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CMAs and ACMs are country cousins

November 12, 2009 |  9:02 am

Brad Paisley Carrie Underwood CMAs Even the most die-hard country music fans have a tough time explaining the difference between the Country Music Assn. (CMA), which handed out awards Wednesday night, and the Academy of Country Music (ACM), which passes out honors every May. 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.

In the 45-year history of the ACM Awards, just 23 men and 24 women have won the vocalist prizes. And only 21 different acts have been named entertainer of the year. The CMAs are no different, with many of the champs there having won first at the ACM Awards or vice versa. Over 43 years, the CMA Awards have seen 23 men and 24 women take top vocal honors while 29 different acts have ranked as entertainer of the year.

Expect Taylor Swift -- who swept the CMAs this year with four wins including the coveted entertainer of the year title -- to do just as well at the next edition of the ACMs. At the CMAs, Swift beat three-time reigning entertainer of the year Kenny Chesney. His loss there was foretold by his defeat for the same award-- after four wins in a row -- at last May's ACMs, losing to Carrie Underwood.

Underwood -- who co-hosted the CMA Awards -- had won female vocalist there for the last three years, but was bested by Swift this year. However, her co-host, Brad Paisley, picked up his third consecutive male vocalist prize. And Underwood and Paisley have won for the last three years at the ACMs.

The 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 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 glamour of Hollywood. That group eventually morphed into the ACM. In 1967, the 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. However, within a decade both groups were honoring the same artists with one exception -- Toby Keith, who's probably been punished by CMA members for not making Nashville his home.

Traditionally, the CMAs have more viewers than the ACMs, but both are so popular that they're aired during sweeps months, and sometimes one or both beat the Nielsen ratings scored by the Emmy Awards. Indeed, the popularity of the CMAs and ACMs ignited an explosion of award shows on TV.

Until 1970, the only major awardscasts were the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. The Grammys only existed on TV in a rather dull, taped one-hour special billed as "Best on Record." When the CMAs nabbed a spot in prime time, NBC crammed it into its regular weekly "Kraft Music Hall."

Then, in 1971, 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 to the Grammys just one year later when the recording academy wanted to move the show to Nashville.

CBS not only grabbed the rights to the Grammys but 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. The broadcast rights to the original two country music biggies are still considered such plums that ABC swiped the CMA rights away from CBS for more than $9 million.

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Photo: CMA Awards hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood. Credit: ABC

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