Country has long been a format of ups and downs. Lately, it’s up! So I thought it would be a great time to get into the source of country music’s appeal…

First, we asked listeners to name their “favorite kind of music to listen to on radio.” Normally, that’s a “no-no” in my book, because one person’s rock is another’s easy listening…listeners don’t identify formats and music genres the way we “in the biz” do.

Country, however, is the exception. Country is country! It’s unambiguous in the way hard rock, new rock, classic rock, classic hits, soft hits, contemporary hits, etc., etc., aren’t.

We completed our interviews early this month with 805 18-64’s nationwide. And of the 123 who named country as their preference, we asked:

Raised on it/Grew up with it 19%
Tells a story/stories 11%
Relates to me/my life   8%
Real/True/Honest   7%
Can understand the words   7%
Like the sound   6%
Soothing/Calming/Relaxing   6%
Clean/Wholesome   6%
Better than/Dislike other music   6%
Other 45%
Don’t know/Just Like It 12%

The percentages add up to more than 100% because many respondents’ comments fit more than one category. And many of these top responses are things we’ve heard about country for years — the words tell a story, you can understand the words, it’s honest, true to life and relates to my life.  Still, it’s great to hear country fans confirm these ideas:

The lyrics, typically they tell a story.
The story tellers, you can understand them.
Understand everything that they are saying.
It tells it the way it is.
The music is real.
It feels like who I am.

These attitudes aren’t clichés about country. They’re real, and impressive! But no surprise.

The surprise (to me, anyway) is how strong the heritage aspect of country’s appeal is. More than any other reason, these listeners prefer country because they grew up with it. It’s music that’s been with them all of their lives:

Born listening to it.
I was born and raised around country music.
I was raised on it as long as I can remember.
That’s what I grew up to and that’s what I like.
The way I was raised…My mom said if it ain’t country it ain’t shit.

Country has surrounded these listeners all their lives. OK, they’re not “born this way,” but they are born into country!

And it’s the #1 response even though it doesn’t include respondents’ comments I think are closely related, but not quite the same…the 3% of country fans who say they’re fans because of where they grew up:

I was raised in the country and relate to it.
I grew up in the country where that’s all it was.
Because I spent 22 years living in Tennessee.

There’s more here that’s noteworthy — the 6% who explain their preference for country music by comparing it to other kinds of music…

They actually say something without screaming at you.
I like country ’cause I don’t like that rock and roll crap. 
Just like it! I don’t care for hip hop or rap.
I just enjoy it more than I do the loud banging music.

And the 6% who see it as clean and wholesome…more so than other genres:

Overall it’s more wholesome than contemporary or pop.
It’s cleaner.
They don’t curse up a storm and they’re not trying to be gangsters.
Most of the songs don’t have to be censored for younger audiences.

Bottom line: Country is music, but much more than that for many of its fans…it’s a way of life and an honest reflection of their own lives and values…

It comes from the heart.
‘Cause it is about values and not trash.
It is more true to what I believe.

One suggestion: If your station plays country, go out and record listeners explaining why they love it. The comments you’d get would make one helluva promo!