More people believe country music has gotten better in the past few years, and fewer believe it’s getting worse, says a NuVoodoo study of country fans commissioned for CRS 2023. But the newer songs haven’t been around long enough to become all-time favorites. And while 85% say their local country station is their favorite station, only 20% would be sad if it suddenly went away.

The study, presented Wednesday by NuVoodoo’s Carolyn Gilbert and Leigh Jacobs surveyed 2,817 country fans, ages 18-54, nationwide, asking them about 716 titles spanning more than 40 years. Some results elicited gasps from audience members.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said country music has gotten better in the past few years, compared to 52% who answered that way in 2022. The percentage who say it has gotten worse has declined, 16%-13%, during that period.

Country fans have a strong affection for country across various eras, from classic country to brand new songs. They also like other types of music, with Millennials and Gen-Zers preferring hip hop/R&B while Gen X favored rock. Most country fans had at least one parent who also liked country, and women are more likely to be longtime fans of the genre.

Four in five men say air talent is important for country radio, but only two of three women agree. “This bothers me, and it should bother you, too,” Jacobs said.

Gilbert suggested one reason for the difference could be that more men than women program stations. “As I've been saying for a long time, please use women to test your content to verify what you want to do — your promos, in between the songs. Women resonate with women. … Men and women are different. Use the women in your building to bounce things off of.”

Even though respondents were overwhelmingly likely to say their local country station was their favorite station, that support may be soft. Noting a result that said only 20% of respondents would be said if their favorite station suddenly went away, Gilbert said: “This is a wake-up call. We want them to be miserable if their favorite radio station went away.”

When it came to the music, Millennials and Gen X often had similar tastes, but Gen Z varied considerably, with much higher scores for newer music and much lower for the 1979-1999 era.

The overall top five artists, based on the average POP scores for songs by each artist among those artists with at least three tested songs held some surprises for the audience, with three of the five being women: Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, John Michael Montgomery, Shania Twain and Alabama. The lists changed when separated by gender, with men favoring Alan Jackson, Alabama, Montgomery, Diamond Rio and Garth Brooks. The women-only list dropped Alabama in favor of Faith Hill.

The Gen Z list varied even more: Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen, Trace Adkins, Lady A and Rodney Atkins.

The five top-testing songs overall follow:

“Picture,” Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow

“I Can Love You Like that,” John Michael Montgomery

“Need You Now (2010 Mix),” Lady A

“I Swear,” John Michael Montgomery

“Stay,” Sugarland

“The 2020 to 2022 segment had the smallest yield in terms of songs that people really loved,” Jacobs said. “Time will tell which ones of those will last.”

NuVoodoo is providing the full set of results from their survey to CRS attendees.