The Burbank-based station's shift is part of a national trend. Although country fans have long been well-served in Texas, Indiana and other landlocked states, over the past decade stations have completely disappeared in New York, San Francisco and half a dozen other coastal markets. The shift demonstrates how America's changing ethnicity is remaking media, especially in big cities. Because of their size and loyalty, minority audiences are becoming more coveted by radio companies than white listeners — at least in ethnically diverse metropolitan areas. Once-essential genres such as country, rock and classical music are increasingly being replaced by formats such as pop, hip-hop and talk radio. Executives say stations are willing to make almost any adjustment to attract listeners at a time when radio audiences are declining industrywide. Just as cable television's niche programming has eroded the large broadcast networks' audiences over the decades, new technologies such as iPods and satellite radio are now drawing listeners looking for specialized playlists or genres disappearing from the dial.The story notes further:
Ironically, KZLA's change comes at a time when country music is flourishing. While album sales of most genres have declined, country music has experienced one of its best years. During the first six months of 2006, U.S. sales of country albums increased by 17.7% to 36 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Best sellers from bands such as Rascal Flatts and the Dixie Chicks have driven those increases. Moreover, country music listening nationwide has remained steady for almost a decade, according to the radio-ratings agency Arbitron Inc. However, the listening audiences of Spanish-language and urban formats such as rap and hip-hop have exploded during that same period, as cities such as Los Angeles have become more ethnically diverse. While Los Angeles' white radio audience has shrunk slightly since 1998, the number of Hispanic listeners has increased by almost 500,000, according to Arbitron.Read the whole thing -- the article's an incisive window into how dramatically American demographics are changing amid successive decades of massive immigration, a trend that is causing some cultural resentment. KZLA, in fact, had a number of angry callers on Thursday protesting the format switch. According to one listerner: "I almost threw up, I was so upset," said longtime KZLA listener and Mission Viejo resident Ruth Rogers, 53. "I think it's racist. This is becoming a nation of minorities. I'm not going to turn on my radio anymore. Country music promotes patriotism and family values, and they've replaced it with something that just promotes money and hate."
I've blogged quite a bit about immigration, and in one of my posts I asked "Does Eva Longoria Symbolize the Future of American Culture?" Well, for the urban music industry, maybe Nelly Furtado is that scene's new cultural representative.