Natalie Stovall

Natalie Stovall performs during Change the Conversation - Slacker Radio #WCE: Country Launch Party at The Steps at WME on Aug. 7, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn. 

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The digital radio outlet's #WCE Country channel exclusively programs female artists and asks them to curate music and host DJ breaks.

Digital radio outlet Slacker has found a unique way of exposing its listeners to more female country artists, joining a handful of new initiatives aimed at shifting the country format’s longstanding and widely-documented gender imbalance.

The new Slacker channel #WCE Country not only exclusively programs female artists, but company executives have also asked those artists -- along with other women working in the country music business -- to curate the music and host the DJ breaks that introduce songs. Slacker has extended the invitation to participate to many Nashville female singers, songwriters, industry executives and journalists through a proprietary app called Slacker Studio, which allows participants to easily record and upload intros and anecdotes from their mobile phones.

“We want to have the people who are the most passionate about these artists tell their stories in a unique and fun way,” says Slacker country format captain Jess Wright. “The women in this business have stories that our listeners are never going to hear anywhere else.” Country artist Cam kicked off the initiative by recording more than a dozen intros for #WCE Country.

The new channel’s name is an acronym for the social media hashtag “woman crush everyday,” itself an outgrowth of the frequently trending “woman crush Wednesday.” (Slacker has also launched a similarly named all-female pop channel.)

Slacker teamed up with the industry group Change the Conversation to launch the channel at a well-attended party at WME’s Nashville office on Aug. 7. The Voice alumni Lauren Duski and Natalie Stovall, as well as the female duo Post Monroe, each performed two songs at the event. 

The channel has been in development for several months,  Wright says, with the dual aims of boosting female listenership among Slacker’s more than 9 million registers users and shining more light on female country artists, many of whom struggle for airplay on male-dominated terrestrial radio stations. When a co-worker suggested that Slacker might try to appeal to more women with a “Man Crush Monday,” initiative, Wright pointed out with a laugh that in country radio right now, “every day is Man Crush Monday.”

The #WCE crowdsourced programming idea grew from there. “Anybody can put together a playlist of female artists and park it somewhere and go, ‘We’re good,’” Wright says. “We wanted to be able to do more than that. One of the things we pride ourselves on as a way of being different is that we combine music with really great storytelling. So we thought we could use this station to tell the stories of the artists that are playing here, because nobody else is telling them.”

Stovall says she plans to record intros for the channel and calls #WCE Country “a cool, different way to elevate artists and incorporate so many more people.” She also sees the channel as a way to help combat what she calls “this unfairness, this inequality” seen in terrestrial radio’s heavy favoring of male artists. 

New initiatives are also being developed at broadcast radio as well to fight the gender disparity. As previously reported, national media personality Bobby Bones will executive produce and co-host the one-hour weekly syndicated show, “Women of iHeart Country,” starting in late summer. The program will feature music from new and established female artists and will air on every iHeart country mainstream station, according to an iHeart spokesperson, which number more than 125 outlets nationwide.

For several months, Cox Media’s influential country outlet KKBQ Houston has exclusively featured female artists on the Wednesday edition of its hour-long all-request lunchtime show.

One other recent action aimed at boosting airplay for female acts was organized by the fan clubs of seven current stars: Lauren Alaina, Kelsea Ballerini, Lindsay Ell, Maddie & Tae, Maren Morris, Carly Pearce and Carrie Underwood. Promoted through the artists’ Twitter fan pages, the Aug. 1 “Women Request Wednesday” initiative provided fans with detailed information about how to make requests, including links to Twitter pages and request line numbers for more than 150 chart reporting country stations.

The effort does not, however, appear to have had a measurable impact and program directors for stations in four markets spot-checked by Billboard -- Chicago, Houston, Detroit and San Diego -- reported no noticeable uptick in requests other than some for Underwood at KKBQ.

The Ballerini fan page KelseaCentral.com instructed fans on several ways to disguise where their requests were coming from, including removing location from the fan’s Twitter bio, and noted that stations are “more likely to play the song if you do not put your location if you are requesting somewhere out of your radio range.”

Such moves typically don’t sit well with radio programmers, who are both wary and weary of organized campaigns. Says WEBG Chicago PD Lance Houston, “When we know there’s a coordinated effort for stuff like this, the requests feel less genuine.”

Adds KKBQ operations director Johnny Chiang, “A lot of times these fan club requests do more harm to artists than good.”

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