Even the most die-hard country music fans have a tough time explaining the difference between the Academy of Country Music (ACM), which just announced nominations for its annual awards, and the Country Music Assn. (CMA), which doles out its prizes in the fall.
The only differences besides the dates are network affiliation and geography — the CMA Awards air on ABC from Nashville while the ACM Awards are doled out on CBS from Las Vegas. Both awards are bestowed by industry organizations with many of the same voters and — no surprise — many of the same winners.
CMA was founded first, in Nashville in 1958, just one year after the Grammy Awards parent organization, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, was formed in Los Angeles. The association’s mission was to serve as an industry think tank and networking organization for Nashville music makers, not to present awards. The first country music kudos were actually bestowed in 1965 by the upstart new Country and Western Music Academy, formed one year earlier by country artists who had ditched honky-tonk Nashville for the glamor of Hollywood. That group eventually morphed into ACM. In 1967, CMA started passing out prizes, too.
West Coasters like Merle Haggard dominated the early ACM awards, while Nashville faves Johnny Cash and Charlie Pride swept the CMAs. Nowadays both groups favor the same artists with one odd exception: Toby Keith, who’s probably been punished by CMA members for not making Nashville his home.
Another key difference: The ACM Awards are staged in Las Vegas while the CMA Awards usually stay home in Nashville. Traditionally, the CMAs have more viewers than the ACMs but both are so popular that they’re aired during sweeps months (May and November) and sometimes one or both beat the Nielsen ratings scored by the Primetime Emmys.
The CMAs and ACMs are responsible in part for the modern explosion of award shows on TV. Before the late 1960s the only awardcasts were the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. Then the CMAs nabbed a spot in prime time, but NBC crammed it into its regular weekly “Kraft Music Hall.” The Grammys only existed on TV in a rather dull, taped one-hour special billed as “Best on Record.”
That all changed in 1971, when the Grammys went live in a stand-alone awardscast. When Paul McCartney showed up to accept an award for the busted-up Beatles, the crowd and TV viewing audience went crazy and ABC had a hit on its hands. Foolishly, however, the alphabet network gave up the broadcast rights one year later when the Grammys wanted to move their show to Nashville. CBS not only grabbed the rights, but also launched a live, stand-alone CMA show. The ACM awardscast was launched in 1972 too. Suddenly, there were three music-award shows on TV at the same time and all of them scored socko ratings.
Inevitably, TV network programmers must’ve thought: “Hmmm … if one award show is good and three is great, then — wow — even more must be fantastic!” Thus were born the American Music Awards by a revenge-plotting ABC in 1973, and then new kudos sprang up from Billboard, MTV, VH1, Soul Train, etc. And there are new country music awards too, including the CMT (Country Music Television) and Canadian Country Music awards.