Jamey Johnson Finds Out That Country Radio Doesn’t Take Chances

Dan Gibson | March 6, 2009 12:30 pm

For a rough-looking guy with a giant beard, Jamey Johnson has done relatively well in mainstream country music, with award nominations and a top ten hit, “In Color.” However, “In Color” was a touching track about a veteran showing old pictures to his grandson, the sort of thing that tends to do well at country radio. What about when Johnson’s label floats a track that contains lyrics about smoking pot in a church parking lot?

“High Cost Of Living”:

It would appear that country radio programmers have pretty good personal taste, since they all seem to love “High Cost Of Living.” but can they add it to their stations’ playlists?

Tony Thomas from KMPS in Seattle had similar praise for Johnson and his music.

“I think the key thing that Jamey offers is the real sense of authenticity and grit in the format right now, and that clearly connects with people,” said Thomas.

KMPS recently did add “High Cost of Living, and is giving it about 15 spins per week.

“A couple of people commented about the strong aspect of the message, but a much larger number of people texted us saying how much the song spoke to them, how much it meant to them, and how much they embraced the idea that it’s a song about redemption and a warning to not go where the guy in the song has gone,” said Thomas.

As a large market station, Thomas does have a certain amount of freedom, he says–as long as what he plays succeeds.

“The only expectation that we have for ourselves is that we’re putting forth the best music we can that we think the largest number of our listeners is going to be interested in,” said Thomas. “We try to be the listener’s advocate. We try to find the strongest stuff we can have on the air and sometimes it’s the things you would expect and sometimes it’s not.” […]

Overall, Thomas emphasizes the importance of a great song, regardless of the artist and regardless of the amount of edge or fluff to the sound.

“I don’t think listeners have an agenda when they turn the radio on, of ‘I want to hear new acts’, or of ‘I want to hear acts I know’,” said Thomas. “They want to hear songs they like, and that can come from any direction. But it’s got to be something that’s worth that person’s time to listen to.”

A smaller-market PD mentioned that he had a little more leeway to add the track (although even he was still testing it with his audience), but maybe it’s no surprise that a track with the line about “cocaine and a whore” might have some trouble with Southern audiences. At this point, it’s probably not too surprising that a song with more in common with David Allen Coe than Taylor Swift makes radio gatekeepers a bit leery, but it’s somewhat comforting to think that program directors are at least trying.

At CRS, Radio Reacts to Jamey Johnson’s “High Cost of Living” [The 9513]