Kelsea Ballerini’s Response to Radio Station Policy for Females Renews Tomatogate Conversation
Last time, it started with a comment. This time, it started with a tweet. A quip from Variety writer Chris Willman led to a response from a Michigan radio station that laid out the gender inequality issues women in country music face, for all of the Twittersphere to see.
Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves, Cassadee Pope, Jaren Johnston from the Cadillac Three, Lindsay Ell, Jennifer Nettles and many more well-known country singers were among those who responded with strong words of condemnation.
"To all the ladies that bust their asses to have half the opportunities that men do, I'm really sorry that in 2020, after YEARS of conversation of equal play, there are still some companies that make their stations play by these rules," Ballerini writes on Instagram. "It's unfair and it's incredibly disappointing."
Her note screenshots a since-deleted tweet by someone at radio station 98 KCQ, a MacDonald Broadcasting station that serves Saginaw, Mich. MacDonald Broadcasting owns a small number of stations throughout Michigan.
Within hours, several stars chimed in, showing support to Ballerini for speaking out.
"Thank you for using your platform to talk about this," Pope replied. "It's incredibly unfair."
"Smells like white male bulls--t and why LONG ago I decided they cannot stop me," Musgraves tweeted, adding, "And yet, they can play 18 dudes who sound exactly the same back to back. Makes total sense."
In a statement to Taste of Country, WKCQ operations manager Brian Hatfield said MacDonald Broadcasting has never had a rule about playing — or not playing — females back to back.
"We will continue to play the music that reflects our listeners which includes the artists you mention in your email. There is also no rule or policy that prohibits us from adding females to our playlist. There never has been and never will be," he stated.
Per All Access, Hatfield has been on the job since July of 2019. When asked if the person who sent the tweet has been identified, and if he or she will be reprimanded in any way, the operations manager said the issue is being investigated and will be handled internally.
Ballerini's statement — in which she recognizes she's been one of the fortunate females to gain regular airplay — has racked up nearly 700 replies in two hours. Willman's tweet that the WKCQ account responded to has a couple dozen replies.
While the policy-setting tweet has since been deleted, a response to Musgraves still exists:
This new controversy comes just one night after TBS' Full Frontal With Samantha Bee aired a segment on sexism in country music. Her reporting team digs into the origins of Tomatogate, a 2015 controversy that inspired massive backlash for stations associated with Keith Hill, the consultant who called women in country music the "tomatoes" in the music "salad," while men represent the lettuce — thus perpetuating policy that minimizes airplay for women in country music.
Airplay for women has reached record lows in recent years, even as outlets and companies do their best to install and promote more equitable policies. CMT's Next Women of Country (led by Leslie Fram, who's interviewed on Full Frontal) is an example of the kind of change Ballerini refers to in the caption of her Instagram message.
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