Programmers Cheer Artists Whose Records They Won’t Program

Irony was the main dish served at the Country Radio Seminar luncheon Saturday (March 3)
as programmers rose repeatedly to cheer and take snapshots of performers whose records
their stations will no longer play.

Sponsored by the Country Music Association, the luncheon spotlighted that organization’s
single-of-the-year winners since the CMA awards were instituted in 1967.

On hand to perform their winning songs were Grand Ole Opry star Jack Greene
(“There Goes My Everything,” 1967), the Oak Ridge Boys (“Elvira,” 1981), John
Anderson (“Swingin’,” 1983), Vince Gill (“When I Call Your Name,” 1990), John
Michael Montgomery (“I Swear,” 1994), Steve Wariner (“Holes in the Floor of
Heaven,” 1998) and Sons of the Desert, who backed Lee Ann Womack on the
top single of 2000, “I Hope You Dance.” Womack was not on hand to participate.

Freddy Fender, who won the 1975 prize for “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and
is now suffering from a debilitating kidney disease, phoned in his greetings to the

Bracketing the live performances, which were presented chronologically, were
film clips from the annual awards ceremonies showing the announcements of the
single winners and their acceptance remarks. (Greene won his honor the year
before the awards were first televised.)

Dressed in a white hat and a powder-blue,
western-cut suit, Greene was as thin, dapper and
vocally engaging as he was during his prime
years with Decca Records. He earned the first —
and most spontaneous — standing ovation of the
event. Greene’s last chart single came in 1984.

The crowd stood for the Oak Ridge Boys as soon
as they came on stage and compliantly sang
along on the chorus of “Elvira.” The high-energy quartet looked, acted and
sounded much the same as ever, with bass singer Richard Sterban still the
complete fashion plate and baritone William Lee Golden still the stoic,
leather-clad mountain man. Tenor Joe Bonsall was only slightly less manic in his
performance than he was in those of two decades ago, and lead singer Duane
Allen remained the imperturbably cool anchor. Even so, the Oaks have not
enjoyed a significant presence at radio since 1991, when they last had a Top 10

Several people flocked to the front of the stage to take pictures when Anderson
came on to do his sly, grinning romp through “Swingin’.” He, too, has suffered a
chart lull in recent years, a condition he is trying to rectify with his current single,
“The Big Revival.”

Gill and Montgomery, who are still popular at
radio, earned prolonged applause for their
performances. “I’m going to have a baby,” Gill
shouted at the end of his number, referring to the
impending arrival of his and wife Amy Grant’s first
child together. Still recovering from a broken leg,
Montgomery came to the microphone on crutches
and stood with his weight on his good leg to croon “I Swear.”

Wariner, who recently announced his departure from Capitol Records, seemed
afflicted by a vocal problem that caused him to strain his way through “Holes in
the Floor of Heaven.” But the crowd was clearly and enthusiastically on his side.

Before the show began, Lon Helton, chairman of the CMA board of directors,
announced that the association will soon launch a “branding campaign” to
heighten country music’s visibility — something like the “Got Milk?” ads, he
explained. He also asked the radio stations represented in the audience to do
their utmost to promote the upcoming Fan Fair. “One way the outside press
gauges the health of country music,” he warned, “is Fan Fair.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to