George Jones Radio Airplay Soars in the Hours After His Death

George Jones performs with his band on stage for the film, 'From Nashville With Music,' directed by Eddie Crandall, 1969.

Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images

Although written as a chilling tragedy ballad with a surprise ending, the chorus of George Jones’ 1989 hit “Radio Lover” could conversely be interpreted as posthumous consolation for the legions of fans he left grieving in the wake of his death on Friday.

“Coming to you live like I do every night from the heart of your radio/ I play a little sad and I play a lot of glad/ And a few old cheating songs/ Here's hoping everybody out in radio land finds a love just as true as mine/ Goodnight angel, sleep tight darlin’/ Close your pretty brown eyes.”

As news of Jones’ passing hit the nation’s airwaves, personalities and programmers interrupted scheduled programming in short and long forms, ranging from continuous tribute coverage at country music’s mother station WSM-AM Nashville, to brief but powerful montage tributes at current-driven mainstream stations such as KMPS Seattle.

WSM-AM PD Joe Limardi says, “We broke the news around 9:15 AM, then went full George Jones mode. We started with a handful of songs per hour, but the outpouring of listeners and artists calling and emailing prompted us to throw out the playlist and go wall-to-wall George Jones songs—his hits, live performances, rare recordings, anything and everything we have—played continuously until Grand Ole Opry time at 7:00 PM. After the Opry, we resumed our continuous Jones’ music, hosted by Eddie Stubbs until midnight.”

Limardi says his station aired a litany of calls and read e-mail messages from a virtual who’s who of country artists, songwriters, notable industry executives, friends and fans of the late singer. He adds, “Listeners kept all the lines ringing in the studio continuously starting at noon.”

Meanwhile at KMPS, PD Ed Hill was overwhelmed by the gravity of the news. “His influence resonates throughout our format and all of music. His tenacity never wavered until his health did,” he says. “We will never again see the likes of George Jones—years from now when our generation and multiple generations have passed from existence, his music will live on like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.”

To a great extent, Hill says he opted to allow the fans to express their feeling about Jones. “We produced a custom-made musical montage tribute and posted it on the station website. We are playing the montage as a promo, and [solicited] unique content that illustrates his influence on our listener’s lives.”

In addition to contemporary country KKBQ, Cox Media/Houston operations manager Johnny Chiang has the added advantage of a full-time classic country station in his cluster, KTHT. “On ‘Country Legends KTHT,’ we’ll play four George Jones songs every hour throughout the weekend.  We’re also running vignettes containing some of George’s most famous quotes every hour. On KKBQ, we’ve been playing a George Jones song at the top of every hour, with [listener-generated] playbacks of favorite Jones memories over the song intros.” Chiang says call-ins and social media response was “tremendous.”

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming choice among programmers for Jones tributes is “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the biggest seller of the artist’s entire career, and one of the most lauded recordings in the entire commercial history of the genre, which dates to the mid-1920s.

Sampling the entire spectrum of its U.S. monitored stations on April 26, Nielsen BDS reports 241 plays for the Grammy Award-winning 1980 weeper, compared with just six plays the previous day (April 25). The second-most-played track on Friday, April 26 (228 plays) was “Finally Friday,” which has been a 5:01 PM Friday afternoon staple at many country stations to signal the end of the work week since it first appeared on Jones’ 1992 album “Walls Can Fall” (it was never an official, promoted single). “Friday” was played 158 times the previous Friday (April 19), according to BDS. The balance of the 20 most-played Jones songs for April 26 spans the chronology of his biggest hits, leaning as much on tempo as style. Uptempo favorites include Jones’ clever 1986 top five hit, “The One I Loved Back Then,” the rollicking, chart-topping 1959 moonshiner boogie “White Lightning,” and the jaunty 1964 top five ditty, “The Race Is On.” Songs that helped Jones defend his crown as the greatest-ever country singer are well represented, including the mournful “The Grand Tour” (1974), the reflective “Choices” (1999), and the affectionately emotive “I Always Get Lucky With You.”

Spins at all BDS-monitored U.S. terrestrial radio stations
 
 
Rank/Title
Spins for April 26/Spins for April 25
1.     He Stopped Loving Her Today
241/6
2.     Finally Friday
228/1
3.     The One I Loved Back Then
83/1
4.   White Lightning
George Jones
69/0
5.     Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes
68/4
6.     The Race Is On
49/0
7.     The Grand Tour
36/0
8.     Golden Ring (George Jones & Tammy Wynette)
32/2
9.   Choices
28/1
10.    Beer Run (George Jones & Garth Brooks)
26/0
11.    Still Doin' Time
25/1
12.    I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair
24/0
13.    Tennessee Whiskey
24/1
14.    I’m a One Woman Man
20/1
15.    She Thinks I Still Care
20/0
16.    Same Ole Me
15/0
17.    She's My Rock
14/1
18.    I Always Get Lucky With You
12/0
19.    If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me
12/1
20.    Why Baby Why
12/0

**Source: Nielsen BDS

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