Leading Article: Listen up, you good ol' boys and gals

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S first radio station dedicated to country music, the snappily titled Country 1035AM, began broadcasting yesterday in the London area. From now on, those living within the M25 will be able to enjoy a 24-hour diet of Dwight and Lyle, kd and Nanci, Johnny and Tammy, all twanging their thang, standing by their men and weeping their bitter tears. The station's owners anticipate an audience of 250,000 and sufficient revenue from advertisements for stetson hats, pick-up trucks and barbecue charcoal to guarantee them a nice little earner.

In America, country music is a leisure industry second only to Hollywood in profitability; there Garth Brooks sells more records than Michael Jackson and Madonna combined. For years Britain was resistant to the maudlin music of the Bible belt: over here Garth Brooks has generally been assumed to be a misspelling of the former footballer Garth Crooks. Colour supplement features on wannabe rednecks organising Loretta Lynn lookalike competitions have long reinforced the notion that country was a minority interest, confined to Glasgow and rural areas of Essex.

But in the past five years resistance has crumbled in the face of persistent marketing: the genre has been reinvented as 'new country', kd lang has played with George Michael, and Patsy Cline has been adopted as a gay icon.

In America, country is the province of the whites and rap the music of the blacks. In Britain, the cultural divide is generational, not racial. While urban teenagers listen to LA gangsters extolling the virtues of murdering policemen, their parents have begun to embrace Nashville's tales of middle-age disappointment and nostalgia for a rural life never experienced. Listening to Country 1035AM doesn't mean you harbour a suppressed desire to become a good ol' boy; it just means you are an ol' boy.