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Fresh Listen: Radio Disney Country

Radio Disney CountryTwo years ago, Radio Disney announced the launch of its Country spinoff. Radio Disney Country launched in early November 2015, tied to the CMA Awards. When we took a First Listen, the online-only station differed from mainstream Country in its support of female artists, especially younger ones, but it wasn’t resolutely young sounding.

Radio Disney had a spot on the Los Angeles broadcast dial, and a channel on Sirius XM Radio. Radio Disney Country existed only on the Internet. But it came along at a time when Music Row was more receptive to stories outside the walls of mainstream Country radio. Sirius XM’s The Highway had become important to labels, even if Country FM PDs swore inattention. Then, just as Radio Disney was launching, Spotify stole Highway PD John Marks, and suddenly Spotify playlists were being quoted in trade ads, too.

This week, it was announced that Radio Disney Country will add an FM signal, as well as take over the Los Angeles 1110 AM frequency of Radio Disney. RDC has also announced plans to curate playlists on both Spotify and Apple Music, as well as create an account on Musical.ly. It’s the flurry of activity on every platform that one would like to see from FM radio And that prompted a “Fresh Listen.”

Radio Disney Country still differs from the mainstream chart stations in its support of female artists (it was about 40% female in the stretch I heard). It still follows some Country artists outside traditional format barriers—two years ago it was The Band Perry being featured on a dance record; this year it was The Band Perry single that was worked to Hot AC, not Country radio.

Beyond the presence of younger female artists, Radio Disney Country still doesn’t feel particularly young in musical texture or lyrical focus. You’ll see a song identified as an RDC edit occasionally, but Kenny Chesney & Pink still get drunk on La Cienaga Blvd. Lauren Alaina’s dad still gets sober and his mom still gets his best friend. And the station has said in the past that its target is older than traditional Radio Disney, looking for listeners into young adulthood.

What Radio Disney has become in 18 months is a place to hear Country, and specifically new Country, untethered from the template of mainstream FM Country. (Which also means untethered from the Country chart’s problematic combination of glacial climbs to the top of the charts and rapid turnover in the No. 1 slot.)  You might wonder why a reaction record like Walker Hayes’ “You Broke Up With Me” isn’t on every station. Instead, it’s on the Highway. And on Radio Disney Country.

The between the records content on Radio Disney Country still relies heavily on pre-recorded artist info vignettes, interviews, etc. It’s typical to hear an artist talk about being excited to hear their record on the radio because it’s the station they used to listen to as a kid. Radio Disney Country is two years old, but it has something else. In one drop, an artist talks about being excited to hear their song on the air—because they grew up going to Disneyland.

Here’s Radio Disney Country just before 4 p.m., June 6:

  • Carly Pearce, “Every Little Thing”
  • Jessie Chris, “Burn”
  • Parmalee, “Sunday Morning”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Heartbeat”
  • Brett Young, “In Case You Didn’t Know”
  • Chris Young, “Losing Sleep” (after a “New Country First” stager)
  • Kelsea Ballerini, “Love Me Like You Mean It”
  • Rascal Flatts, “Yours If You Want It”
  • Lauren Alaina, “Doin’ Fine”
  • Raelynn (f/Dan + Shea), “Say” (after a “New Country First” stager)
  • Kenny Chesney (f/Pink), “Setting the World on Fire”
  • Walker Hayes, “You Broke Up With Me (RDC Version)”
  • Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “Speak To A Girl” (with customized power intro)
  • Dan + Shay, “From the Ground Up”
  • Ryan Hurd, “Love In A Bar”
  • William Michael Morgan, “Missing”
  • Kalie Shorr, “Love Like That”
  • Brett Eldredge, “Somethinng I’m Good At”
  • Old Dominion, “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart”

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Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

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