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Radio station responds to public reaction about ‘religious’ country song

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The program director at KWNR, a country station in Las Vegas, has responded strongly to public reaction to the national controversy involving the limited playtime of a patriotic and Christian-themed country music song “In God We Trust.”

In an interview published May 30, Mike Borchetta, president of Lofton Creek Records in Nashville, told Baptist Press that country musician Daron Norwood’s song “In God We Trust” was dropped from stations such as KWNR after a brief play period.

“It was the most requested song for 10 days in a row, and then they said it had too much religious content,” Borchetta said of KWNR.

A number of Baptist Press readers contacted KWNR to state that Norwood’s song should be given fair treatment despite any religious content.

In reaction, KWNR program director John Marks defended his station’s actions.

“The ‘religious’ implications in the song mentioning Jesus or any other similar lyric was never an issue with regard to airplay on KWNR,” Marks wrote in an e-mail to Baptist Press. “Had that been the case, the song would NEVER have aired. The issue was a small label, unestablished artist and a ‘tight’ playlist on KWNR. Song content was NEVER an issue.”

The song was not the most requested song for 10 days in a row, Marks added. It played in a test run and won KWNR’s “Fights” segment for 10 days. While unusual, it is not unheard of for a song to accomplish that feat, according to Marks.

Marks maintained that while KWNR gave “In God We Trust” limited airplay, it was never a song that was included in the station’s regular rotation and therefore could not be “dropped.”

“Like many songs of its type, a small label with an unestablished artist, we will give some ‘test’ air play to a song to monitor listener reaction,” Marks attested. “The song was never ‘dropped’ from airplay because it was never added to our regular rotation.”

Contacted for reaction, Borchetta told Baptist Press that he specifically recalled Marks telling him and Norwood that the song was the most requested song for 10 days in a row and that it had never been done before.

Borchetta also said the claim that Norwood is an unestablished artist on a small label is false.

“Daron had hits in the mid-’90s that went to the teens on the charts,” Borchetta said. “He is not an unestablished artist.”

Lofton Creek is a joint venture with H2E Records, Borchetta said, and KWNR has played songs from H2E in the past with no problems. He also said Norwood’s record was produced by the same man who produced Leann Rimes, which should give it credibility.

Daron Norwood responded to Marks’ statements as well, telling Baptist Press that although Marks now claims that Norwood is an unestablished artist, Marks featured him for an hour on a noonday radio show in December 2002.

“For this guy to put me on his show; talk about how it was the most requested song; talk about he was glad I was back in the country music business, he was glad that after seven years of getting my life together … I was back; he really wished me well,” Norwood said. “So for somebody to kind of ‘down’ what we’re doing and say, ‘Well, it’s because I’m not established or no one knows me,’ … a lot of times they’ll just say everything they can say.”

“The truth of the matter is I’ve had I don’t know how many of them tell me it’s just the content of it. [They say] it takes a stand for spiritual things and ‘we feel hesitant about playing that kind of song on country radio.’ Here’s the big kicker I love: ‘We’re not really sure our listeners want to hear that everyday.'”

But a June 4 USA Today article painted a picture of songs with spiritual content forming the latest country radio trend.

“Country radio is displaying a willingness to play more songs with strong spiritual content,” USA Today said. “Industry observers say the new openness could be a result of the effects of 9/11 in bringing spiritual values further to the fore, or the next step in highlighting the country audience’s core values after the recent wave of patriotic songs.”

The article focuses on Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses,” a song about a dying preacher who leaves a legacy of salvation.

“That song took a long time to gain acceptance at country radio,” said “Radio & Records” country editor Lon Helton. “A lot of people were a little reluctant to get on that bandwagon. Sometimes the gatekeepers are a little conservative. They don’t want to be preachy, or they’re not quite sure what their audience is going to accept.”

Nevertheless, country radio is playing more songs with spiritual content. Such songs account for 10 of the top 60 country songs this week, USA Today said.

The article also noted that spirituality may simply be the “topic of the month.”

“It’s just like the patriotic stuff,” R.J. Curtis, program director at KZLA in Los Angeles, told USA Today. “It starts coming in waves, and you have to really weed out the ones you think are difference-makers.”

Norwood said God wrote his song, “In God We Trust,” and He will make sure it’s heard even if radio doesn’t play it. When the song was finished, Norwood said he and his wife remarked that it would be successful if just one life could be touched by it.

“Last week in West Virginia, I sang it in front of 25,000 people,” Norwood said. “He has found ways for it to be heard.”

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  • Erin Curry