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Blurring Country, Alternative

Boehlert, E. (1994, November 19). Young Ears Blur Country, Alternative. Billboard, pp. 1, 77, 80.

"The lines are blurring," says Dene Hallam of country KKBQ Houston in regard to country and alternative music. Recent studies agree. According to Strategic Radio Research’s AccuRatings service, 10% of hot country listeners tune into modern rock radio stations on a regular basis. Hot country and modern rock are two of the three fastest growing music formats among 12- to 24-year-olds. (Hard rock is the third.) An unprecedented number of young fans are currently tuning in to the country and modern rock radio stations, while also increasingly flipping the dial between the two music types.

While country music was thought to appeal to rural or suburban listeners and modern rock to more cosmopolitan youths, in actuality young listeners are simply responding to the vibrant acts that have emerged in both arenas. Increasingly, the two music platforms are drawing young people who just want to hear hits, regardless of the format.

Vic Thomas, a disc jockey in the Greenville, South Carolina area who has been spinning records for high school and college parties for eleven years, says that in addition to pop and rhythm and blues hits, he has been receiving demands for alternative and country. "Tracy Byrd’s ‘Watermelon Crawl,’ the Meat Puppets’ ‘Black Water,’ Little Texas’ ‘God Blessed Texas,’ and Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Today’ are all current crowd pleasing musts," according to Thomas. By contrast, few—if any—requests for country music were logged before 1990. As for alternative music, interest has only been emerging in the last eighteen months.

The average age of country dance club patrons is decreasing: from the 40s to the 20s. Mike Peer of modern rock KNNC Austin, Texas says, "If you go to a country bar here, you’ll (eventually) hear Offspring or Nine Inch Nails." Young consumers have always outspent older listeners. An NARM/RIAA consumer behavior study issued in March 1994 found that the 19-25 age group purchased 33.1% of all recorded music in 1993. Based on this study, it can be assumed that kids have fueled many of country’s chart conquests, just as they have with rock, pop, and rhythm and blues.

Some people in the music business are not surprised by the crossover. "It’s not a stretch at all for someone to listen to both (country and alternative). These are changing times," says Eric Logan of KYCW Seattle. Others disagree. Christian Unruh of modern rock WZRH New Orleans says, "You really can’t get further apart musically." Others argue that to draw distinct lines between the two music types is akin to "snobbery in the business," and that such attitudes disregard the growing influence Nashville has had on mainstream, traditionally non-country listeners.


  1. What do kids that you work with think of the two music types? Do they split your listening time between the two?
  2. What does it mean that lines between traditionally different musical genres are blurring?



In its various formats, music has proven to be a unifying force. The blurring of preference lines may imply a new tolerance to different types of entertainment.

Sheila Walsh cCYS