There’s simply no argument to be made: When it comes to Texas country and Americana radio, North Texas has it better than anywhere else in the state. The Range (KHYI 95.3 FM) is primarily heard to the eastern end of our region, while The Ranch (KFWR 95.9) mainly airs for those to our west, though both signals can be heard throughout the greater Dallas area. These are two long-running, highly respected stations which cater to the more discerning country and roots-rock listeners who simply can’t be fooled by the vanilla butt-rock pabulum emanating from the signals of 99.5 KPLX (The Wolf) or 96.3 KSCS.
On the surface, the similarities seem nearly endless between this pair of great stations. Their names are damn near identical, and they’re close neighbors on your FM dial. The biggest names of Texas country and red dirt will be heard daily on both stations, as it should be. So if you need to hear Kevin Fowler sing about beers and deer (again),or Roger Creager sing about partying in Mexico (again), both The Range and The Ranch dutifully have you covered. But they're not owned by the same company, nor are they related in any way from a corporate perspective.
So how are discerning North Texas country fans to figure out which of these two stations to pledge their allegiance to? Funny you should ask, because we have a few key points to help you decide.
Both stations offer up deep cuts alongside new releases of the biggest names in Texas country. You won't have to wait long before hearing Randy Rogers Band, Jason Boland, Wade Bowen, Cody Canada or Josh Abbott. Both stations know it's vital to spin some Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and American Aquarium, too. But it’s when the stations delve into folkier, Americana territory and other country styles that we begin to hear key the differences.
As the sun rises on The Range in Dallas, a killer new Rodney Crowell or Mavericks track may spin, while a powerful Holly Williams song or a rollicking JD McPherson tune is heard on The Ranch over in Fort Worth. Aside from the standard Texas country heavy rotators, there wasn't a mighty different on their respective recent morning drive show segments, but it was certainly there, as Chuck Taylor of The Range managed to add a splash of classic country for good measure.
Later in the day, during the afternoon drive shift, things are more polarized. 95.3’s highly respected radio lifer Allan Peck focuses in on far more oldies (golden, yes, but oldies still) than his preceding hosts, while Shayne Hollinger of 95.9 cuts an edgier path with alternative tracks from Brent Best, brash newcomer Dalton Domino and even little known act Mandolin Orange. Again, eclecticism can be heard on both signals, but they are of different varieties.
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Concerts, Beer, Love and War
With one Texas country station to the west and one to the northeast, it makes sense to have a Love and War in Texas outlet to fit each station’s listener base. If you haven’t been to a show at either location, it’s well past time for that. For over a decade, The Range has been hosting Shiner Sundays at the Plano Love and War location. Every Sunday afternoon from 4-6 p.m. in the spring and summer, the two-hour concert, featuring both local up-and-comers (Troy Cartwright, Holy Moly) and even big-time names (Reckless Kelly, Chris Knight, Charlie Robison) has been a staple of honky-tonk life north of the Dallas loop. It’s nice to sit on a covered patio during the day, get a buzz, hear some tunes and be home well before Walking Dead starts.
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More recently, The Ranch has begun the Lone Star Saturday night series at the Grapevine location of Love and War in Texas. Hollinger hosts a similar selection of bands, but much later on a Saturday night when the younger, louder party people are out and about. There’s also the Range-sponsored Courtyard Texas Music Series in Plano every month. Acts ranging from Dale Watson to Joe Ely to Radney Foster perform in front of a quiet, seated gathering in the intimate, pristine Plano Courtyard Theater. On Wednesday nights in the summer, The Ranch also hosts its rowdy Ranch Music Series in the outdoor environs of the Capital Bar and Grill, where admission is free and the place is packed with a much rowdier crowd than the ones sitting politely in a suburban theater. Coincidentally, local honky-tonk hero Matt "The Cat" Hillyer headlines tonight in Fort Worth, and then on September 3 for the cushier affair.
Two of the best slots of musical programming all week in North Texas happen on Sunday mornings on these two stations. The Range’s Bluegrass Heritage Hour, hosted by the rock solid Alan Tompkins, offers bluegrass tunes both classic and new from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Whether you’re cracking open your Bible or nursing a hangover (or both!), the down-home comfort of Earl Scruggs, Rhonda Vincent and Del McCoury can hardly be beat.
Over on 95.9, Mike Crow, aka Crowman, hosts Sunday Morning Coming Down, featuring country and Americana tunes with spiritual themes. Songs from red dirt pioneer Mike McClure, Pat Green or even the Pear Ratz can be heard during this show. Neither show comes across as preachy or Bible-beating, but again, one show caters to the crowd more likely to hit Luby’s post-church, and the other will likely be heard by sunglass-wearing, Advil-seeking country lovers as they grab rides back to where they left their cars the night before.