A Country Nation

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Just take those old records off the shelf because a new one has been set. Country music is now playing on the radios of nearly 16 million adults between the ages of 18 and 49 each week, making it the most popular radio format in America, according to a new report from Interep, a New York City-based radio advertising sales and marketing firm. The second-highest ranking format (news/talk/business/sports) reaches approximately 13 million listeners each week.

But today's country fans don't fit the stereotypes, says Jason Steinberg, director of marketing and promotions for Y-107, a country station in the New York City suburb of Hawthorne, New York. "Not everyone who listens to country music has a broken-down pickup and lives in a trailer, especially not in New York City," he says.

In fact, Interep found that country-radio listeners bear a striking similarity to the nation as a whole, demographically speaking.

For example, 65 percent of the nation's adults are between the ages of 18 and 49 and 71 percent of country radio listeners are in that age group. In addition, 28 percent of listeners to country radio earn in excess of $75,000 a year - just 1 percent more than the rate of U.S. households overall.

Part of the reason country radio has found its way into so many homes may be because country music itself has become something of a hybrid. "It's no longer the twangy Nashville sound of the past," says Mary Ann Slepavic, research director at Interep. "Most [people] will probably say they're not country fans, even though they have a Shania Twain CD at home."

That may also explain why other radio formats share a lot more of their listeners with country than the other way around. Sixteen percent of contemporary hits radio (CHR) listeners lend an ear to country from time to time, whereas only 10 percent of country listeners ever switch over to a CHR format. And only half as many country fans (8 percent) listen to a classic-rock format as classic-rock fans (16 percent) tune into country.

Some listeners don't even need to change stations. Three years ago, modern rock X-107 exchanged the X in its name for a Y and began broadcasting country throughout the New York metro area. Steinberg, who also worked for the station when it was known as X-107, says that the change in format initially caused many advertisers to jump ship. But today, those same advertisers are returning and getting their message across to a much larger audience, Steinberg says. And new ones like Sprint PCS, Chrysler, Toyota, and a slew of dot-coms are joining them.

Helene Wexler Gold, Y-107's general sales manager, admits that she initially faced some trouble convincing Internet companies to advertise on the station because of the inherent bias against country music listeners. "People often think that country is downscale but we're very upscale and we have the listeners that are good for those companies," Wexler Gold says. "Still, we have a lot of [advertisers] to educate."

For more information on "Country Radio: Leading America Into the New Millennium," call Interep at (212) 916-0700.

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