There was never all that much mystery about whether Cumulus would take its newly acquired WFME New York to Country. Cumulus clearly likes the format, which is enjoying its biggest boom in twenty years. Success stories in Boston and Philadelphia have proven Country’s mettle in the northeast. The only other realistic choice would have been giving Alternative its fifth shot in seven years. And thanks to RadioInsight, even the name of the new “Nash FM” has been floating around since November.
The question was more about what kind of Country station can work in New York. Until a few years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that Country in New York would have to be gold-and-recurrent-driven and aimed at AC WLTW (Lite FM). Country listeners weren’t just perceived as holdovers from the early ’90s Garth and Reba boom; some were still thought to be pining for the “Urban Cowboy” era of the format.
But in recent years, the “Country in the Northeast” manual has been rewritten. WKMK (Thunder Country) Monmouth/Ocean, N.J., thrives being uptempo and male-friendly. Long Island’s WJVC may be the most musically aggressive station in any larger market. And Country as a format has gotten hotter and younger-leaning everywhere.
Then there was the question of whether a New York Country station would have to tamp down the “wisdom of the rustics” celebration of the rural lifestyle that abounds in the format. In recent years, that’s become harder when the most rural-themed songs are also the edgiest, most contemporary sounding hits. And it was speculated early on that the new 94.7 would be part of some national format initiative for Cumulus, making it harder to customize the station entirely for the market.
The new 94.7 Nash FM, which launched Monday morning, has definitely come down on the mainstream side. There’s roughly one ’90s cut per hour. There’s even been a George Strait from the ’80s (“Ocean Front Property”). Because even Country’s more conservative stations have had to follow the appetite for newer artists, you can still hear Nash FM play Carrie Underwood into Lady Antebellum into the Band Perry before Garth Brooks or older Alan Jackson shows up. But they will.
As for attitudinal concessions to New York on “America’s Country Station,” none are readily apparent. That might be a function of the reportedly national nature of this station. But for many programmers, that just doesn’t seem to be an issue now. The second song on the station was Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country,” which mentions Long Island, and not in a positive way. The third was Brad Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone,” which tempers its pro-heartland message cleverly, but only slightly. It was two hours in when Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a more likely New York country anthem showed up. A few hours after that, I heard Kacey Musgraves’ “I-was-bored-in-a-small-town” lament, “Merry Go Round.”
As Musgraves’ presence indicates, Cumulus did not, to its credit, launch Nash FM with only top 10 hits. So far, most of the top 20 has shown up, as have some songs from further down the Country chart, including the Henningsens’ “American Beautiful” and Kix Brooks’ “Moonshine Road.” Then again, the new station is targeting both those listeners who haven’t had regular access to Country radio for years, but also those who’ve been getting their Country from WKMK, WJVC, or Sirius XM’s The Highway, all of which give ample exposure to new music.
Will Country do so well in New York that New York’s other group owners, all of whom have had an opportunity at some point to try the format, will regret their decision? I think it will surprise some people. But it doesn’t have to. It just has to prove to be Cumulus’ best available option. Other broadcasters have had different priorities for more than a decade, and I’m glad this was Cumulus’ choice.
Here’s the station just after Noon on Monday (21):
Alan Jackson, “Living On Love”
Florida-Georgia Line, “Cruise”
Jason Aldean, “The Truth”
Tim McGraw, “One Of Those Nights”
Brooks & Dunn, “Proud Of The House We Built”
Montgomery Gentry. “One In Every Crowd”
Gary Allan, “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain)”
Martina McBride, “This One’s For The Girls”
Randy Rogers Band, “Too Late For Goodbye”
Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round”
Kenny Chesney, “Never Wanted Nothing More”
Darius Rucker, “Come Back Song”
Gloriana, “(Kissed You) Good Night”
Travis Tritt, “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive”