XM, Sirius cozy up to niche auds

Satcasters step in as country stations leave big markets

Last year, the CMA Awards rolled into Gotham with the bellicose theme “Country Takes NYC.” Invasion metaphors were appropriate, as the city hadn’t a single country radio station. Add to that the abrupt August disappearance of L.A. country station KZLA, and the genre seemed all but dead in the biggest U.S. cities.

Enter satcasters XM and Sirius Radio, which have taken the reins from terrestrial webs into space, where country has more room to spread as well as serve its niches.

XM Satellite Radio boasts the most country of the two, with nine stations, ranging from contempo hit-parader Highway 16 to alt-oriented X-Country. The latter hosts an array of monthly specialty shows, including “Robbie’s Secret Country,” which explores country’s fringes, and former Blaster Dave Alvin’s “9 Volt,” dedicated to Americana and roots music.

Willie Nelson has his own XM station, Willie’s Place, which incorporates skits and spatterings of roadhouse ambience alongside familiar standbys Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn. Those two also make frequent appearances on Bob Dylan’s eclectic weekly spin sessions, interspersed with classic blues, R&B and out-of-left-fielders like LL Cool J and Blur.

Competitor Sirius Radio airs five country channels — three separate, decade-specific programs, as well as a bluegrass broadcast. The fifth, dubbed “Outlaw Country,” is where to find the more interesting stuff: Focusing on the 1970s “Outlaw” era and its heirs (Waylon Jennings’ scion Shooter is a deejay), the channel also features off-kilter talkshows by the likes of Mojo Nixon.

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