Hard to believe, but in recent years I had forgotten all about the big Dixie Chicks controversy back in 2003. But a couple of recent articles by writer Phyllis Stark--one about Chicks music finding its way back onto the country airwaves, the other about programmers still quite wary of playing it--stirred some memories and opened a line of thinking.


How often does a superstar act make a comment that immediately alienates them from a large portion of its fan base? I'm sure you all remember "the incident," don't you? On a stage in London, Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines expressed her shame at the fact that then-President George W. Bush was from her home state of Texas. A firestorm followed. Dixie Chicks music was pulled from the airwaves. People even gathered to destroy their CDs. And a subsequent apology from Natalie didn't matter. They were done. Or so it seemed. About seven or eight months after the comment, Dixie Chicks songs began receiving airplay again. WBKR was among the stations that put them back on the air. But other factors soon became involved.


A feud developed between the Chicks ( Natalie, specifically) and Toby Keith over his song "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue." And there were comments from the Chicks regarding their discomfort with being a country music act in the first place. In March of 2006, the first new Dixie Chicks single in three years, "Not Ready to Make Nice," was released. The album from which it came, Taking the Long Way, swept the Grammy Awards the following year and the Chicks regarded this as a big show of support for their belief in freedom of speech. But that's just it--we all believe in freedom of speech. Yes, there are those who wrongly thought she didn't have the right to say it, but she did. It was the fact people didn't LIKE what she said, but especially where she said it. Was there a seriously extreme and disquieting reaction on the parts of some folks to her comments? Yes, there was. And the media had a lot to do with the uproar. They couldn't get stories out there fast enough about the controversy. That was absolutely fuel for the fire. But, here's the deal: the Chicks had as much right to disagree with the sitting president as the people who were upset by the remark had to disagree with that viewpoint. Again, the biggest problem the anti-Chicks contingent had with what Natalie said was where she said it--foreign soil. See, they're not the first Democrats/liberals to sing country music. Uh, Willie Nelson, anyone? Yep, ol' Willie's never hurt for a fan base despite his well-known political views and, ahem, other activities. And there are more. Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Garth Brooks, among others, are part of a list of country singers who are also Democrats. But there was just something about the circumstances surrounding the Dixie Chicks' comments--timing, location--that hit a raw nerve. And there's plenty of irony to go around as well. For example, Toby Keith--who had no small part in the Chicks fracas--is also a Democrat and supported President Obama in 2008. Confused yet?


Now, there are those who may have seen the name "Dixie Chicks" in the headline and bypassed this article immediately; these ladies still have the power to polarize like no others.  I decided to put this all together after reading those two articles about the amount of airplay they now receive in some areas and the airplay they don't receive in others. But here's an angle that doesn't get covered. Remove the politics and "the incident" from the narrative, and we're talking about a country act that hasn't had a hit in 8 years, for whatever reasons. If there's one thing I've learned about the country music format, it's that the out-of-sight-out-of-mind factor plays a part whether we realize it or not. Why, Brooks & Dunn have only been split up for a couple of years, but radio stations--WBKR included--are playing less and less of their music. We've found that there isn't as much interest as there was when they were active. It happens with everyone. Hopefully, this was a diplomatic assessment of where a once-red-hot country act now stands in the world of country music. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there are a lot of people who are still just, well, not ready to make nice.