Country Radio Stations Quietly Planning to Reinstate Morgan Wallen

After abruptly removing Morgan Wallen from their playlists last week, country radio station program directors say they’re getting flooded by fans demanding his reinstatement. “We’re losing core listeners,” one program director told Digital Music News.

Country radio stations are now grappling with a serious backlash after removing Morgan Wallen from their playlists last week — with some stations fearing the loss of core listeners and plotting ways to quietly reinstate the singer. According to details shared with Digital Music News this weekend, multiple stations nationwide are getting flooded by Wallen fans demanding the singer’s reinstatement, with ‘all manner of threats and the like’ being hurled at those manning the phones.

In many cases, the demands devolve into arguments, with callers threatening to stop listening to the station entirely. “We know the situation and believe me, we get it and understand, but that’s not what we want to be hearing,” one program director relayed. “We’re losing core listeners over this, [especially] younger core listeners.”

Starting Tuesday evening, major broadcast radio conglomerates issued firm top-down directives to their stations to remove Morgan Wallen’s music immediately. The country star was filmed uttering a racial slur outside of this residence after a night of partying, and faced a massive rebuke from hundreds of stations nationwide. Conglomerates Entercom, iHeartRadio, and Cumulus were among the networks removing the singer immediately from their airwaves.

But that provoked a backlash of its own. One problem, according to a program director at a major market station, is that Wallen was a serious draw prior to his removal — with ‘7 Summers’ particularly popular. In many cases, stations went from heavy rotation — sometimes on multiple hit songs from the singer — to a cold turkey removal. That made the removals highly-noticeable, and a powder keg for fans who felt Wallen was unfairly victimized by ‘cancel culture’.

The situation mirrors other surprising trends following Wallen’s industry rebuke. Despite a near-ubiquitous music industry cancellation by radio stations, music streaming platforms, CMT, the Country Music Awards, SiriusXM, Pandora, and even Wallen’s label, Big Loud/Republic, Wallen’s album sales started to explode in response.

Since that point, more data has emerged showing massive increases in Spotify followers and streams — even though Wallen was removed by every marquee Spotify playlist. Plays and followers have also increased on nearly every other platform, including SiriusXM-owned Pandora, which also nixed the singer. Beyond that, Wallen’s followers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube are also surging.

But zealous Morgan Wallen fans are introducing a new element into the equation. And this is getting ugly in some cases: according to one report, the CEO of Wallen’s label, Big Loud, has been getting doxxed. Big Loud decided to ‘indefinitely suspend’ Wallen’s contract, a move that could open the door for legal action (and perhaps a contractual release) by Wallen. Big Loud is releasing Wallen’s music through Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group.

Separately, Wallen remains booked for several major country festivals and future tour dates.  Those are obviously uncertain given COVID-19, but there haven’t been any cancellations (Wallen’s touring agency, William Morris, also dropped the singer). Interestingly, a trending question on Google over the past few days has been ‘is Morgan Wallen still opening for Luke Bryan’.

For radio stations, the removal offers a stark reminder of traditional radio’s diminished power among music fans.

Despite a near-100% removal of radio plays, the Wallen train didn’t slow down — instead, it accelerated.  One of the reasons is that most of Wallen’s plays are happening on streaming platforms, with fans pressing play. Alienating country fans — especially younger fans — is a difficult thing to do in that context, regardless of the reasons.

That appears to be creating tension between local radio stations and their corporate parents, with stations pushing back and strategizing ways to quietly reinstate Wallen if (and when) things die down.

 

 

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