Country takes to the air on an upbeat note: New station remixes a genre with a dash of rock and goes easy on the gloom

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S first country music radio station launched yesterday with a determined attempt to crush stereotypes. After the first hour, no one lyrically had died, divorced or had to have their dog put down.

Country 1035 AM, which will broadcast initially only in the Greater London area, achieved a dual leap for country music. It has become the first radio station in Europe dedicated to country 24 hours a day, and it has struck a blow for music history revisionism, claiming the likes of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Dire Straits, the Everly Brothers and The Eagles as country artists.

The logic, according to Country 1035 AM chairman and chief executive John Wellington, is that these and many others were influenced by country music, a line of reasoning that bidders for franchises for themed stations in the future will study with interest.

The radio station opened with a message from the world's best-selling recording artist, the American singer Garth Brooks, who has sold 40 million compact discs in three years and has spearheaded the new wave in country music. 'How ya doin'? Let me tell you we're very excited,' he said.

His recording, 'Friends In Low Places', was the first song featured on the station, a blue-collar anthem to his bar-room buddies. But, unlike some of the best-known country songs of the Sixties and Seventies, rabble-rousing rather than depressive.

Mr Wellington, a founder of London's Capital Radio in 1973, is pragmatic about this. 'If you listen all day you might find the odd divorce and the odd crop failure, but generally country music is more optimistic now.

'It used to be about life; now it's about love. Anyway, if you have too many downers you don't have a happy radio station.'

The music has changed, says Andrew Vaughan, editor of Country Music International. 'You don't have to live on a farm to relate to it now. It's still love songs but without the kind of cornball southern lifestyle. It's no longer specifically rural based. And it's not so depressive. It used to be much more the crying into your beer stuff.'

He defends the inclusion of Buddy Holly, Elvis and Dire Straits on the playlist - 'Holly did come from Texas' - though he admits there are diehard country fans who are appalled. However, he adds, there are insufficient country fans to sustain the station without enticing soft-rock fans.

The station, funded by an American country syndicate and individual shareholders, aims to reach a weekly audience of 600,000 at launch - 6 per cent of adults living inside the M25. It has been awarded an eight-year licence to broadcast to London and the Home Counties.

(Photograph omitted)