On a recent Friday afternoon, KFWR 95.9-FM The Ranch seemed to be doing something a bit different and some on Twitter took notice. It seemed as though some fancy-pants mainstream interlopers had infiltrated its sacred airwaves as songs from Eric Church, Zac Brown Band, Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley played.
What in the name of Sturgill Simpson was happening?
As it turns out, nothing much. For years, the "Sound of Texas" has primarily featured country and Americana acts from Texas and our bordering states. Make no mistake about it though, the station's sonic boundaries have always extended beyond the Red River.
But rarely did The Ranch play country music "hits."
It often played grizzled roots-rock from out-of-state bands such as Lucero and American Aquarium. It also has played non-country stylings of favored Texas sons such as beloved local soul crooner Leon Bridges and blues icon Stevie Ray Vaughan. Hearing a tune from Chicago's oddball dad-rockers Wilco on the Ranch wouldn't be unusual.
But, in the opinion of some vocal internet warriors, whatever boundaries the station has played within for years were egregiously breached.
The term "format change" was thrown around a good bit on Twitter and Facebook, but the new tunes are not nearly that disruptive. There wasn't any "stunting." And besides some discussion regarding country sub-genres, there wasn't much in the way of public acknowledgement from the station that any true changes were underway.
After staying active on social media all weekend, engaging with both supporters and detractors, afternoon DJ and station program director Shayne Hollinger stayed away from explicitly confirming that any organizational changes were occurring, let alone something as major as a format change.
And finally, on Tuesday night, the station released a statement via its Facebook page regarding the new direction. It seems as though this development is but another part of the station's evolutionary process.
"A little over three years ago, the Ranch team began identifying music outside of the daily playlist that appealed to core Texas/Red Dirt listeners," reads the statement. "The station introduced 'Throwback Thursday', focusing weekly on old school country songs learning if, and what, other country music listeners liked. Then 'Free for All Fridays', a weekly wide open playlist to discover if listeners liked music beyond the confines of country or Texas/Red Dirt."
It's important to note here that mainstream country radio, for all of its glimmering grossness, offers plenty of artists with legit country gold. Shocker, I know. Most of Church's catalog blows most of Casey Donahew's collection out of the water.
And give me almost anything from Bentley's first three records over anything from Kevin Fowler's last few offerings. The fact that Fowler's schlocky slap of pandering, "Texas Forever," became a regional hit is more an indictment on the Texas country crowd than anything the Ranch will do -- aside from playing it, of course.
For those who still cry "we want only Texas country!" allow me set you straight: Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert aren't Texas country, and they really never have been.
But you've enjoyed their tunes on The Ranch for years. Nor is the holy trinity of Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Simpson, yet The Ranch has also played them for years, too.
A simple look on the station's playlist clearly indicates nothing Earth shaking is happening. On Tuesday, for instance, the station played Chris Young's "Getting You Home," a mainstream hit that also happens to be a killer, true-blue country tune; "Ramblin' Man," from the Allman Brothers; and the same mix of indie folk, Americana, Texas country and local songwriters they've been hearing on 95.9 for years now.