An apology to President Bush hasn't been enough to quiet the squawk started by the Dixie Chicks. More country radio stations, many of them in military towns, have cut the country trio from their playlists and Cumulus Media Inc., one of the nation's largest radio chains, on Tuesday continued a blackout of the group at their country outlets.
The dust-up began last week when Chicks lead singer and native Texan Natalie Maines told a London concert audience: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." She apologized in a statement on Friday, but that has not cooled some tempers.
"On Monday we saw some stations in military towns, such as Charleston [S.C.] pull the music of the Dixie Chicks after polling their listeners over the weekend," said Angela King, associate country editor of Radio & Records, the industry journal. "The situation has not abated."
The situation also is the most dramatic to date of backlash against artists or celebrities for political comment regarding the nation's divisive policies toward Iraq. The Chicks have a crossover audience that goes beyond country fans, but the depth of anger by that core audience is clearly taking the group by surprise.
In her apology Friday, Maines said: "As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect."
The Dixie Chicks had a No. 1 hit with "Travelin' Soldier" before the Maines comment, but on the latest charts it slid to No. 2 and with radio's chilly stance "it will continue to fall, certainly," King said. "Travelin' Solider" is a song about a Vietnam soldier that, to some of the group's new critics, sounds hypocritical in its theme.
King pointed to Cumulus, which has 42 country stations, as the loudest voice in the chorus against the Chicks. The company reportedly sent a memo to Monument Records, the Sony-owned label for the Chicks, stating that a personal, public apology by Maines -- as opposed to a statement via news release -- will be required before the chain will reconsider its moratorium of Chicks songs.
Cumulus stations in Toledo and Shreveport over the weekend staged rallies where fans gleefully destroyed CDs by the Chicks.
While Cumulus is making the decision at a corporate level, others are leaving the decision to listeners. At KKBQ, the Houston station that is one of the genre's largest in the nation, a poll of 26,000 listeners on Friday showed 72% wanted the Chicks off the air. Michael Cruise, the station's program director, said the community's vitriol has been clear in thousands of e-mails and the lusty booing that greeted an image of the Chicks that was shown Sunday night at a sold-out rodeo in the city's stadium.
"No one has said that Natalie did not have the right to express her opinion, but people here agree that they have a right not to want to listen to her too," Cruise said. "People think she could not have picked a worse time or a worse place to express that opinion.... I think her apology did not ring true to a lot of people as well."
The Chicks will begin a U.S. tour on May 1 in Greenville, S.C., and the question now is whether they can rebuild a relationship with fans that has helped them sell more albums than any female group in the history of pop music. The tour was expected to be one of the marquee events in country touring for the year and many radio stations had plans in place for tie-in promotions. It's unclear now how the tour will play out.
"I would not be surprised," Cruise said, "if they get booed off the stage at that first show. I know here in Houston a lot of people are planning to go [to the July show] in military uniforms and will not be the most welcoming audience."
While pop and rock stars have spoken out against a war in Iraq, most country music stars taking a stand on the matter have been in support of President Bush's hard-line stance against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Darryl Worley has a hit with "Have You Forgotten?," which evokes images of Sept. 11 in its call to action, while Toby Keith, Charlie Daniels and Clint Black have pro-military songs out or in the works.
Here in Los Angeles, country music leader KZLA-FM (93.9) has a hit record in the Worley song but also still has room for the Chicks in their playlist. Tonya Campos, the station's assistant program director, said the fans who turn their dial to KZLA country want entertainment, not politics.
"People tune in to hear music and we're trying to keep the whole political thing out of it," Campos said. "Natalie expressed her opinion, but the last time we checked, the music of the Dixie Chicks was not political. We just want to play country music."