Rockabilly: Why isn't it on the radio?

I just bought a Charlie Feathers CD (His Complete King Recordings) and I love it. It’s only eight tracks, true, but it certainly gives me someone to look for in the future and it inspired this thread.

Why the hell isn’t Charlie Feathers, or any other non-Rock’n’Roll rockabilly, played on oldies radio? He’s certainly able to hold his own against Elvis and Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, but they are all Rock’n’Roll pretty much by definition, given that they are always credited along with others with inventing the genre.

I’m certainly aware of how radio completely ignores specific acts. But this is something a bit more. This is ignoring a whole subgenre, and an important one at that. Rockabilly formed a bridge between country and bluegrass on one hand and R&B and gospel on the other, between hillbilly music and race records. I don’t need to mention the Rock’n’Roll acts that got their start in rockabilly.

Plus, of course, it’s damned fine music to anyone who enjoys old country from before it got ‘produced’ and old Rock’n’Roll from before it was Rock.

What gives?

Brian Setzer decided to put his talents toward reviving a different genre.

There’s a local radio station here called WEVL. (It supposedly means “We Volunteer,” because Tennessee is the Volunteer State, and not “W-EVIL.” It’s pronounced “weevil.”) WEVL is entirely volunteer-run, and they play an amazing range of music; for example, on Thursdays there’s a 90-minute show devoted to Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

And on Fridays there’s a show called “Rock House”; two hours of pure ass-kicking rockabilly. If you like rockabilly, you should check it out; the host is extraordinarily knowledgeable, and the music is fantastic. It airs from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. Central Time on Friday evenings, and you can listen on-line at

Check out their schedule for more listings.

(I’m not affiliated with WEVL in any way, other than thinking they’re awesome. And the station’s founder, who died a few years ago, was a good friend of mine.)

jackelope: Thank you very much for the links and the recommendation, but that wasn’t what I was asking. I didn’t ask where I could find it, I asked why the Generic Oldies Stations across the country (and I’ve listened to a sampling of them) aren’t playing it.

Generic Oldies Stations play the chart hits of yesteryear. There were never enough Rockabilly top tens to hear much of it on Oldies radio.

It’s a grenre with a dedicated following, but still never came close to dominating the charts. If you ever find a radio program that plays lots of Rockabilly, it’s going to be a specialty station (or more likely) a specialty timeslot on a particular station, the likes of which jackelope described.

The only real answer to why Rockabilly doesn’t get more radio play is the very simple answer that, as a genre, it’s never been a huge commercial success. Individual acts have had varying degrees of success, but there just isn’t enough popular Rockabilly for popular radio to play it.

Now, why hasn’t Rockabilly as a genre ever dominated the charts? There’s a different question worth pondering. But “Why isn’t it on the radio?” has just that simple answer: it’s not a hit genre.

Another problem is that even though there is modern rockabilly, a lot of it is gimmicky music centered around a very specific (and in my experiences as a fan, exclusive to the point of exclusionary) subculture. You don’t find too many greaser guys with sideburns and pompadours and vintage bowling shirts or girls with Bettie Page bangs and leopard-print clothes and sexy tattoos outside of small scenes in big cities, so the majority of club owners, record label honchos, marketers, music fans, and even bands dismiss them as goofy kids who play dress-up, much like the Goths.

Even moreso, most bands that play any kind of rockabilly today blend it with other styles and filter it through other genres: Brian Setzer brought his rockabilly background to leading a big swing orchestra, and bands like the legendary Cramps, the Horrorpops, and Tiger Army combine rockabilly with punk, horror movie influences, and more to form psychobilly. A lot of bands playing it “straight” are either in it for the irony or they’re just cover/tribute bands. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff, both the classics and the newer rockabilly. I also like most of the crossover genres: psychobilly, cowpunk, late '90s zoot suit swing, instrumental surf rock, alt-country, spaghetti Western twang (a la Ennio Morricone), ska. This is pretty much my favorite music in the world, taken as a whole. But it’s not commercial, and there just isn’t much of an audience for it beyond the scenesters and the people who make an effort to seek it out. I dig it, Daddy-O, but most folks just don’t.

Rockabilly (and other genres that, IIRC, come under the general banner of “Americana”) is pretty much a niche market. Some college and noncommercial stations play this; I know mine does from time to time. Heck, I did a whole two hour show just on Stray Cats not long ago.

As others have pointed out, there just wasn’t much rockabilly that was broadly popular on rock n’ roll stations; it was generally subsumed under “country and western”, which did not cross over as much as it does now, and was largely popular more in the rural areas and in the South and Southwest.

If you’re not finding it on the radio, look to college and “classic country” stations.


Thanks for all the replies. I just recently learned of psychobilly and the other modern rockabilly offshoots (see my other thread in this forum for details) and I will be seeking them out both online and in music stores, and while it wasn’t in mind when I wrote my OP I can understand why that doesn’t have much of a following. This thread did answer my questions about why classic rockabilly isn’t more common on the Generic Oldies Stations. And finally, I guess I’ve never lived in a town with a Classic Country station, and I didn’t imagine rockabilly would be any more common on those stations than the the ones I have listened to. Ignorance fought.