One month after he announced he was launching his own country radio station, on Thursday (June 15) Garth Brooks flipped the switch on The Big 615, with “Only Country Music,” a previously unreleased song.
The up-tempo Brooks tune, with nods to George Jones and Loretta Lynn, set the tone for the station, one of a suite of seven stations that will make up Brooks’ Sevens Network for TuneIn, a streaming platform with more than 100,000 radio stations in 122 countries. At a press conference with Brooks in Nashville, TuneIn CEO Rich Stern noted that the station bowed simultaneously on more than 200 connected devices and vehicle platforms, ranging from “Tesla to Amazon.”
Unlike The Garth Channel, Brooks’ SiriusXM channel which ended in September and played his influences and music from country and pop, The Big 615 will focus on traditional country music and will feature classics to current songs, regardless of whether an act is on a major label.
“Terrestrial radio is an agenda to the labels. Works great. Worked great for me, right?” Brooks said at the press conference. “But what happens on terrestrial radio is as long as the labels have you, then you’re on the radio. The second something happens and you’re not with that label, the career goes into some other stage. Our thing is, I think there are some artists that outlive their label. One of them for me is George Strait. I want to hear the new stuff from George Strait. I want to hear [it] right next to Luke Combs. I want to hear the new stuff from The Chicks…”
The home page for TuneIn’s website also instantly changed to an image of Brooks and the station logo for The Big 615 under a banner that reads “from the mind of Garth Brooks.” The initial playlist, according to the homepage, boosts “60 favorites,” ranging from George Strait’s “Honky Tonk Time Machine,” Maren Morris’s “Circles Around This Town,” Jackson Dean’s “Fearless,” Bailey Zimmerman’s “Fall in Love,” Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s in Love with the Boy,” Brooks’ “Only Country Music,” and Luke Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”
Unlike terrestrial radio, which seldom plays two female artists in a row, Brooks vowed that The Big 615’s “balance between guys and girls is fantastic. It is nothing to hear two females back to back on this channel,” he said. “If there’s something we’re seriously missing in country music right now, it’s the number of females and those voices.”
In a Q&A at Billboard Country Live on June 7, Brooks also highlighted the number of women who would receive airplay on the channel, but stopped short of saying he would commit to a 50/50 split between female and male artists, like CMT.
“The one thing that’s bad for me,” Brooks told Billboard, “is if you don’t play somebody because of the color of their skin or their gender. It’s as equally wrong if you do play somebody because of the color of their skin and their gender. My thing is, let the music decide. Sometimes there’s going to be less women because the women aren’t putting out new stuff yet, and sometimes there’s going to be more women because the women are putting out new stuff. That’s what I want to see.”
At the press conference, Brooks also stressed the international aspect of TuneIn, saying the global reach was “my favorite thing,” because it allowed the station to present undiluted country music. “If we go across the water, they ask you immediately to take the [pedal] steel and fiddles off your country music. Ain’t going to happen here.”
Also not happening “here” are songs that aren’t G-rated. Without mentioning the artist or song, Brooks referenced a song that includes “mother-cker” in the lyrics. “So, you never get to play that. You always have to find clean things because country music is a family,” he said. “The chance we have here with a global country station is to spread love, spread family. That’s what it’s all about… inclusiveness. We make this world smaller through music.”
Brooks, whose exclusive on-demand streaming deal with Amazon remains intact, also officially announced the staff for The Big 615, confirming the names that had leaked out last week. On air talent will be Storme Warren, formerly of SiriusXM’s The Highway; Monta Vaden will be music director, Maurice Miner will be head of industry relations and former Emmis Communications Indianapolis senior vp Bob Richards will serve as program director.
Brooks gave no timetable for when the other six stations would launch, but hinted that he’d like to include one called, “’Babe’ and it’s just bad-ass b-tches of entertainment,” he said. He also told Billboard that there would be a tie-in between Sevens Network and Friends in Low Places, his upcoming bar on Nashville’s Lower Broadway. “There are channels that are coming,” he said.
Assistance in this story provided by Tom Roland