Wednesday, 22 July 2020 01:14

WYNN - Who Saved Country Music? Part 1

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I have played Country Music on the radio for 41 years all over the country, and have seen many phases of our beloved format.  Some have been great, others not so much.  But there was a watershed moment years ago, that upon reflection I feel, was the most important thing to happen to us, as it changed the status quo and allowed many more great things to happen to us - still.  In my two-part series, this is what I saw from the morning show control rooms, and concert venues of the era.

Country has always been part of our landscape, and Country got a big shot in the arm with the Urban Cowboy craze in the late 1970's into the 80's.  But that's not the answer.  True, many new people found us and that was great. But in the end what it did was give us a type of music that was hard to categorize.  The music was good, and solid, and I and many fans liked it. But, it didn't really resonate with our core "country" listeners, as it was largely supported by fringe and crossover fans. It was too "pop" for the core, and we held on to this movement too long. After a while it was vanilla, safe, not really dance-able, and was not really country committal. 

George Strait - Kept us going in the early 1980's and would become the undisputed "King Of Country" Deserved! 


By the mid-eighties we had problems playing music that had no real true format, and no real new stars, and we were treading water.  The Judds had made the scene and they were different and very popular. They rapidly became stars and certainly made people take notice.  George Strait and Reba McEntire had been on the charts since 1981 and 1980 respectively, but much of thier music wasn't getting the exposure it needed and deserved in a format that was struggling. They were traditional and on point, but even George and Reba needed a larger vessel to sail in.  Ricky Skaggs had a nice following with real hard core country fans, but he had the same problem Strait and Reba had.  Alabama carried us for years, but that was not going to last forever. There was only one Alabama.  We are always thankful for them.  They were heaven sent.

Alabama - The dominant country act of the early 1980's - They were incredible!


We needed to get younger. George Jones was still on the charts, as was Don Williams, Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, Conway Twitty, Dolly, Tammy Wynette, Willie, Waylon, Barbara Mandrell, Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee and others. There was not one thing wrong with any of them, but Country was a format that was aging, and that was undeniable. We could not get a lot of young people to listen.  I loved all of them, but we all could see the writing on the wall.  Sales of "records and tapes" very low, concerts sales slow, and #1 songs that were easily forgotten the next week.

Ricky Skaggs - Had a real strong hard core fan base - Still Does!


I was at my second Country station then, WRMZ in Columbus, Ohio and we all were wondering what was going to happen in the next few years. Urban Cowboy had run its course, and now we were searching.  We needed something to jump start us, to reinvent Country and to set the coordinates for a new course.  Our mindset was so geared towards not "being too country" we had taken our eye off the ball and forgotten our core.  If we lost the fringers, and the crossovers then what?  Our thinking was flawed. 

 Reba was as country as it got, and Up To Heaven was her early calling card....


It was so flawed that one of the two people I will tell you about tomorrow who "saved"  us was turned away for coming to Nashville and told it was "too country".  And the other one well, was just never gonna work. The industry had it wrong, but in the end the fans got it right.  Country fans were looking for someone(s) to bite into, relate too, and call  their own. Fans wanted stars that wanted to be on Country Radio first, not the Pop stations.  They wanted stars that talked with them -  and like them.  They wanted stars that they wanted to be like, they wanted their own identity in music, style and sound. 

 Johnny Lee - Lookin' For Love was one of the biggest hits of the Urban Cowboy Era!  A smash!


And they would get it.  And when they did, the floodgates opened and have never closed.  There have been many gigantic stars since. In fact, the biggest stars the format has ever seen have happened since them! But it can be traced back to the two artists I will talk about tomorrow. 

Every lock has a key, and from my seat behind the mic, and by talking, and hanging with listeners then, these two were that key.  What and who was on the other side of the door, should thank them for unlocking it.  Find out who saved Country Music here tomorrow.

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