Nashville Women, Tomatogate Consultant Square off Online
The consultant who created the "Tomatogate" furor in country music in 2015 is stirring up more controversy.
Radio consultant Keith Hill engaged in a lengthy debate on Twitter over a new article in which he doubled down on his position that playing fewer females on country radio is the way to draw higher ratings. Hill claimed in 2015 that country stations improve their ratings if they reduce the percentage of female artists they played to 15 percent, comparing women in country music to tomatoes, while men are the lettuce. That set off an enormous controversy in which some top female country singers lashed out at his assessment, including Miranda Lambert, who called it the "biggest bunch of BULLS--T I have ever heard."
In a new post to his website, the self-described "UnConsultant" cites data and his own experience as a consultant to support his previous claim, noting that he does feel one way of evening the metrics might be to hire more females in key radio positions. Hill takes the position that the disparity is not gender-driven.
"There is no gender bias in my advice regarding music played on the radio," he writes. "Instead in this wonderful free enterprise place called America I chase profit and meritocracy. I play music on radio based upon metrics that yield the highest ratings. And when it comes to making hires for country radio I say hire the best regardless of gender. Make sure you have folks on your team who truly understand the target audience! Since your target is women you might want to lean female in your management and programming team."
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Woman Nashville took exception to his new article, turning to Twitter to refute Hill's findings and the manner in which he conducted his research. Hill tweeted that he and another consultant had dropped the number of women at a station and arrived at his data model, and when asked outright if he had ever conducted a cross-experiment by reducing male artists to the same percentages at a station, Hill admitted he hadn't, calling the suggestion "absurd."
"I haven't tested silence either .. and I'm not going to test that," he writes. "I'm also not going to test instrumental country music. The truth is my advice works and ratings go up."
The entire exchange is too long to post here, but Woman Nashville wrote a detailed article about the incident, including their own analysis of what they feel are the flaws in Hill's thinking, as well as the industry's attitude toward women in general. In Breaking the Bowl, the site argues that all women in country music want is the same set of opportunities men enjoy.
In the article, Woman Nashville says it is asking Nielsen some specific questions in regard to the veracity of Hill's methods and data, questioning not only his process, but the assumptions underlying his interpretation. Accusing Hill of helping to create an imbalance for women in the very free market he claims to champion, they say his central premise "should only be described as misguided, sexist, and misogynistic."
In another post to his website, Hill counters by saying that some of country music's most prominent women — including Change the Conversation founders Beverly Keel, Leslie Fram, and Tracy Gershon and journalist Marissa Moss — should "find a consortium of women to purchase one radio station and prove it. Heck women are half of America and go fund me is out there. Get to work and buy a radio station with the parameters I have listed ... Make sure that you play at least 50% of the songs by female singers. Expose all that great talent you talk about. Then six months later WE will have ratings results."
Recent data reveals that despite the enormous amount of attention the issue has received since 2015, women are still marginalized at country radio. Cam turned to Twitter to share Woman Nashville's article, calling on the men in Nashville to support women in their fight for more opportunity and referring to Hill's research "pseudoscience."
See the highlights of Hill's tweet exchange with Woman Nashville below.