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Country radio won't forgive Dixie Chicks

With a haul of Grammys Sunday, the Texas trio topped their comeback from their 2003 Bush-bashing comment that turned them from superstars to pariahs — but Music Row isn’t welcoming them back into the country-music fold.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Country radio still isn’t ready to make nice with the Dixie Chicks.

With a haul of Grammys Sunday, the Texas trio topped their comeback from their 2003 Bush-bashing comment that turned them from superstars to pariahs — but Music Row isn’t welcoming them back into the country-music fold.

“Most country stations aren’t playing the Chicks, and they aren’t going to start now,” said Jim Jacobs, owner of WTDR-FM, a country radio station in Talladega, Ala.

The awards might have the opposite effect, sparking another radio backlash against the group. Country broadcasters said Monday that the group’s five Grammys show how out of touch the Recording Academy is from the average country fan.

“I think (the listeners) are outraged,” said Tony Lama, program director for KXNP in North Platte, Neb. “This is rural, conservative America. They are just disgusted.”

Country stations quit playing the Chicks in 2003 after singer Natalie Maines told a London audience: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.

Almost overnight, Maines became a lightning rod in the debate over the Iraq war, with conservatives blasting her for criticizing the president, especially while on foreign soil.

The Chicks sang about the controversy in their single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which won Grammys as record and song of the year. Their album, “Taking the Long Way,” won album of the year.

“I’m not ready to make nice. I’m not ready to back down,” Maines sang. “I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time to go round and round and round.”

Country radio may not be ready to embrace them again, but the Grammy runaway suggests that a significant portion of the rest of the country has come around to their way of thinking. The president’s approval ratings are down, and his party was ousted in the midterm elections.

“I’m slowly getting my faith back in mankind,” Maines said Sunday.

But the rift with country-music radio seems impossibly wide. The Chicks have said they never felt at home on Music Row, even when they were a top-selling country act.

“If you’re trying to offer an olive branch to country radio, that’s not the way to do it,” said Ken Tucker, Billboard country music correspondent. “The Chicks are celebrating being the outlaws.”

The Grammy for best country album almost never goes to a mainstream Nashville act.

Bluegrass siren Alison Krauss and Union Station won the award last year for “Lonely Runs Both Ways,” and Loretta Lynn won in 2005 for “Van Lear Rose.” Neither got airplay on country radio.

The last time a country album won album of the year was 2002, for the movie soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” — a collection of old-time country that didn’t fit the Nashville formula.

Johnny Cash won best country album in 1998 and then made headlines when his record company took out an ad showing a much younger Cash flipping his middle finger and thanking “the country music establishment in Nashville.”

Wes McShay, program director of KRMD-FM, in Bossier City, La., said country fans understand that the big stars don’t win Grammy awards.

“If you’re talking about who’s selling out 15,000-seat auditoriums, those acts are not awarded at the Grammys year after year,” McShay said.

Consider the Country Music Association awards handed out a few months ago in Nashville: Entertainer of the year went to Kenny Chesney; the other big winners were radio favorites Brooks & Dunn, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts.

That the Chicks weren’t even nominated for a CMA award shows how narrow-minded and parochial Nashville’s Music Row can be, Maines said.

“Country music, as far as radio and the industry, they are all right there on four blocks in Nashville,” Maines said after the show Sunday.

The Dixie Chicks peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard country charts with “Not Ready to Make Nice.” That ought to disqualify them from winning best country album, said Jacobs, the Alabama radio station owner.

“How do you win country music album of the year, when country music radio is not playing you?” he said.

Dixie Chick Emily Robison said the Grammy organization is known for recognizing great albums that don’t necessarily get played on the radio.

“Especially in country, it does have that tradition of honoring the unsung great albums,” Robison said.