John Shomby Joins the Team at “Backstage Country”

Superstar Programmer to Serve as Talent and Industry Relations Consultant
Role to Include Various Aspects of Program Development

New York, NY – Oct. 1, 2020 — United Stations an independent leader in original network radio programming, today announced the addition of well-known veteran Programmer John Shomby to the staff of its new daily, weekday program “Backstage Country” as the show’s Talent Relations Consultant.  Backstage Country is the brand new 5-hour daily program that features the stars of Country Music as rotating hosts.  The program was developed by United Stations in conjunction with the seven (7) Beasley-owned Country outlets which also helped launch the network show as its flagship affiliates.  In his new role, Shomby will assist with the acquisition and scheduling of the show’s guest-hosts as well as handling industry relations with Nashville’s leading recording and artist management companies, any necessary talent coaching and coordinating elements of the show’s music selection.  He joins the program’s team effective immediately, the move brings a Country programming superstar to the Backstage Country staff, and the announcement of this appointment comes from the company’s EVP/Programming, Andy Denemark in New York.

John Shomby arrives at “Backstage Country” with a resume reflecting a lifetime in radio broadcasting.  His most recent stint was in Nashville where John was the Director of Nash Programming for Cumulus Media from 2016 to 2020.  In that role, he oversaw the programming of a bevy of nationally distributed shows including the Kix Brooks American Country Countdown and Ty Bentli’s morning show where he worked with Adrian Kulp who is now Senior Content Producer for Backstage Country.  Shomby was also Program Director for Cumulus’ WKDF Nash-FM 103.3.  For thirteen years he was in the Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA area as Director of Programming and Operations for Max Media’s five station cluster including country WGH-FM (97.3 The Eagle).   He’s also been Operations Manager for clusters in Augusta, GA, Flint, MI and Kalamazoo, MI for Cumulus Media from 1999-2002 overseeing CHR, Classic Rock, Mainstream Rock and Full-Service Talk Radio formats.  Prior to that, John programmed stations in Birmingham, AL, Portland, OR, New Orleans, Dallas and Boston in CHR, Rock, Talk, Oldies, AC and Sports formats.   He has served on the Board of Directors for the Country Radio Broadcasters since 2005 and has been its Vice President since 2019.   He’s also been a member of Nashville’s Leadership Music organization since 2010.   In May of this year, John established a programming and talent consulting firm, and United Stations’ “Backstage Country” is now one of his clients.   John can be reached at johnshomby@gmail.com.

In making the announcement of the addition of John Shomby, United Stations’ Andy Denemark commented, “The team that brainstormed Backstage Country always imagined this show to be a ‘next level’ project, and the way to stay ahead of the pack is with the best people in the business.  John Shomby fits that bill.  He is a superstar in the radio industry and beloved in the Country format, and he’s rounding out the team for this show perfectly.   Welcome, John!”   John Shomby added, “Working on this show is going be amazing.   Backstage Country has all the elements I love as a programmer, especially the star power.   I’m so excited to come on board.”                                                                                                                                   

Backstage Country gives listeners and affiliates an insider’s look at Country music as it will be hosted by the stars of Country Music.  Each Country artist who serves as host for the program will do so for an entire Monday through Friday week, and each will have an opportunity to share their unique perspective on music, touring, events, the media and any other topic that inspires or matters to them as influencers and creators.  The show, kicked off on September 14th with Guest Host Tim McGraw behind the microphone.  Kelsea Ballerini and Darius Rucker hosted the second and third weeks of programming with Justin Moore, Jason Aldean, Chris Janson, Maren Morris, Scotty McCreery and Lee Brice all due to serve as celebrity guest-hosts between now and mid-November.

United Stations is America’s leading independently owned and operated radio network.  USRN currently produces and distributes dozens of format-specific programs and services accounting for roughly 6000 affiliations with commercial radio stations across the country.  The New York-based company maintains programming, sales and affiliate marketing offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington and Nashville.   USRN was founded in 1994 by radio pioneers Dick Clark and Nick Verbitsky.

PD Crosses Country From Couch

Ed. Note: Veteran programmer and CRB board officer John Shomby recently took a stationary road trip through Country radio at Country Aircheck‘s behest. Here’s what he found:

During my years as a day-to-day PD, I rarely had enough time to spend with my own radio station, let alone others in my market or across the country. But with unexpected time on my hands (who can relate?), I have been afforded the chance to sample Country stations in various markets from the comfort of my home office. I heard lots of good, solid and safe Country radio, but is that where we want to be heading into 2021 – considering everything that’s changing around us?

Methodology: In partnership with Alexa, I set a goal of listening to at least one Country station in each of the top 50 markets. I managed to actually get in the top 55 markets, making sure to get a balanced cross-section of stations owned by various companies. The dayparts or portion of dayparts I heard depended on the time zone. I would start four or five hours of listening each day around 10am ET, finishing 3pm and 5pm. That window was intentional, as I thought it would offer a better feel for imaging, local feel, promotion and personality.

Talk, With Personality: The patterns that emerged were interesting and undeniable. Across 55 markets, all but two stations had a woman in middays and only three had a female in PM drive. Those three stations had a male voice in middays. No station had back-to-back female personalities. For the most part, the on-air approach was very basic – back-selling or front-selling a song, a promo liner or typical show prep country/ pop culture news. Surprisingly, I heard very little about the pandemic or anything related to it. I could only single out three personalities in the top 55 who sounded extremely connected to their audience. Each had something to say every time the mic opened, giving their stations a much stronger local feel. Overall, lots of “live” but not a lot of “local” from the personality side.

Press Play: Musically, 90% of the stations played the same current music – give or take a song or two. Two stations I heard made a concerted effort to play newer music more frequently, along with consistent song and artist identification. I also found a higher percentage of ’90s and early 2000s gold than I expected. Lots of Garth, Brooks & Dunn, Reba and older Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. Not a lot of surprises: good, solid hits throughout the day. Very little in the way of special music moments. Country radio – across the nation – is very familiar, playing the biggest hits the most and being very careful with new music (meaning anything below No. 25 on the chart). Other than the two stations mentioned, I would hear newer music generally once or twice per listening session. The stars still rule. Lots of both Lukes, Carrie, Jason, Thomas Rhett and FGL. Others filtering in with some frequency include Morgan Wallen, Kane Brown, Maren Morris and Jon Pardi.

Say My Name: The positioning lines used by the largest percentage of stations were either “New Country” or the most-used “No. 1 For New Country.” Produced imaging was very music-oriented, selling the artists and upcoming songs two to three times per hour. Only about half of the stations used pandemic-related production – some of it very entertaining, though, with quarantine, work-at-home and home-schooling references. Not surprisingly, Alexa and Google were a big part of just about every station’s imaging. Some clever, but most simple and basic – how and where to find the station. Promoting streaming was definitely a big part of each station’s on-air presence. One company in particular had strong, entertaining imaging on each of their stations – consistently topical, funny and relatable. Most imaging voices were male with 25-30% of stations using a combination male-female approach. Two stations had a solo female imaging voice. On air giveaways showed up a little more in May and June in the form of virtual tour meet-and-greets, but still very sparse compared to pre-pandemic. Overall, there was little call for listener involvement.

Commercial loads seemed to increase from April to June, but still nowhere near prior levels. Breaks averaged three-to-four minutes. Very few stations – I counted five total – sold themselves as playing more music each hour. Those that did tout more music did it often and well.

Final Thoughts: Based on an admittedly limited sample, Country radio sounds safe and homogenous. Very few stations found ways to set themselves apart. Approaching it as a basic at-home worker, there were days everything seemed to sound alike, making it hard to distinguish stations from one another. If I were to issue a challenge to Country programmers/operators – myself included – it would be to find ways to break the mold. Special music moments to highlight, a local personality who breaks through, unique local events that beg attention and memorable promotions that create talk. Consumers have so many music media choices at their fingertips beyond radio. With the way habits are changing in this pandemic, there couldn’t be a better time to strengthen those connections with listeners!

Originally published in “Country Aircheck Weekly”.