you’d probably never get the “hippie country” of Linda or Emmylou.

    As it is, I think he’d rather see country radio stuck with just having Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. And whatever you may think of them, good or bad, just having two women “regularly” played on country radio isn’t a good thing.

  45. After quickly glancing at charts from the last few years, I believe the last solo female artist to top the airplay charts was Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” in late 2012… almost 3 years ago.

    I think the record for the longest gap before this was just over 2 years between Martina McBride’s “Blessed” in 2002 and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” in 2004.

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