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The Flatlanders Have a Charitable Fan

Radio* Don Imus says he'll donate $10,000 if any station in a big market plays any of their new singles regularly.

July 03, 2002|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Syndicated radio talk show host Don Imus has issued a provocative challenge to country radio stations: Put any song from the new album by Texas alternative-country band the Flatlanders into their top 10 rotation and he'll donate $10,000 to charity.

The flamboyant commentator became a fan of the group, consisting of veteran singer-songwriters Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, when he interviewed them on his show last month, then put out the challenge Friday when he was a guest on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"I'm very serious about this," Imus told King. "The first country station in any top 10 market--you know, L.A., Cleveland, Chicago, New York--that reports to Radio & Records or Billboard that they have any single from the Flatlanders' ["Now Again"] album on their top 10, I'll donate $10,000 to that radio station's favorite charity or the music director's charity or whatever they want to do."

A spokesman for the band, which has gathered critical accolades but little airplay on mainstream country radio for "Now Again," said Tuesday: "They're absolutely ecstatic. They were thrilled to be on his show, but Don has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Everybody in this camp is stunned."

It has surprised some radio industry veterans too.

"I can't recall ever hearing of anything like this happening before," says Lon Helton, country music editor for Radio & Records, a trade publication.

Helton said he was unaware of any top 10 market stations immediately picking up on Imus' offer. But R.J. Curtis, operations manager at Los Angeles country station KZLA-FM (93.9), said, "Obviously, something like this gets your attention."

"It's a pretty bold thing to do," Curtis said. "I'll certainly go find the album. Ultimately, I don't know if it will kill us to play a track or two. It's the listeners' station--why not let them decide? I'm sure any local charity could use $10,000."

As of Tuesday, R&R's data showed five tracks from the Flatlanders' album being played on different stations, but none in top 10 markets. Because New York currently has no station with a country format, there are only nine stations that would meet Imus' requirement that it be in a top 10 radio market, Helton said, adding that a station would need to play a song between 30 and 40 times per week to place it in top 10 rotation.

Imus, whose show also is carried on cable TV channel MSNBC, is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.

Flatlanders spokesman Mark Pucci said that at one point over the weekend, after the exposure on King, the Flatlanders album got as high as No. 2 on Amazon.com's ranking of all albums it sells. On Tuesday, it was at No. 25 on that list. It has sold 19,000 copies since its May 21 release, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"Now Again" is only the group's second album in 30 years. After its first in 1972, which developed near mythical status among alt-country music fans, Ely, Hancock and Gilmore split to pursue solo careers. They've remained close, often recording each other's songs on their individual albums, and reunited last year for a brief Flatlanders tour, during which they decided to collaborate on another album.

They played the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Tuesday and appear at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano tonight.

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