#TomatoGate Changes the Conversation a Year Later

‘Tis the Season for Women in Country Music

The lack of female acts being played on country radio was brought to national attention last year with a big foot-in-mouth moment from radio consultant Keith Hill. His quotes printed in Country Aircheck the day after Memorial Day 2015 comparing the format to a salad ignited a proverbial tomato bomb in the country music industry.

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Hill said. “Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now. They’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”

Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles were the first tomatoes to fire back. T-shirts were made, hash-tags were shared and the gender issue went viral. Looking back, #TomatoGate was a huge gift.

“More than anything else, it’s been a better awareness of trying to achieve a balanced mix of all sounds and genders into our format,” says R.J. Curtis, country editor of the radio news outlet All Access. “I think radio programmers are more in tune with that than a year ago. But I also believe the music cycle is shifting back toward stronger female artists

“It’s been promising to see the iHeartMedia Country team put artists like Cam and Maren Morris on its On the Verge program. That’s a positive move, and I wish they would do a better job of following up by making a longer commitment to the artist, rather than the song.

“Beyond that, I also believe radio is trying to incorporate promising new female acts onto its playlists and listener appreciation shows, too,” Curtis says. “I also think you have to give the gang at CMT kudos for their efforts on exposing a very diverse group of new female artists for the public to be exposed to and decide which of them they will connect to.”

On the road, CMT’s Next Women of Country program continues to support rising female acts. Kelsea Ballerini and Jana Kramer co-headlined the first Next Women of Country tour in fall 2015, while Nettles helmed the 2016 trek with Brandy Clark, Lindsay Ell and Tara Thompson.

The CMA and ACM’s female vocalist of the year Miranda Lambert also did her part to expose new talent on the road by headlining an all-female lineup with 2015’s Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour. The bill included Ashley Monroe, RaeLynn, Clare Dunn and Courtney Cole.

Monroe, Lucie Silvas and Kelleigh Bannen supported Little Big Town on the band’s Pain Killer tour.

Carrie Underwood just wrapped the spring leg of her biggest tour to date. The Storyteller tour drew nearly 600,000 fans with sellouts in major cities in the U.S. and Europe. Since 2008’s Carnival Ride tour, she has played for more than 1 million fans.

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