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EXCLUSIVE: What’s next for Morgan Wallen at country radio? Programmers speak out

A complete timeline of the superstar’s meteoric fall from grace

This time last week, Morgan Wallen could be heard nearly every hour on radio stations throughout the country as many of his songs were in heavy rotation. Now, there are few — if any — stations playing his music. The backlash was swift after Wallen was filmed saying the “N-word” nonchalantly as he arrived at his Nashville home after a night out with friends. That incident happened exactly a week ago, but TMZ released the video two days later with an apology from the singer. However, fall out instantly swept social media — including responses from country singers Mickey Guyton and Maren Morris — to show their abhorrence with Wallen’s use of the word.

Within hours, radio programmers across the nation at chains big and small banned his music, much like they did to the The Chicks — formerly known as The Dixie Chicks — in 2003 for expressing their disdain from the stage in Europe for former President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Some may see The Chicks’ political speech as more forgivable than Wallen’s use of a forbidden word, but even they have never been completely welcomed back into the more conservative country music community.

On Wednesday morning (Feb 3rd), the former Voice contestant’s label, Big Loud, in partnership with Republic Records, “made the decision to suspend Morgan Wallen’s recording contract indefinitely,” and erased him from both of their websites. What that “suspension” entails is yet — if ever — to be publicly known as his music hasn’t been removed from retail, digital or streaming outlets. However, Spotify, Apple Music and others made independent decisions to remove his music from their playlists. The latter removed his image from the header of the country music genre.

By Wednesday afternoon, outlets like CMT and the Country Music Association (CMA) pulled his likeness from their platforms. The Academy of Country Music (ACM) has disqualified Morgan from their upcoming 56th annual award show that would’ve likely seen him take home multiple trophies after racking multiple No. 1’s in the past year and for having a multi-week No. 1 album with his record-shattering Dangerous: The Double Album, which has topped the Billboard 200 albums chart for the fourth straight week.

The Sneedville, TN native was practically blacklisted from the industry overnight with his booking agency, WME, dropping him by Thursday (Feb 4th), leaving him the latest high-profile case of cancel culture. That, in return, drew diehard fans to campaign for Wallen’s return while also attacking those in favor of the ban.

Late last week, sales of his music surged 339% on digital outlets after posts on social media urged fans to flock to iTunes to backlash radio. Upon the ban, Wallen obtained the top five spots between single and album sales on iTunes. One fan on Facebook even published the phone number to Big Loud CEO Seth England’s voicemail, encouraging fans to express their “displeasure with Big Loud’s suspension.” This means that, ironically, Big Loud is assuredly still profiting from Wallen’s music.

Many fans have been arguing with radio programmers and DJs over the boycott, defending his use of the racial slur. One station is even polling its listeners, asking if they feel Wallen’s music should “remain banned” from their playlists. As of this writing, more than 10k votes or 91% of its listeners disagree with the ban.

Digital Music News reports that some stations claim they’re losing some “core listeners” due to the ban being seen by some as an overreaction to the incident based on political correctness. However, one programmer from the many stations The Music Universe contacted argues that point.

“There is no way to measure that since it hasn’t been a week,” one programmer says under the condition of anonymity. “People can say a lot of things that aren’t true. I’ve talked with a lot of loyal fans of Morgan. Not a single one of them have said they won’t listen to a station because they aren’t playing [his songs]. They will go find his music and listen to it at another place, but they aren’t leaving country radio because of it.”

Is there a chance Wallen can redeem himself and be heard on the radio again? That is still to be determined and could depend on Wallen’s future behavior.

“I don’t see country radio bringing Morgan’s music back on air anytime soon,” the programmer continues. “His actions forced the hands of many people who had his back. If he can get his life together and refocus on what he does best, then it will be something to discuss at that point.”

Another station we contacted directly said they will not be playing his music, but didn’t specify if it was open to further analysis. Another station confirmed Wallen’s music has not been permanently banned but is on “hiatus” from its cluster.

This is Wallen’s third incident in less than a year. Last spring, Wallen was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct after leaving Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk in Downtown Nashville, but was not prosecuted due to legal admission that “the charges cannot be proved or that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution’s claim.”

Last October, Wallen apologized after social media posts surfaced of him partying in Alabama without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. He was asked not to perform on Saturday Night Live that weekend because of it, but appeared two months later where he poked fun at the incident.

Country music is known as being a more conservative community than other genres. However, that stance has changed drastically over the past decade as more diversity has been accepted among the Nashville community, including hit-making black singers such as Darius Rucker and Jimmie Allen, and artists feeling more relaxed at coming out as gay. That includes TJ Osborne of the duo Brothers Osborne, whose coming out briefly overshadowed Wallen’s negative attention as positive news for country music.

Mickey Guyton is the one of the black country singers speaking out. Despite her disgust at Wallen’s use of the word, she doesn’t want to see him blacklisted.

“I do not believe in cancel culture,” she tweets. “Watching anyone fall from grace is a terrible thing to see. People must all be given a chance to change. Morgan must feel the weight of his words but completely throwing someone away is detrimental to anyone’s mental health.”

Wallen’s sister Ashlyne shares Guyton’s sentiments, saying her brother doesn’t deserve to be canceled.

“There are three things you should ever do about a mistake: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it,” she says via TMZ. “I do not believe the pure hate he has received is beneficial to the situation in anyway. There is criticism he is receiving that is positive and educational — this should continue to happen, as it will help him grow and learn from his mistake. But, making a comment out of pure hatred about someone that you do not personally know, based on a short clip of him at a low point in his personal life, is unwarranted.”

Ashlyne says her brother is well aware of his pitfalls.

“Please remember that he is a human being capable of doing good and bad, just like everyone else on this Earth. Believe me, he is well aware of his wrongdoing and will be making changes in his life to rectify his actions in any way that he can. But the way he is being portrayed at the moment is simply not who he is as a human being.”

Will the radio and country music industries forgive him? Only time will tell as Wallen has yet to publicly address the issue outside of his initial TMZ apology. One organization who’s willing to help is the Nashville branch of the NAACP. They are offering assistance in educating Wallen about the use of the word.

*Brittany Vance and Matt Bailey contributed to this report