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(PROGRAMMING) The Return Of Garth

2-24-2014

Garth Brooks is the valedictorian of the class of 89; a group of country artists that included Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, and Clint Black. They took Country radio and music sales to new heights. All were young performers with distinctive points of view, tracing their heritage back to the traditions of country as well as to the roots of rock n roll.

But it was Garth Brooks who altered the playing field. He brought a rock n roll mentality to the music, the stage, and even to the marketing strategy, which launched and maintained a meteoric career trajectory that lasted nearly 10 years. Brooks broke both sales and concert attendance records over that time. At one point, it was declared that Garth Brooks had outsold the Beatles.

Then Garth retired in 2001, in order to participate more fully in his daughters upbringing. He vowed he would not return to the road until his youngest daughter finished high school. Now that time has come. Garth, now 51, has announced a three-year worldwide tour, with dates and locations yet to be announced. New music will accompany the tour.

What will Garths return mean to the Country radio format? Will it heighten music sales?

He has always been radio-friendly and generous with his time (as evidenced by a recent satellite radio tour, in which he appeared live on nearly every reporting radio station over the course of a week). There is no reason to believe that he wont be equally accessible when the tour and new music roll out.

There are basically two camps regarding the impact Garth will have on Country radio. One side says the format has moved beyond him. Trends in entertainment change, and a newer, younger generation of stars has propelled the format in the ensuing years, especially in the 18-34 demos. Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean are also preparing stadium tours for this summer. Garths recent single release (a duet with wife Trisha Yearwood) was largely ignored by Country radio. Could an attempted comeback fall on deaf ears?

The other view is that you should never count out Garth Brooks. His Las Vegas shows have consistently sold out. The latest CD release of a boxed set of repackaged greatest hits and cover versions of songs that influenced him has been perched at the top of the album charts, in spite of its limited availability (sold in physical form only at Wal-Mart). Garth has never been in better voice and he is still a master showman. His recent CBS-TV special profiling his Las Vegas run easily won its ratings time slot.

There is no doubt his return to the concert stage will benefit Country radio. Just how large an impact will depend upon several factors, including:

The music: Its always about the music. Can Garth bridge the generations? Todays country music is even more rock-based than was true during his heyday. Will his new music appeal to the heart of the key 25-44 female demographic that drives Country radio? Great music drives great ratings.

The show: Anyone who has seen a Kenny Chesney or Taylor Swift stadium show can tell you that it will be tough to top the level of entertainment presented at these and other contemporary concerts. Garth will not only be competing with current acts, but with the memory of what he has accomplished in the past.

Marketing/social media: Will Garth embrace social media? He does not have an official Facebook page. His website is bare-bones. He has never allowed his music to be legally downloaded. Will he make his music accessible beyond physical CDs and radio airplay?

Tee Gentry, operations manager for Beasleys cluster in Augusta, GA and PD of Country WKXC, says, The awareness of Garths return will be big. Once he is on tour, everybody will be talking about the experiences they have at his shows. I believe he still has it. Now we need a radio hit from him.

Garths return has the potential to drive ratings and revenue, as stations will immerse themselves in ticket promotions and listener experiences that the artist has never shied away from.

Dont bet against Garth Brooks. Whatever the result, the Return of Garth will be fascinating to watch.

Joel Raab currently consults Country stations in 11 of the Top 25 radio markets, for companies including CBS, Entercom, Greater Media, Beasley, Saga Communications and Mt. Wilson Broadcasting. He can be reached at JoelRaab@aol.com. Visit his website at www.joelraab.com. Follow him on Twitter @joelraab

 




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