Soon to be famous fans completely screw Clear Channel and a newspaper turns it into “a scandal” : That whole volunteer “buzz marketing” thing that got big play in the NY Times Magazine last week must have been missed by the editors at the Tennessean as they chose to unleash their new investigative journalism focus with a front page, above the fold exposé of the aggressive tactics used to get radio airplay by some fans of Chely Wright, whose career apparently has been, until recently, in a bit of a slump.
Here’s the screaming headline for the online version of the story: “Campaign of deception used to push patriotic song up charts” although the print version of the edition I received carries the headline, “Fans asked to push patriotic song by telling radio they were GIs.” (Note to Tennessean headline writers: Drop the passive writing if you want to liven up the paper.)
According to the investigative front page above the fold story with the passive headline, a small group of volunteer fan club members posed as GIs and military family members and called and e-mailed radio stations to get the song, The Bumper of My SUV, onto country music radio playlists. The tactics apparently worked as the independently distributed song is now #2 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles Sales chart.
According to the Tennessean, the newspaper learned of the story when one of the fans began to feel guilty about volunteer fan club members pretending to be something they’re not. (For those who have stayed with this post so far, compare the Chely Wright-devotés to the buzz-agents in the NY Times article last week who pretend to like sausage they’ve never eaten.)
So there you have it people: The Tennessean’s new focus on investigative journalism: Not a story on how the monopolistic concentration of ownership has turned country radio into the factory of crap it is…but rather an investigative piece on how 17 people were able to show how easy it is to bring down the corrupt system that has turned radio into mush. (Please, fans of an actually good record try the same thing.)
Chuck Walter, the Wall Street-based head of the Chely Wright fan club — apparently the brains behind this ploy to beat the Clear Channel play list goons — may feel embarassed this morning. However, I think some quarters of the indy record community will be building a statue in his honor before this is all over.