Who or What Determines a Hit Song on the Radio?

Outside of talk stations, country music is the radio format with the most stations dedicated to it.  Country radio charts (which determine what a number one hit is) are split up into two levels: Major markets and everybody else.  Is this right or good for country music?

I’m always interested in the disparity between ‘major’ and ‘secondary’ radio market play lists.  For example, James Otto’s recent single “For You” is perceived of as a ‘failure’ on the charts for barely making it to the Top 40 of Billboard and Country Aircheck/mediabase radio charts yet it was a major hit on the Music Row “Country Breakout” chart.  Just last week the song had almost 2600 spins which would’ve been good enough for the song to be a Top 15 hit this week on the other charts.  The Music Row chart also showcases more ‘indie’ talent than what is perhaps allowed onto major market, corporate owned stations. 

This is a dichotomy if I’ve ever seen one.  It’s a perplexing issue and it’s as if the big charts simply don’t want to recognize all of these smaller ‘reporting’ stations.  If they allowed all of them in then perhaps country radio would actually be a more exciting, viable format than the stagnant charts of Billboard and Country Aircheck/Mediabase seem to indicate.  For example the #30 song on the Billboard chart is Billy Currington’s “Don’t” and Randy Travis’ “Dig Two Graves” holds that spot on the Country Breakout chart (and “Don’t” is @ 23 on the same chart). While are both big label singles, Travis’ song shows the Country Breakout chart to be much more willing to play more artists.

The highest charting ‘indie’ single on the Country Breakout Chart that’s not on Billboard or Country Aircheck/Mediabase is Eric Lee Beddingfield’s “Nowhere, U.S.A.” at 25.  Other indie artists inside the Country Breakout Top 40 chart are Darryl Worley “Tequila On Ice” at 29, Keni Thomas “Shreveport to LA” at 35 and Rebecca Lynn Howard’s “Sing ‘Cause I Love To” at 38.  This is exciting for me because it allows for more artists to get a shot and because of that, those in the smaller markets might actually be better off because they get a chance to hear some of these songs on the radio.

I know it’s a fantasy, but I’d really love it if the bigger markets could revert back to the days of when program/music directors had the ability to select what they liked to play instead of what a corporate boss thinks will keep people from turning the station before commercials play.  Is this too much to ask?