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Country Songs of the Summer Picks: Cassadee Pope, Thomas Rhett & Maren Morris

Who'll score country music's biggest hits this summer? Programmers make their picks.

Billboard has already handicapped what might be the biggest smashes this summer, with safe bets pointing to, among others, hits by Drake, Justin Timberlake and Calvin Harris and Rihanna.

Plus, the annual Songs of the Summer chart has returned, ranking the top songs all season long based on cumulative performance on the Billboard Hot 100.

But, those songs tend to represent the biggest hits among mainstream pop audiences. What about other genres?

To find out what might rule country in summer 2016, we asked several country radio programmers. Here is a sampling of responses from those who shape country radio playlists.

Song of the Summer Showdown: 5 Top Contenders, From ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’ to ‘One Dance’

Charlie Cook, vp programming, Cumulus Media
“Room to Breathe,” Chase Bryant. “A great groove, very much in the Thomas Rhett vibe.  This has a great summer feel.”

“Heartbreak Song,” Mickey Guyton. “Mickey has been three minutes away from becoming a star. She gets closer here.”

“Shotgun Summer,” Farewell Angelina. “It is never easy for smaller labels to make it through, but these girls [on in2une Nashville/Dreamlined] should open some doors.”

“Saltwater Gospel,” Eli Young Band. “Radio likes EYB and they have been away too long.”

“Crazy Last Night,” Michael Tyler. “Already a No. 1 songwriter [Dierks Bentley’s “Somewhere on a Beach”] and a dang likeable guy.”

Mark McKay, PD, WGH Norfolk, Va.
“Summer,” Cassadee Pope. “The title? Duh! With the Chris Young duet [“Think of You”], she finally had the breakthrough she needed. Now, time for her to shine solo.”

“Long Live Tonight,” LANco. “Just a big, fat, anthemic song that’ll sound great on the way to the beach.”

“80s Mercedes,” Maren Morris. “‘My Church’ was a great introduction and the Keith Urban tour’s a great platform. All the stars seem to be aligning for her.”

“H.O.L.Y.,” Florida Georgia Line. “It’s like FGL version 2.0; ironic that they shed the ‘party-boy’ label when the weather’s warming up, but what a great song.”

“Saltwater Gospel,” Eli Young Band. “When you live in a beach town like I do, this is real life. If you don’t, you wish it were real life.”

Phathead, PD, WJVC Nassau, N.Y.
“Vacation,” Thomas Rhett. “Make no mistake, there’s ‘Vacation’ and then there’s everything else. This is what [Little Big Town’s] ‘Pontoon’ was to 2012. Not even close. This is the one!”

“Summer,” Cassadee Pope. “She finally will get the respect she deserves. The video is sexy, and this is a female summer anthem.”

“Whatever song Keith Urban releases next. That’s right. Ripcord is so good he can go eight or nine singles deep if he wanted to. Many summer anthems to choose from!”

Johnny Chiang, director of operations, KKBQ Houston
“Vacation,” Thomas Rhett. “Come on, this one is so obvious …”

“Summer,” Cassadee Pope

“American Country Love Song,” Jake Owen. “Just listening to this song makes me think of summer love.”

“Night’s On Fire,” David Nail. “This song is about summer in Houston, the only place on earth where it’s actually hotter and more humid at night!”

“21 Summer,” Brothers Osborne. “This one’s even more obvious than ‘Vacation.'”

Summer Songs 1985-2015: The Top 10 Tunes of Each Summer

Buzz Jackson, PD, KIIM Tucson, Ariz.
“Wasted Time,” Keith Urban. “Hands down, the summer song of the year. When you’re stuck in traffic, waves of heat coming off the blacktop, windows rolled down because the AC in your beater is busted, you’ll probably be hearing ‘Wasted Time’ coming out of the cars around you.”

“80s Mercedes,” Maren Morris. “It has a great retro vibe that will resonate.”

“I Met a Girl,” William Michael Morgan. “A song that this format needs right now: right down-the-middle, a guy with a cowboy hat.”

“Are You With Me,” Easton Corbin. “Already a smash (for weird reasons) overseas. This should be a big hit here, too, if we know what’s good for us.”

“If the Boot Fits,” Granger Smith. “Great song, great production.”

Mike Brophey, PD, WKLB Boston
“Make You Mine,” High Valley. “Upbeat. Positive message. Fresh sound. The kind of song that makes you turn up the radio loud.”

“80s Mercedes,” Maren Morris. “Sounds like a throwback, yet with a current vibe.”

“American Country Love Song,” Jake Owen. “Simply catchy and fun. Feels like it’s summertime.”

“Castaway,” Zac Brown Band. “Can’t go wrong with an island feel, and those classic ZBB harmonies are perfect for the summer.”

“Vacation,” Thomas Rhett. “We’re partying! TR stretches the sonic envelope and makes us feel like we’re on vacation all summer long!”

Scott G. Mahalick, executive vp programming, Alpha Broadcasting
“Somewhere on a Beach,” Dierks Bentley

“Castaway,” Zac Brown Band

“Vacation,” Thomas Rhett

“And … two classics: ‘Summer Nights,’ Rascal Flatts, and ‘Summertime,’ Kenny Chesney.”

Part 1 of 3. Tomorrow: R&B/Hip-Hop Songs of the Summer Picks: Drake, DJ Khaled & Maxwell