Absolute radio country celebrated its one-year anniversary this month, with presenters coming together to share some of their favorite songs and highlights in a special to mark the occasion. Since its evolution from Country hit radio be part of the Absolute family twelve months ago, the station seems to have gained momentum. When we sat down to chat with two of its current presenters, Baylen Leonard and Lou Nash, this growth in popularity appears to be (at least in part) due to its ability to reach new audiences who may not have previously viewed country music as a genre worth listening to. Certainly, Nas think there is still one “perception that country music is outdated” and “so we help to break down these barriers” playing more contemporary and modern stuff across the spectrum.
This spectrum is broad, which Baylen Leonard is too eager to celebrate. For all who listened to her’the porch‘ show on a Sunday afternoon will know that “one of the joys is being able to play all these different sounds”. He thinks it has been very beneficial in making people realize that in reality “they like country music in a way”. Whether it’s more traditional, pop, blues or roots, this “big church” as Nas In other words, it allows audiences access to the genre which, in turn, also opens up opportunities for artists to be part of the country music industry. Nas cited Sam Hunt as an example of the breadth of boundaries, incorporating hip-hop into the modern sound of country while “collaborations between strong country artists and those from other genres have helped country music gain more attention and wider recognition”.
Baylen Leonard is under no illusions because he admits that “the country is still quite niche [in the UK] but it’s amazing to be able to see him break through”. When asked about his highlights of Absolute radio country, it is this emergence of country music in the national consciousness that strikes a chord. Yes, interview Dolly Parton would be a high point in anyone’s career, but for him it was walking into a barbershop and hearing country music on the radio that really had an impact. He also tells “I walked into my dentist and they had Absolute Radio Country because, they said, ‘It’s the only station that plays music we can all agree on'”. That’s when you begin to understand the appeal of country music, and perhaps why it continues to gain new fans with each passing year.
It’s not just the export of country music across the Atlantic that has been notable in recent years. The emergence of Absolute radio country as a station came at a time when the UK was developing its own country music “ecosystem”. Leonardo believes that the CRA is ” in the heart “alongside C2C which Nas declare is “not like a festival in many ways”. It was her first time attending the event in 2022, and she found the experience both odd – “It’s the middle of winter, you’re inside at the O2, and you’re surrounded by all these crazy superfans in hats and cowboy boots” – but “so brilliant”. When asked if she’s spotted anyone on the outdoor stages who might be the next breakthrough act, she cites as many British artists as American ones. Twinnie, Jade Helliwell and Jess Thirstan all get a side note Britney Spencer and Breland. This could be seen as proof that the genre is slowly growing after finding a foothold in the UK thanks to acts like The Counties, Ward Thomasand The wandering heartswho at the same time Nas and Leonardo mention when asked about the scene here. Kezia Gill is also a name that immediately rolls Leonardo language when talking about the best of Britain, while Lou Nash suggests Jake Morel as one of his top picks.
Not only has Absolute radio country has been supporting the UK scene and helping to spread country music to wider society since its launch, it has also showcased fresh new talent coming out of Nashville. Baylen Leonard is particularly excited when describing the upward trajectory that Morgan Wade was lit, and how the station “has been there since the very beginning of her journey, playing her in the first day one show”. She was then playlisted and featured in a special songwriters round alongside another rising female artist in callista clark. Lou Nash on the other hand speaks passionately about Towns of Tenilledescribing her as “a wise old owl” who has “I took everything your grandmother taught you [as a child] and put it in a song”. Apart from Kelsea Ballerini, Townes is the only person Nas would love to sit down with for an in-depth interview.
Interviews played an important role in Absolute radio countryespecially in the form of documentaries. by Lou Nash the highlight of the station’s first year was its series on ‘Country Women: Through the Decades‘. She compliments Ashley McBryde for his excellent presentation skills and salutes the way the six shows reveal the compelling stories of some of the genre’s pioneers. This contributed, she believes, to “responding to some of the polarity that exists in the United States”than most people here in the UK “do not realize the extent of the problem”. This could also be true for race, which may explain why Baylen Leonard felt it was a deeply personal responsibility to work on ‘our own country‘, a series that will return in the near future, this time focusing on LGBTQ+ country music artists. Documentaries like these, Leonardo supports, are important “because it is [part of the] conversations that were taking place in society”.
If this is a taste of what’s to come in the months to come, then Absolute radio country will continue to gain new listeners across the UK. After twelve months, it seems that Baylen Leonard, Lou Nashet al, firmly cemented Absolute radio country like a radio station that’s here to stay.
Link to ARC’s “First Anniversary” special episode:
Interviews conducted by Gareth Williams (twitter.com/lostinbluejazz1)