How Country Radio Has Changed

Originally published in the October 28, 1997 issue of Country Weekly magazine. 

Country radio once was notable for its loyalty to artists: Not many became stars, but those who did could expect long careers. Today, radio tends to favor newer artists. The point becomes clear if you compare the acts who created country radio’s top songs in 1996, 1986 and 1976. Twenty years ago, the biggest songs came from longtime artists — on average, they had enjoyed a career of more than 11 years before they hit the top of Billboard‘s country chart for the first time. Today’s top stars have been around less than half that time.

1996 Top 10 Average career length: 4.6 years

Artist Song Length of career on radio*
Brooks & Dunn My Maria 4 years, 11 months
George Strait Blue Clear Sky 15 years, 1 month
Tracy Lawrence Time Marches on 4 years, 7 months
Ricochet Daddy’s Money 7 months
Tim McGraw She Never Lets It Go to Her Heart 3 years, 11 months
Ty Herndon Living in a Moment 7 months
Shania Twain No One Needs To Know 3 years, 3 months
Patty Loveless You Can Feel Bad 10 years, 4 months
Clay Walker Hypnotize the Moon 2 years, 9 months
Lonestar No News 8 months

1986 Top 10 Average career length: 8 years

Artist Song Length of career on radio
Rosanne Cash Never Be You 6 years, 4 months
The Statler Brothers Too Much on My Heart 19 years, 2 months
Lee Greenwood I Don’t Mind the Thorns (If You’re the Rose) 4 years, 3 months
The Judds Have Mercy 2 years, 1 month
Gary Morris I’ll Never Stop Loving You 5 years, 1 month
Kenny Rogers Morning Desire 16 years, 6 months
Steve Wariner You Can Dream of Me 7 years, 10 months
Reba McEntire Whoever’s in New England 10 years
Judy Rodman Until I Met You 1 year, 4 months
Randy Travis On the Other Hand 7 years, 7 months

Top 10, 1976 Average career length: 11.2 years

Artist Song Length of career on radio
C.W. McCall Convoy 1 year, 5 months
Waylon & Willie Good Hearted Woman 12 years (avg. of the two)
Dave & Sugar The Door Is Always Open 8 months
Crystal Gayle I’ll Get Over You 5 years, 8 months
Red Sovine Teddy Bear 21 year, 3 months
Marty Robbins El Paso City 23 years, 6 months
Ronnie Milsap (I’m a) Stand by My Woman Man 3 years, 2 months
Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius I Don’t Want To Have To Marry You 6 years (avg. of the two)
Johnny Cash One Piece at a Time 20 years, 6 months
Johnny Duncan Thinkin’ of a Rendezvous 9 years, 4 months

*Radio career length measured from the debut date of the artist’s first hit song to the day the Top 10 song hit No. 1, as reported in Billboard magazine

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Chris Young joined forces with Gavin DeGraw to tape a new episode of CMT Crossroads that will air on Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. CT.