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Country Radio Pulls Sensitive Songs Following Connecticut School Shooting

The Band Perry
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

In light of the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, a number of country music radio stations have taken a second look at certain songs that receive regular airplay. Two songs by the Band Perry have been temporarily removed from many playlists due to concerns from listeners and program directors. 

‘If I Die Young’ has been rested by Curtis Media’s WQDR in Raleigh, N.C.,  Max Media’s WGH-FM in Norfolk, Va. and by many of the more than 40 country stations owned by Taste of Country parent company Townsquare Media. Country radio consultant Jaye Albright of Albright, O’Malley and Brenner says stations they consult were advised to rest the song as well.

“There were some who wanted to make it into a Newtown tribute song,” she told Taste of Country, “but we recommend against that since it’s a valid power gold and we don’t want to stigmatize it for future airplay.” A power gold is a radio term used to describe an older song that is still played daily, or with frequency.

The Band Perry’s current single, ‘Better Dig Two,’ is being rested for a few days at both WQDR and Townsquare Media stations. Albright says her team considered this, but ultimately decided that despite the song’s title the current Top 20 single was the ultimate love song and not about a child’s death. They continue to recommend stations play it as listener surveys done before Dec. 14 show it is very popular with country listeners.

“I fear that we will start to overthink so many things in light of this unbelievable tragedy,” A&O&B’s Becky Brenner said in an email made available to ToC. “This song is a ‘gray area’ for me but I don’t think it needs to be pulled.”

WGH-FM Program Director Mark McKay says resting ‘If I Die Young’ felt like the right move. “We didn’t get any listener requests to hold any songs, but through the weekend, I was pretty careful about a few tunes,” he tells Taste of Country. “A few others, I kept a close eye on, but (‘If I Die Young’) was really about it.”

KYGO in Denver, Colo. adjusted its playlist in a completely different way. Program Director Garret Doll says they didn’t get requests to rest songs. Instead, they added to their rotation in an effort to help listeners heal.

“Because Colorado is very familiar with the tragedy in Newtown and we felt connected to them and what they are going through, we did put certain songs in that fit the situation,” Doll told Taste of Country in an email.

Denver is within 30 minutes of two of the most tragic shootings in recent history — the Century Theater in Aurora and Columbine High School. Doll says ‘Glass’ by Thompson Square, ‘That’s Why I Pray’ by Big and Rich, ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ by Carrie Underwood and ‘Hello World’ by Lady Antebellum were added in remembrance of victims.

Country music is not alone in adjusting playlists to match the current climate. Many pop radio stations removed Kesha‘s ‘Die Young’ from the air — a move the singer supported. The most famous example of radio responding to tragedy came after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when dozens of songs were rested.

The country sibling trio TBP and their record label have not yet commented about the moves at radio. The final weeks of December are typically a time of rest in Nashville, and according to their website, the group doesn’t have any shows scheduled until Jan. 10.

From a business perspective, radio’s temporary rest of ‘Better Dig Two’ likely won’t cause the single to fall off the charts, especially if country programmers begin playing it again after the holidays, as nearly everyone who talked to Taste of Country has indicated they will do. It’s understood that the Christmas season is a time of flux for radio anyhow, as many stations rest songs in favor of Christmas music. While charts are published weekly, they don’t really “count” until early January. This is important for the Band Perry, because ‘Better Dig Two’ is the first single from a new album scheduled for 2013, and having the song fall from the charts may push their team to alter plans.

Next: See Which Country Songs Have Been Banned in the Past

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