Country Radio Still Weighing Chicks Controversy

With heated debate continuing over Natalie Maines’ comment about President George W. Bush, country radio listeners may be determining the Dixie Chicks ‘ future — at least for the short term.

Just like postings on Internet message boards, phone calls to radio stations have been hot and heavy in the aftermath of the Texas-based trio’s Monday night (March 10) concert in London. During the concert, Maines told the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” The band later posted an explanation on their official Web site outlining their views of a possible war with Iraq.

Some radio stations immediately dropped the Dixie Chicks from their playlist after news surfaced of Maines’ remark. Rumors were circulating Friday afternoon (March 14) that one sizable chain of stations would be initiating a boycott of Chicks titles during the weekend. Most, however, appear to be taking a “wait and see” attitude as they seek input from their listeners. Several stations are running polls and asking for additional comments via their Web sites.

The Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier,” is No. 1 on Billboard‘s latest country singles chart, but weekend boycotts at major market stations could easily prevent the track from remaining at the top when the next chart is compiled Monday (March 17).

“They’re about where they were at this point last week, as far as spins,” Billboard country charts editor Wade Jessen told CMT.com. “But with three more days left to go, depending on what happens, they could either stay at one or they’ll get knocked out. At this point in the week, they’re maintaining their airplay on ‘Travelin’ Soldier,’ but we won’t know until Monday morning what it looks like.”

Noting that Americans were more unified in the early ’90s during Operation Desert Storm, Jessen adds, “I think this is new territory, and it’s very, very sensitive and very emotional. It’s particularly sensitive in the country format because we’re really where patriotism lives. Country is the format with the audience that expects patriotism. But at this time in the nation’s history, there’s a lot of confusion over just what patriotism is and what constitutes it.”

In Bush’s hometown of Midland, Texas, radio station KNFM’s Web site offers a direct link to The Guardian, the London newspaper that first reported Maines’ remark. The station has also stopped playing Dixie Chicks music as part of an on-air promotion billed as “Chicks Free — Texas Pride Weekend.” KNFM operations manager John Moesch said, “Natalie Maines certainly has the right to say whatever she wants, but it doesn’t mean that the KNFM listener family here in George W. Bush’s hometown have to listen.”

Elsewhere in Texas, online polls are being conducted by KILT and KKBQ in Houston and at KSCS in Dallas. The KSCS poll has a bit of a disclaimer: “At 96.3 KSCS we disagree with her [Maines]. We’re not only proud to be from Texas, but we’re proud of President George W. Bush and the fact that he is from Texas.”

One major market programmer removed the Chicks from his station’s playlist but changed his mind after considering why Americans have fought previous wars. In a letter to listeners posted on the KFKF/Kansas City Web site, program director Dale Carter wrote, “Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are over there fighting for our rights — and one of those is our Constitutional right to express an unpopular opinion. The longer this has gone on, the more I had visions of censorship and McCarthyism. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I agree with the 80 percent of you who abhor what Natalie said in London. On the other hand, I believe in the Constitution.”

Carter concluded, “In light of what our men and women are about to do, this whole controversy is very small. Let me close with the most important sentiments any of us can express: God bless our troops, pray for the people of Iraq and may God continue to bless the United States of America.”

CMT Radio’s Miranda Williams contributed to this article.