Shiona McCallum is a country music columnist, BBC Newsbeat journalist and broadcaster. Her love of country music has seen her produce a range of written pieces for Maverick Magazine, as well as host a BBC Radio 2 show focused solely on the genre. We caught up with her to find out more about her love of the genre, her journey to the BBC and to find out more about some of her favourite artists.
Firstly, tell us a little about yourself and your journey into journalism and broadcasting.
After studying law at Glasgow University, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. It was nothing against the course; it was just not for me! I was always interested in the world and the news and I love radio and television, and so I decided to do a post-graduate course in broadcasting. I am so happy I did! I then got a job as a reporter and news presenter at a small radio Bauer station called Moray Firth Radio in Inverness, in the Highlands. Working there was amazing! It was a big patch and I got loads of experience, and clocked up valuable on-air miles. From MFR I went on to bigger stations across Scotland and then went to Dubai for a few years to work for Arabian Radio Network, the biggest radio group in the Middle East. After all that experience I eventually made my way to the BBC!
You have recently started broadcasting a brand new country music show on BBC radio 2 titled ‘New Country From Nashville’. What are your aims for the show and how do you feel about being able to broadcast to the nation on Radio 2?
Well I’m just really hopeful we will be able to play country music that doesn’t get played anywhere else and curate some lovely playlists for people to enjoy. I absolutely love the genre, so to be able to do a show on a station like Radio 2 is fantastic. I just want to share my passion with as many people as possible, and continue to grow the love for country here in the UK.
Your passion for country music is incredibly evident in your work. How did your passion for country music begin and were there any specific artists which led to your passion for the genre?
I first heard Brooks and Dunn on the radio when I was on holiday with my parents in Florida. So I bought the CD when we went to the mall, and as they say, the rest is history! I then decided to take the CD into HMV to see if there was any more music I could buy by Brooks and Dunn (it was before streaming services) and the shop assistant took me to the ‘country’ section. That’s when I really started delving! I bought Kenny Chesney, Dixie Chicks, Travis Tritt, Joe Nichols and loads more from that stall. My passion grew and grew.
With recent country artist collaborations (Maren Morris & Zedd, Chris Stapleton & Justin Timberlake) hitting the mainstream audience in the UK, do you feel there’s a place in the mainstream charts in the UK for country artists and their music?
I feel like there’s so much room for country acts to get more air time on mainstream outlets, and I am hopeful that it doesn’t just take massive collaborations to get them there. I have suggested to loads of people they should listen to Eric Church for example, as a gateway to more country, and everyone has loved his music. I mean what’s not to love? I think maybe we need to get out of the mind-set of being bound by genres. Good music is good music right?
As a female within the country music music industry, do you feel that there is some progress being made in improving the equality and inclusivity of females and other underrepresented groups within the industry?
I think that we have some brilliant artists who are paving the way for equality and who are doing their best to get this conversation ignited, but more needs to be done on every level. As we know, women have been really fighting for recognition in the US, on country music radio and at awards ceremonies but I think it needs to come from the top down. We need to see music executives, record labels, radio and TV presenters, sound engineers and crew all offering more jobs to females. Kacey Musgraves, Cam, Ashley McBryde and Margo Price are all hugely respected and their voices carry a lot of weight and I follow closely their messages of solidarity with women but also LGBTQ+ and BAME people on social media, which I love. Having black British singer Yola really make waves in the US is fantastic, and of course The Highwomen. So there is progress, it’s just by no means at the finish line.
If you could choose 3 female artists to listen to for the rest of your life who would you choose and why?
Oh such a tough question because there are so many! Definitely on the list is Kacey Musgraves. I have watched her grow from playing a small church called Oran Mor in Glasgow to headlining C2C. I love the Dixie Chicks and that album Fly from 1999 means a lot to me so I’d put them on the list too. Finally I’d say Margo Price. ‘All American Made’ is a fantastic album and I enjoy following her outlaw look on life too.
With mainstream festivals such as Country to Country and the Long Road Festival growing in popularity, alongside quickly growing digital sales, country music is seeing an explosion in the UK. In your opinion has the age old perception of the genre as ‘Cowboys, boots and line dancing’ finally been broken by UK public?
I think people who genuinely love the music know it’s much more than those clichés, but equally I love cowboys, boots and line dancing!
As so many artists are choosing to tour in the UK, who would you like to see make their way ‘across the pond’?
Brooks and Dunn and Kenny Chesney are at the top of my list. In fact I’m so keen to see Kenny that I’m going to his US tour in 2020! He’s on the road with Florida Georgia Line and Old Dominion which I am really excited about. I’d love to see The Highwomen and Pistol Annies, Jon Pardi, Tyler Childers, Justin Moore, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Travis Tritt, George Strait, Alan Jackson. I could go on and on!
As a broadcaster, you’re following in the footsteps of many great radio personalities. If you could present a show with anybody, who would you choose and why?
It would have to be Whispering Bob Harris, because I’ve looked up to him for so long and heard loads of new music from his country show on Radio 2. It would be a proper pinch me moment if it ever happened!
Finally, where can our readers find out more about you and your show?