'Most Liked World Wide': The Armed Forces and the Global Market for Country Music

When the Country Music Association (CMA) began publishing a newsletter in 1959, it did so under the aspirational slogan “Most Liked World Wide.” This paper explores how the country music industry’s relationship with the Pentagon played a key role in making those dreams of global popularity into a reality. Thanks to disc jockeys on Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), the CMA could rely on their allies in the military to cater to fans in faraway places and cultivate new audiences for country music in international markets. The AFRTS convinced Joe Allison, one of country music’s most successful disc jockeys, to host a radio show from 1963-1970. At the same time, the U.S. Army and Air Force Recruitment Service used the genre in its efforts to encourage volunteer enlistment. The U.S. not only needed men enlisting to defend capitalist democracy. The nation needed country music to inspire citizens to take up arms and defend a specific version of American heritage that the music helped to define. This reciprocal relationship between the Defense Department and Music Row revealed two simultaneous truths about the country music business at the dawn of the 1960s. First, the industry’s participation in military recruitment campaigns and the CMA’s desire to grow a global audience had aligned the genre with the broader aims of the U.S. government. Second, the overwhelming whiteness of the country music industry signaled that the military’s musical recruitment programs would maintain the racial status quo at a time of increased civil rights activism in and out of the ranks. In Nashville and in the nation’s military-industrial complex, country music dominated the soundscape, helping the CMA build wealth and influence with the help of the Cold War defense state.