10 Questions with ... Bobby Bones
October 5, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Bobby Bones began his radio career at the age of 17, while attending Arkansas' Henderson State University, where he eventually graduated with a degree in Radio/TV. While working on the school's KSH 91.1 Bones doubled as evening talent on KLAZ 105.9 in Hot Springs. In 2002, he moved to KQAR/Little Rock, and "The Bobby Bones Night Show" was born. In 2003, Bones moved to Austin, Texas where he began hosting "The Bobby Bones Show" weekdays from 5-10a (CT) on KISS FM. He was eventually joined by sidekicks Lunchbox and Amy. Bones was named "Austin Radio Personality of the Year" in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and Austin's Alliance of Women in Media honored the program with their "Radio Personality of the Year" award seven years in a row. "The Bobby Bones Show" joined Premiere Networks' national lineup in 2011 and was nationally syndicated on Top 40 radio until February 2013, when the program transitioned to Country radio. Today, the program originates from WSIX/Nashville and can be heard on approximately 80 Country radio stations nationwide, reaching more than three million weekly listeners. In 2014, the program was co-honored with the Academy of Country Music Award in the "National On-air Personality of the Year" category.
1. When you and I first talked, before your Country show even launched it was Feb. 2013; you said one of your first goals was to get the format to embrace you. Do you think it has? How do you work with stations to help them win in their markets with a syndicated program?
Yes, I believe the listeners have and that is my main focus. I continue to just be honest every day and share my feelings every morning, popular or unpopular. As long as they know I'm telling them the truth, I feel like I've done my job that day. Authenticity in any format is important, so I try as hard as I can to stay as real as possible.
I'd even say that a lot of the artists have embraced me, some more than others (Haha), but I know my role. I'm there to entertain listeners and promote the product, both of which I think are awesome.
As far as working with stations, I spend a lot of time in other markets (practically every weekend playing charity shows with my band The Raging Idiots,) cutting pages of scripts to personalize shows and even web content. I won't allow myself to be outworked.
I may shoot myself in the foot with my big mouth, but I try to maintain a really positive work ethic.
2. Has there been anything about Country as a format - the listeners, artists and/or people in the industry - that has surprised you since launching the show? Or, is it what you expected?
People are people, regardless of format. I just want to be funny and honest, and kind of let the chips fall. I have a great team that surrounds me every single morning, so they make it really easy to come in and enjoy what I do.
I also have a great team at Premiere/iHeartMedia that believes in me - Bob Pittman, Darren Davis, Julie Talbott, Jen Leimgruber, Clay Hunnicutt, Rod Phillips, Dennis Clark, etc. There are too many people to name who have influenced, coached or slapped me across the head, and some actually have done all three.
I never expected anything and I always feel like it could be gone tomorrow, so I just try to appreciate what I have and grind it out every day.
3. When you made the transition to Country, you were already syndicated, but on a regional basis ... now you're nationwide. What, if any adjustments have you made to the show to speak to a bigger audience?
I don't think I changed the way I approach the show. I was never handed the keys to the car and told to drive. I started syndicating myself, losing money, doing markets for free, just hoping that one day I'd finally get a shot, and it's been a slow growth in size. That being said, there really is no transition of me as a person from when I do Sports talk on a national level, country, pop or even alternative. I'm just me, a dude from Arkansas who enjoys talking on the radio.
4. You often tout the show as three friends hanging out, talking and having fun. But there has to be some structure to planning breaks, due to your basically being a network show and having a presence in PPM markets. Can you share some of the behind the scenes planning, that makes it all sound free-form?
We are very spontaneous. I plan the show and they know nothing about what's coming up, no one gets a sheet of paper with topics or anything. No one has any idea what or when something is going to be brought up or even if it will. This process plays well with our listeners and it's the best thing I can do for my team, who are group of very real people. In fact, none of them did radio before they joined the show -- Amy sold granite, Lunchbox delivered sandwiches, Ray sold cable to people on the telephone and Eddie was my TV producer in Austin.
It starts with my list, and sometimes we stay on track, but most times we don't. As long as everyone is having fun, especially our listeners, that's what counts. I try to put my team in the best spot possible for them to win and to deliver a great show to our listeners.
5. Speaking of strategy, there are many who claim your occasional outspoken and controversial Twitter and Facebook comments are calculated and designed to get reaction from the industry, industry press and on all social platforms. It does generate a lot of talk for you and the show. So, how much of it is indeed genuine, open-book conversation with your fans and how much is geared toward generating publicity? And were you surprised about the reaction to your CMA comments?
I would be lying if I said I didn't do some things on purpose, but I'd also be lying if I said I did everything on purpose. I love controversy at times, but a lot of it comes from being honest about situations. By honest, I don't mean the literal truth, I mean "my truth." I share how I feel and sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm not. As long as I am honest, it's all good in my eyes and hopefully to the listeners as well. I'm an ass, but I also consider myself a really nice guy. I do have a short fuse though and I am very impatient, like I believe most humans to be. Of course, all of those qualities get me in trouble at times, but it's who I am and I can't hide it.
Surprised about the CMA comments?
Of course not, it was a jackass thing to say and people should always take jackasses to task. I would have done the same thing! Once the newspaper got involved, I saw where it was going. I have friends that work at the CMAs, and we've done a lot with them as a show, and I really like and respect them. I was a jackass, but at least you know I run my own Twitter! Haha. I won't sell out and have someone tweet for me, that's probably why I get into so much trouble with it.
BTW, I love Twitter. What a great tool to speak directly to people. I've been using Twitter pretty seriously for about five years now.
6. Everyone loves an underdog, and by now, most people know your life story. After a year and a half in Country radio, your show is cleared in a lot of markets and will keep growing. You have the support of everyone at iHeartMedia, including and especially Bob Pittman. You recently signed a long-term extension ... A lot of people would see your situation and say "Life is good." Do you still consider yourself an underdog?
I probably have a somewhat distorted worldview - that everyone's a critic, and I'm the one they're out to get. But my therapist tells me I should really try to lose that mentality.
Bob Pittman is my mentor. I have two heroes in my life, David Letterman and Bob Pittman -- One made me want to take a shot and the other gave me the opportunity to do it.
Bob was Mark Zuckerberg before there was a "Mark Zuckerberg." He will have conversations with me as both the CEO and as my mentor, and sometimes they are two different conversations, but both extremely helpful because he knows far more than I do about this industry as a whole.
Recently, I presented at the iHeartRadio Music Awards on NBC, and to be honest, I was a little nervous. Not because of the cameras or the network or the millions of people, but I was nervous to not let Bob down. He has fought so hard for me and even fought just to get me on that show, as I was the least famous person there (by far). They said my name and everyone went "WHO?"
But as soon as I got off stage, I got a message from Bob with a picture of him watching it on TV saying "nice work," and Bob doesn't BS, so that felt good. Also, shout out to John Sykes who did the same.
I'll always be a welfare, food stamps, government cheese kid from Mountain Pine, Arkansas - at least when I look in the mirror. At the same time, I'm trying to be a better person every day and this job and platform have allowed me the opportunity to work toward that goal.
Because of this show, my (terrible) comedy band has raised over half a million dollars for animal charities around the U.S. and sold thousands of records. It's crazy and things like that make me appreciate where I am right now!
But, I will always be the underdog in my mind.
7. Your show does lay it all out there, warts and all, every day. Again, as you said to me originally, "My honesty is my biggest strength." And it seems to be working ... do you feel younger fans- notably 18-34 year-old listeners who may be new to the format - are more comfortable with that style of communication and entertainment than a traditional, 35-54 core Country fan?
In a simple answer, yes. People expect it now. When Stern did it, it was crazy because it was so real. If you aren't real anymore, you get sent packing quick. I have a lot of warts and long ago, I figured out other people do too.
I don't literally have warts though, for the record.
8. You have a lot of artists on the show, and I think many notice the non-traditional, unscripted interview process. Most roll with it, but some are less comfortable with it. How do you earn the trust of the latter?
Be the same. Be consistent. Some artists would rather not do my show and I totally get it, but some call in every week or come by constantly for the same reasons. Luke Bryan just shows up sometimes and he doesn't need the press, he just likes the show.
But as long as I stay consistent and without any sort of malice, it's all good.
9. You have two very strong sidekicks on the show, Amy and Lunchbox. Their roles seem very well defined and they stick to it, always knowing what their respective job is in that room. How much of that is organic and how much is an acquired skill for them, since both were recruited from "the private sector," so to speak?
They are as real as it comes. They came to the show to be real people, people that I care about, people I have fun with and people that I fight with (on air and off). They as well as the rest of the staff have really become comfortable with just talking to the room.
10. We mentioned you just signed a long-term extension ... what about after that? Will you keep going? Can you even plan your career that far ahead? We know you love TV - where is that in the future?
Well, I was about eight months into a multi-year deal and a new deal happened. I didn't deserve it, to be honest, so now I have to prove my worth.
I have a lot of great people at iHeartMedia who support me and I know that I can be polarizing at times. I'm a weirdo, always have been and probably won't ever shake it. I rarely come out of my room, unless it's to work and when I do, it's with my mouth wide open. I try to just tell my truth. Sometimes with apologies shortly after.
I have so much passion for radio, after all it's America's companion, and as for TV, nothing has been announced... yet.
Who do you look up to and respect on-air?
"Charlamagne Tha God on The Breakfast Club" is, in my opinion, the best personality on the radio right now. We talk weekly. We couldn't be any different format wise, but we have a very similar background and approach.
Tige and Daniel in Greensboro make me laugh constantly. Those two dudes are funny. They do nights on some iHeartRadio stations now and they have a really bright future.
Mason and Remy are crazy good at digital. If I had a new show, I'd send them to Mason and Remy school.
I seek advice from Elvis Duran at times and I ask a lot of questions. He answers every one of them.
Who are your favorite established Country artists?
My first concert ever was Diamond Rio, so I have to start there.
Tim McGraw has always been awesome to me. He calls into the show randomly and recently sent me one of his cowboy hats (because I've never owned one) and a man purse (because I said I wanted one.)
Darius Rucker was my first ever interview. Period. I was 17. He was awesome then and is now.
Who's your favorite new Country artist that you think has a huge future?
Lindsay Ell can play the guitar like a crazy woman. She is super talented.
I'm a huge Kacey Musgraves fan, love her music, wish it would get more of a shot.
Gloriana are really, really talented. And with the right song or two, they will be superstars.
The Raging Idiots are a band on the rise too. Watch out for those guys.