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'Earl' Creates Heat--and Heated Debate

Pop Beat * While some radio stations have resisted playing the Dixie Chicks' 'Goodbye Earl,' about the murder of an abusive husband, the fans have embraced it, even in town meetings.

April 01, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Initially when I heard the song, my problem was that a man gets killed and everybody walks away scot-free," said Julie Stevens, program director at San Jose's KRTY-FM. "That bugged me. If it was a woman who got killed, nobody would have played it and [the National Organization for Women] would be up in arms."

Stevens decided to hold an on-air town meeting and have listeners help her decide whether to put "Goodbye Earl" on the playlist.

"The response was unbelievable," she said. "I wasn't prepared for the number of women we heard from who had recently come out of domestic violence situations, had been involved in one for years or had removed a grown daughter from one. Almost without exception we were hearing from women who had been there, done that."

She decided to play the record, but with an announcement urging victims of abuse to call 1-800-799-SAFE, the national domestic violence 24-hour hotline.

Despite enthusiastic response the song generated when the group played it at Lilith Fair shows last summer, and fan raves about it on the group's Web site, Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw said that Sony Nashville and Monument Records officials were reluctant to release it as a single when the album came out, but relented once the trio decided to sing it during their moment in the Grammy spotlight.

"Yes, there have been a lot of people who have had qualms about it," said Larry Pareigis, Monument's vice president of national promotion. "Then again, there have been radio stations who have utilized the town-meeting strategy and have used it to great effect. The majority of calls end up being positive enough to ease programmers' possibly queasy feelings about playing it. That's win-win-win around the pike."

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