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CMA chief hopes to raise profile of show in NY

Awards show moving from Nashville to Big Apple
Kix Brooks, foreground, and Ronnie Dunn, hidden, of Brooks & Dunn perform a free noontime concert atop the Madison Square Garden marquis, Monday, Nov. 14, 2005, at the arena in New York where they will host the Country Music Awards Tuesday. The popular singing duo is also nominated for CMA vocal duo of the year. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)Kathy Willens / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Moving the Country Music Association awards show from Nashville to New York seemed to make as much sense as a Toby Keith-Barbra Streisand duet.

The awards, which air Tuesday on CBS, have been in Nashville since 1967 and celebrate a music that’s as much a part of Nashville’s identity as movies are to Los Angeles or cars to Detroit.

Yet, to hear CMA Executive Director Ed Benson tell it, moving this year’s show to the Big Apple will help Nashville. Benson recently spoke with The Associated Press about the move.

AP: Why take the show to New York?

Benson: One of our strategic reasons for going was to have a bigger impact for the television show in those Northeast markets. It’s such a large portion of the population, and hopefully if we can create more interest and jump-start our ratings in those markets it should help our numbers.

AP: Is there a more long-term goal?

Benson: There’s no question there’s a big untapped market there, and a big established market. New York is alternately our No. 1 or No. 2 top-selling market in terms of sales volume. So I know a lot of people enjoy the music and certain artists from the genre. We want to create a series of events to bring attention to the people who like the music and care about it. Hopefully, that will prime the market up there for future ventures. Our long-term goal is to get a full-time country music format station in New York. It’s been nearly three years since we’ve had one and it’s long overdue.

AP: Have you received the kind of media attention you were hoping for?

Benson: Absolutely. The media coverage from the very announcement of this thing has amazed me. I guess it’s because it’s kind of unique — it’s never been done before — and it’s catching us at a good time, with some of the country artists doing so well right now.

AP: Do you find that country music’s image has changed outside the South?

Benson: My personal experience in visiting and attending meetings in New York is that they have an understanding today that country artists are some of the biggest and most popular artists in America. They see country artists on all kinds of television shows these days. So the perception has improved dramatically. But that’s not to say there isn’t room to do better. In some quarter of the urban setting of New York, just the word ’country music’ kind of throws people off.

AP: We’ve heard some grumbling about the non-country musical acts and presenters at this year’s show. Critics say you took the show to New York and now you’re shifting the focus away from country music.

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AP: People in Nashville were upset when they heard the CMA was moving the show this year. Are you still getting flak?

Benson: Some of the opposition we got initially was based on the fact that they thought they might be losing one of the things that is important for putting Nashville on the map. Now, even some of our artists whose initial reaction was not positive are now going along and appearing on the show. I think at first people didn’t understand why. Now that they understand the reasoning it makes sense.

AP: I know the show returns to Nashville next year for its 40th anniversary. But what about the future? Do you see it going back to New York at some point or to some other city?

Benson: Nashville is the home of country music and it’s really where the show is going to be. Our industry is based here and it’s home for the organization. Moving the show is a big logistical undertaking, and New York is very expensive place to do business. I’ve said in the past that the cost of producing the telecast in New York is slightly more than double what it would cost to do it here. So it’s not something you’d want to do on a regular basis.