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Big radio chain is whistling Dixie again

May 07, 2003|Steve Carney and Geoff Boucher | Special to The Times

The nation's second-largest radio chain has lifted its ban on the Dixie Chicks, but two disc jockeys in Colorado Springs, Colo., have been suspended for playing the vilified country-music trio.

Station KKCS-FM had considered lifting its 2-month-old banishment of the Chicks, but DJs Dave Moore and Jeff Singer jumped the gun this week. So in spite of a listener response that tilted 75% in favor of bringing back the once red-hot group, station manager Jerry Grant suspended the announcers for "a couple of days."

"I gave them an alternative: Stop it now and they'll be on suspension, or they can continue playing them and when they come out of the studio they won't have a job," Grant told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Cumulus Media Inc. has lifted its chainwide ban on the artists, imposed after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience two weeks before the start of the Iraq war that she was "ashamed" that President Bush is a fellow Texan. Now programmers at the company's 270 stations nationwide are free to ease the Dixie Chicks back onto their playlists.

While Cumulus, which focuses on small- and medium-sized markets, owns no Los Angeles stations, it does own country outlet KHAY-FM (100.7) in Ventura, as well as other stations there and in Santa Barbara.

Maines has apologized for her comments, saying she had been disrespectful, but has stood by her right to dissent.

The Dixie Chicks opened their U.S. tour last week in Greenville, S.C., a moment closely watched by country music radio programmers nationwide.

Fan reaction at that first show and the dates since has been supportive, with few ticket-holders seeking to give up their seats to the sold-out shows and even fewer protesters picketing outside the venues.

On the same day the Chicks were starting their U.S. tour in South Carolina, country singer Lee Greenwood was in the studio in Nashville re-recording a new, pop-leaning version of his signature hit, "God Bless the U.S.A.," the flag-waving 1984 song that has been a staple at patriotic events. Greenwood said he has watched the Chicks situation with disappointment and frustration.

"I think that this all happened because they are one of the most important music acts to come out of America in, well, maybe forever," Greenwood said. "People looked to them to be leaders, ambassadors, symbols of this country. Instead, they criticize our president while out of the country, and with our soldiers in the line of fire. That's not what country music is about."

Greenwood said, to his ears, the apology by Maines was "not very convincing," but he hopes the Chicks will be able to overcome the crisis because country music "needs the Chicks back."

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