By: Sean Ross
Over the years, it’s been difficult for any Country station to pull too far away from the format mainstream. “Young Country” stations buckle and play the current George Strait single after a while. Stations specializing in “the hits and legends” often play enough current music to continue to report to the charts, punctuated by a few heavily staged Hank Williams, Jr., cuts.
So it was hard to know where Cumulus was really going to put the “Nash Icons” format it announced in May. There was a promise to play new material from classic artists, so it wasn’t going to be Country Oldies. But was it going to be the Country equivalent of heritage rock? Would “Nash Icons” be the format where Reba McEntire and (Cumulus syndicated host) Kix Brooks can still expect support for a new record?
When the format launched on August 15 in Nashville, Atlanta and a number of other markets it had been clunkily renamed “Nash Icon.” In its first hours, the new format wasn’t as old or quite as focused on legacy acts as the initial publicity might have suggested. With three ’80s songs an hour, the new Nash Icon isn’t quite new enough to report to the Country charts, but it’s essentially the “Hits & Legends” model we’re already familiar with in Country radio.
The gold that Nash Icon played in the hour I heard was mostly the gold that would test for any Country station that still tests the late ’80s and ’90s – most just don’t play it anymore. The currents weren’t only traditional leaning, or by heritage artists. At least one of the currents bordered on the younger, more aggressive “bro country” genre, that music is both propelling Country’s current all-ages success and, perhaps, creating the demand for an older skewing, more gold-based format like this one.
Then again, even KFKF Kansas City, the best example of a successful yesterday-and-today Country station, has Brantley Gilbert’s “Small Town Throwdown’ among its most-played titles. KFKF has increasingly traded ’70s and ’80s titles for ’00s Country instead. The two most-played oldies on KFKF this week are Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and Dierks Bentley’s “Free And Easy (Down The Road I Go).” Even for yesterday-and-today stations, it’s hard to resist the excitement of “today.”
When “Nash Icons” was announced in May, I suggested that if Cumulus wanted to have a gold-based country station in multiple markets, it could force the format to fragment in a way that Country radio had thus far resisted. Nash Icon appeared Friday on a few of the second Country stations that you would choose for just such an approach: WSM-FM Nashville and KJJY Des Moines among them. In Atlanta, however, the new format is on an FM translator, while sister WKHX (Kicks 101.5) has gone more current than ever.
When I wrote the May article, Edison’s Larry Rosin suggested that the really radical format fragmentation would be a truly young Country station. That station – not afraid of Country rap or sitting out George Strait, no matter how much they wanted to give away tickets to his farewell tour – would indeed be radical. Instead, the radical move turned out to be WKAZ (Tailgate 107.3) Charleston, W. Va., the Country/Top 40/party songs hybrid that plays the mix you hear between acts at a Country concert. Short of playing Limp Bizkit (as Tailgate 107.3 does), it’s hard to do a truly young Country station because the mainstream format gets just close enough to cover you. As time marches on, and mainstream AC gets newer as well, the “yesterday-and-today” Country franchise is only likely to become more pronounced.
Here’s Nash Icon as heard at 2:10 p.m. on Friday (15) on its Atlanta affiliate:
Judds, “Why Not Me”
Brad Paisley, “River Bank”
Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now”
Chase Rice, “Ready Set Roll”
Hank Williams, Jr., “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight”
Carrie Underwood, “All-American Girl”
Tim McGraw w/Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, “The Highway Don’t Care”
Kenny Chesney, “How Forever Feels”
Don Williams, “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”
Thompson Square, “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About”
Rascal Flatts, “Love You Out Loud”
John Michael Montgomery, “I Love The Way You Love Me”
Tim McGraw, “Everywhere”
Florida Georgia Line, “Dirt”
Keith Urban, “Better Life”
George Strait, “Write This Down”
Miranda Lambert, “Automatic”