Four months after country star Morgan Wallen‘s airplay initially plummeted following a February incident reported by TMZ in which he was caught on video using the N-word with friends, his radio presence is once again steadily growing.
At the beginning of May, Wallen’s number of weekly spins across the nearly 150 radio stations that report to Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart was still in the low 1,000s, according to MRC Data. But after lifting from 1,100 in the week of May 7-13 to 1,500 the week of May 14-20, they’ve risen each subsequent week, and are now at 2,900 for the week of June 4-10 — a total gain of 164% over the same period a month earlier.
This new high-water mark for the past few months is still well off the level of airplay that Wallen was enjoying before his racial slur usage became public. In the days before the TMZ video circulated, his songs were averaging daily plays around 1,500 — adding up to weekly totals in the 10,000-11,000 range. He had grown into one of country’s most reliable radio performers since his 2018 breakthrough, with four of his first six singles reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, and “Whiskey Glasses” and “Chasin’ You” claiming back-to-back No. 1 spots on the Country Airplay Songs year-end tally in 2019 and 2020.
But 2,900 weekly plays is still dramatically more than Wallen was reaching at his absolute low end earlier this year, when after his music was pulled from radio stations owned by iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Beasley, Cox and Audacy, among others, his daily plays cratered to mere double digits. Since that period, none of the songs from Wallen’s enormously successful Dangerous: The Double Album set — which holds at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 this week, having not vacated the top 10 since its January release, thanks mostly to its continued streaming presence — have appeared on Billboard‘s 60-spot Country Airplay tally.
According to reports, iHeartRadio, Cumulus Media and Cox Radio returned Wallen’s songs to their stations’ airwaves in early June, but reps for those companies did not respond to requests for comment. Audacy declined to comment. Beasley also did not respond to a request asking if they had added back Wallen.
Notably, of the Wallen songs currently receiving the most airplay, the top two do not come from Dangerous. “Chasin’ You” and “Whiskey Glasses,” those earlier Country Airplay year-end chart-toppers (both from his 2018 debut LP If I Know Me), were his two most-played songs on Country Airplay panelists for the week of June 4-10, earning 974 and 839 plays, respectively. The Dangerous songs receiving the most spins were “More Than My Hometown” (610 plays) and “7 Summers” (277), both of which were released as pre-album singles in mid-2020 and enjoyed long chart runs before the February incident. Of the Dangerous cuts that debuted along with the album’s release in January, only “Wasted on You” and “Sand in My Boots” are receiving somewhat regular airplay, and with spins last week in the double digits (70 and 54, respectively).
The stations leading the charge in bringing Wallen back to the airwaves are independently owned KSOP Salt Lake City (107 spins for his songs last week) and Tyler Media’s KJKE Oklahoma City (95 spins), though other notable supporters can be found in major-market stations ranging from Cumulus-owned Dallas’ KSCS (79 spins) to Boston’s WBWL (72 spins) and Nashville’s WSIX (54 spins). The latter two stations are particularly notable as iHeartRadio stations — with the radio conglomerate being one of the leaders in the initial backlash to Wallen, telling Billboard in February, “In light of Morgan Wallen’s recent actions involving the use of a racial slur, we have made the decision to remove his music and content from our stations effective immediately.”
“I can honestly tell you I’ve had zero negatives,” says Deb Turpin, KSOP’s program director. “It was frustrating: ‘We’ll just go to Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Pandora.’ I was really glad I could put him back on the air.” At KRTY, San Jose’s second-highest-ranked station, program director Julie Stevens initially stripped Wallen’s music from the playlist, then returned hits like “7 Summers” and “The Way I Talk” to three to five weekly plays after he apologized in February. “I’m a Christian and I do believe in repentance,” she says.
After keeping a relatively low profile in the months immediately following the video of his racial slur usage becoming national news, Wallen has gradually become more of a public presence again in recent weeks, playing at Kid Rock’s Nashville Honky Tonk in May, his first public performance since the February incident and earlier this week at a charitable event, the Brett Boyer Foundation Invitational’s after party. Also, after taking a break from Instagram, he has recently begun posting photos again with fellow country artists like Eric Church and Kix Brooks. Meanwhile, fan-funded billboards have begun to appear in Nashville and elsewhere around the country, demanding Wallen’s industry reinstatement: “THE FANS ARE SPEAKING ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – MUSIC INDUSTRY, WE WANT TO BE HEARD!”
Additional research by Gary Trust; additional reporting by Steve Knopper.