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Not So ‘Fast’: Why Country Radio Is Hanging on to Hits by Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen & More

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Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” rebounds from No. 6 to No. 5 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart dated Nov. 4. The song drew 23.4 million audience impressions Oct. 20-26, according to Luminate.

The update of Tracy Chapman’s classic story song, which hit No. 6 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 in 1988, became Combs’ 16th Country Airplay No. 1 in July and ruled for five weeks. It also crossed over, leading the all-format Radio Songs chart for four frames and Adult Pop Airplay for two, while reaching the top five on Adult Contemporary and the top 10 on Pop Airplay.

“Fast Car” adds a 19th week in the Country Airplay top five, the fourth-longest run ever in the region. It follows only Cole Swindell’s “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” (24 weeks, starting in September 2022) and Morgan Wallen’s “You Proof” (22, beginning in October 2022) and “Last Night” (20, starting in May).

Looking at the 10 longest-lasting top five hits, all but one — Sam Hunt’s 2017 smash “Body Like a Back Road” — have charted since 2020.

What’s keeping certain hits from shifting into reverse quickly on Country Airplay? As noted in July, key factors include both a sustained run of perceived strong product and programmers paying attention to what’s streaming well.

Meanwhile, “in the case of ‘Fast Car,’ we’re seeing very little burn,” country radio programming consultant Joel Raab tells Billboard. “Part of the art of programming is to know when to move on, even when a song continues to test well. It may sound like a cliché, but when program directors tire of a song, that’s the time to play it more.”

“Familiarity breeds comfort,” says Charlie Cook, Cumulus Media’s vp of country. “Okay, that’s a mashup of the saying, but that’s the case with today’s country music. I know that some acts and labels are eager to move on, but I doubt that Wallen, Combs and the writers of these longtime radio hits feel the same.”

Along with earning another top five hit on the Country Airplay charts, Combs is also nominated for 10 trophies at the 2023 Billboard Music Awards. This year’s show will air exclusively across the BBMAs and Billboard social media channels, and at BBMAs.watch, on Sunday, Nov. 19.

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