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Sunday, 20 February, 2011 1:11 PM

Doing Double Duty: How Three Country Radio Giants Handle Dual Careers On and Off the Air (CMA)

Photo courtesy of Spalding Entertainment

Kix Brooks

Photo by John Russell

Lon Helton

By Brad Schmitt
© 2011 CMA Close Up News Service


Kix Brooks was half of Brooks & Dunn, Country Music’s most successful duo. He’s also a songwriter and, with a role in the upcoming film “Thriftstore Cowboy,” a movie star. And, oh yeah, he hosts a weekly syndicated Country radio show.

For decades, Charlie Chase has co-hosted a national television show, while, until recently, getting up at 2:00 in the morning to co-host “Tennessee Mornings” on Nashville’s Fox affiliate, WZTV. Chase and Lorianne Crook have hosted successful radio and TV programs together for more than 28 years, including “Crook &Chase,” currently airing weekly in national syndication as well as on RFD-TV. By the way, he also co-hosts a weekly syndicated Country radio show with Crook.

Then there’s Lon Helton, who every single weekday — often every weekday hour — updates the Country Music and radio industry with his online and print publication Country Aircheck. And he too somehow finds the time to host a weekly syndicated Country radio show.

Meet three of the busiest people in the business, each of whom has successful nationwide radio countdown shows while holding down other full-time jobs.

“For me, it’s really all about prioritizing,” said Brooks, who hosts “American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks” for Citadel Media. “I just have to go, ‘OK, for me, this part of the day is for this, and this is important.’ Obviously, family is first. Beyond that, business is what’s important.”

To make the point clear, Brooks added, jokingly, “And some days, if you run over in an interview with Taylor Swift, trap shooting has to go.” Brooks works on his show four or five days a week, including weekends, while still maintaining songwriting appointments and running a winery, Arrington Vineyards, just outside of Nashville.

On Thursday or Friday, a producer sends him an outline of where the charts might be, letters from listeners and artist news of the week. He sits down on the weekend — “usually with a football game on” — and goes through it all, adding his notes and sending it back by Sunday evening.

Monday is chart day, so Brooks records segments in the studio, a process that takes about two hours. He makes it a point to bypass his home studio to do this work at Citadel Media headquarters in Nashville. “I just think it’s good to get away from the house and do business,” he explained. “It’s just too easy to get distracted if you’ve got work to do at home. You’ve got family and you’ve got people fixing the air conditioner, this and that. I like to go somewhere where all you have to think about working on is what you’re working on.”

As the only national countdown show host who also works full-time as an artist, Brooks faces a unique challenge when interviewing one of his peers on the air. “I had some things happen early on where I asked some artists, ‘What would you think of me saying this or that about you?’” he said. “And they looked at me like, ‘Dude, you wouldn’t do that, would you?’ I had to take a step back and go, OK, I am a radio guy now but at the same time, I’m an artist.

On the other hand, if Blake Shelton was doing the show, I’d expect him to rag on me and that would not hurt my feelings. I like to think of myself as a fun guy. I don’t tease artists who aren’t friends of mine and wouldn’t understand it, but the artists I’m friends with would wonder what was wrong with me if I wasn’t having some fun with our friendship.”

No one understands the complexities of juggling multiple careers better than Charlie Chase, who co-hosts “The Crook & Chase Countdown,” distributed by Premiere Radio Networks. Indeed, before he and Lorianne Crook exploded onto the national scene, he had already survived broadcasting in Nashville five days a week from 7 AM to 9:30 PM, for radio and television.

“From 1983 on, I had two full-time jobs. And on those long days, I was tired,” he remembered, laughing. “But radio is the greatest foundation of my career because it afforded the ability to talk up a record, fill 30 or 45 seconds. Radio helps you develop the gift of gab. That certainly comes in handy in television. If anything, when you’re in television, you have to be real. And radio trains you to be real.”

It also requires being fully informed on issues of concern to listeners. “The industry requires that you prepare, that you soak up all the information you can,” he said. “I read the paper front to back. I’m all over the Internet. If a new artist comes along, I read about them so that I’m ready for them when I get to meet them.”

Inevitably, this carries over into his personal time, even when he’s at lunch with his wife. “Karen and I will be talking about something, and

I’ll say, ‘Let’s find out about that!’ I’m Googling at lunch! I hate that, people sitting around Googling at lunch — and now I’m doing it.”

How does Chase cope with the pressure that can come from fitting together two separate but equally demanding careers? The same way Brooks does — by playing golf. “It’s an escape,” he said. “We have a great group of guys who have played every Friday afternoon for the last 16 or 17 years. Once we get out there, all laughs and all jokes and trying to make some golf shots, you forget where everything is.”

Even there, though, Chase will occasionally go online or do a little business. “Occasionally,” he admitted. “But that’s rare!”

As for Lon Helton, host of “CMT Country Countdown USA with Lon Helton” for Westwood One and Editor and Publisher of Country Aircheck, he keeps his life in order by thinking of his two jobs as one. “Everything I do centers around Country Music,” he explained. “So everything I do during the week counts as show prep. For instance, we have a new artist come in to play for us once a week. We get to know them. So in most cases, I’m getting to know new artists way before they have their first single. And when they’ve had their second hit record, they’re kind of like old friends coming in to chat.”

Because Helton does his show with an artist as co-host, his work is complicated by having to find a few uninterrupted hours that work well for him as well as a busy celebrity. That has meant starting as early as 8 AM or as late as 9 PM; sometimes he’s even had to go on the road with his guest to make it happen.

“Because we’re so artist dependent, we’re kind of at their mercy,” he said. “I end up doing my day job in the evenings. And both my worlds have tons of deadlines, so that can get tricky.”

Still, the payoff, for Helton and for his listeners, makes it worth the extra effort. “For the last 18 years, I’ve gotten to sit across from a Country star every week for an hour and a half and just chat,” he said. “You go through one stretch where it’s Carrie Underwood, followed by Kenny Chesney, followed by George Strait, followed by Alan Jackson. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s had a song on the charts for the last 18 years that we haven’t talked to. I hope I don’t take that for granted.”

CRS-42 will take place March 2-4 at the Nashville Convention Center in Downtown Nashville. Registration and information is available at


Photo by Chris Hollo, Hollo Photographics, Inc.

Charlie Chase is Detroit's exclusive media outlet for this syndicated weekly column!




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Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Photos, Videos, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer.