Anybody working the world of independent radio knows how important Fort Worth's 95.9 "The Ranch" radio station is. The popular high wattage station from the metroplex helped put countless Texas country and Red Dirt artists on the map.
Known as "The Sound of Texas," KFWR built a sturdy reputation as an "all killer, no filler" station. Lyrical integrity and sonic authenticity play crucial roles in music on the station.
But now, longtime listeners say the station is "going mainstream." A few slight program changes at The Ranch incorporated artists like Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert alongside favorites such as Turnpike Troubadours and Cody Jinks. The station also started billing itself as "alternative country."
And that just got a whole bunch of undies in a wad. Listeners soon took to the station's Facebook page to voice displeasure. One user commented, "I listen to your station because I only want to hear Texas bands. I can't stand the new country music crap they play now on the regular radio and I don't like that you are mixing it in."
Let's unpack that for a second. If you only want to hear Texas bands, Arlington native Maren Morris and Lindale native Miranda Lambert fit right in. But Ranch regulars like Cross Canadian Ragweed, Reckless Kelly and Turnpike Troubadours? They're not from Texas, so they've got to go. Right?
Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell -- country artists almost universally respected by, well, everybody -- wouldn't fit that worldview, either.
But it's not just mainstream country artists irking listeners. The Ranch also threw in classic rock acts like ZZ Top and the Eagles (who both have strong Texas ties themselves), and that struck a nerve, too. "[These artists] are not country," one user complained. "Alternative facts are lies. Alternative country is not country." Some even threatened a boycott, creating a Facebook page and everything.
For its part, The Ranch issued a lengthy press release explaining the station's philosophy. Since launching in 2002, The Ranch built a steady following by offering an alternative to commercial radio. "The next natural step for The Ranch is to continue to expand its listener base by playing the very best music with the gritty, real sound that has resonated so loudly with its listeners," the release says.
The whole process started three years ago. That's when the station introduced concepts like "Throwback Thursdays" and "Free For All Fridays." Both segments allowed different music under the vast umbrella of country a spot on the radio.
And, guess what, angry listeners? Many of the artists you hear now on The Ranch come as recommendations from the very Texas country and Red Dirt artists you swear allegiance to.
"The Ranch team also learned from core Texas/Red Dirt artists about bands & artists who most influenced their music," according to the release. Many of those include contemporary artists. The station chooses to play select songs from those artists that fit the format.
An analysis by Saving Country Music found that only 4% of the playlist constitutes modern mainstream country. Furthermore, only 18.5% constitutes historical mainstream hits (like George Strait etc.). The vast majority of music on The Ranch still includes independent artists from the Texas country and Americana world.
And, as the release notes, most of what listeners love isn't even technically "country."
So The Ranch introduced alternative country to its branding. In marketing terms, the station "freshened its imaging to better describe its current playlist."
Did the explanation sooth irksome listeners? In under one day, the press release garnered 172 "likes" or "loves" on Facebook. Meanwhile, 59 people expressed anger, sadness or surprise.
Ultimately, if listeners shut off the radio because "Take It Easy" or "My Church" comes on, good riddance. The rest of us welcome music that means something, regardless of what side of the Red River it comes from.
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