Ty This On for Size
August 18, 2016
It was major news earlier this week when Cumulus announced that Ty Bentli was joining the nationally syndicated “America’s Morning Show” (AMS) as co-host, succeeding Blair Garner. Launched in June of 2013 and built around Garner – the former “After Midnite” host – AMS originally had a rotating support lineup that included artists Terri Clark, Sunny Sweeney, and Chuck Wicks. Wicks is the sole survivor of that group, while veteran morning show host Kelly Ford joined Garner and Wicks on AMS in January of this year. Garner, a recent Country Radio Hall of Fame inductee, will now segue to hosting an overnight show, which replaces “Kickin’ It With Kix,” previously tracked by “American Country Countdown” host Kix Brooks.
And now, let’s all extend a formal, heartfelt hello to Bentli, who steps onto the biggest stage of his radio life and into the chair previously occupied by Garner at AMS. This is meant as no disrespect or offense to Bentli, but after this news broke, a lot of people in our format said, “Ty who? Never heard of the guy.”
Well, it’s not like he was plucked randomly from a crowd or out of total obscurity. The fact is, Bentli has incredible radio chops in multiple formats, and in the big three when it comes to markets: Top 40 WNOW/New York, AC KBIG/Los Angeles, and Top 40 WKSC/Chicago. Additionally, he comes to AMS with valid Country experience, thanks to a side hustle tracking nights for an impressive array of stations that started with iHeartMedia WUBL/Atlanta, eventually expanding to WMZQ/Washington, DC; WSIX/Nashville; KNIX/Phoenix; WPOC/Baltimore; WMAD/Madison; KAJA/San Antonio and WCKT/Ft. Myers. So, all of Country radio may not know Ty Bentli - but Ty Bentli knows Country radio.
Bentli’s move to AMS continues the recent shift of Pop or Top 40 programming and on-air talent to Country radio; it was preceded four days earlier by CBS Radio Chicago moving longtime Top 40 WBBM morning teamers Stylz & Roman to Country clustermate WUSN. Similarly, in 2013, Bobby Bones migrated from iHeartMedia Top 40 KHFI/Austin, and a regionally syndicated morning show, to launch his nationally syndicated “The Bobby Bones Show” based at Country WSIX/Nashville. At the time, that move also elicited a “who?” reaction among longtime Country radio vets.
So I figured it might be a good idea to get Bentli on the phone and chat about his new gig, in the spirit of getting to know him a little better. Here’s how our conversation went:
RJ Curtis: This is a huge career move on several levels for you – a shift in formats, a new city, and on the national, syndicated stage. A lot to take in – let’s start with the move into Country. What made this so appealing to you?
Ty Bentli: Well, really what it boils down to is, as we get older, you fit better into a certain kind of lifestyle. I grew up in South Dakota, which isn’t necessarily the cliché of what you expect a Southern and Country life to be, but to me it’s a very comfortable pace. I had such an experience in Nashville – I got to work for Keith Kaufman when I was at WSIX, and it was the coolest introduction into the format that I could have asked for. Because I had a Nashville station for three years, I would run into artists at the award shows or when I would fly in. The experience itself was so different from what I got in Top 40. It was neat to have an artist like Tim McGraw come in and say, “I listened to you last night,” and to have Little Big Town tell me that they thought this joke I said was kind of risqué and they especially liked it for some reason. I just thought there was such a genuine relationship between the listeners, the programming, radio, and the artists, that it was unmatched in our business. At this point in my life where I’m a little more settled into things – I’ve got a three-year-old son; I’ve got a wife, who is a Country songwriter and has been involved in Country music her entire life – it’s just the perfect moment to make all of the things that all of us wanted happen at the same time. It’s really incredible.
RJ: Your radio career is impressive. You’ve worked in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. And now the stage for you gets even bigger, because you’re on a nationally syndicated show. Was reaching multiple markets the next, natural career goal for you?
TB: Honestly, what I was really excited about once I found out I got to do this, is staying within Cumulus. I’ve had the best experience – I think that Mike McVay in particular is a guy that is a quality human being. He really made me excited. Just the fact that he was part of the company when I joined two years ago made me excited. And then what I’ve seen from them since the restructure is really, really impressive, and it makes me think this is a company whose potential is about to be reached. I’m glad that I get to be a part of that.
RJ: This format is becoming the place where Top 40 programmers and personalities have successfully transitioned to in recent years. How do you balance Top 40 radio mechanics with the nuances that core Country fans appreciate – being real, telling stories, the close relationship with music and artists.
TB: I like that you challenged me on that one, because I know that Bobby Bones dealt with this when he came in, and prior to him, that’s when Clear Channel really gave the Top 40 sound a shot when I was with them. I hope that doesn’t offend people that I currently work for when I say that. That contemporary sound was something I got to be a part of from the very beginning – they were trying it out – they asked me to come on WSIX/Nashville, and eventually I was on KNIX/Phoenix and WUBL/Atlanta. I got all these huge Country opportunities at the same time. I hope this doesn’t come off like I’m patting myself on the back, because I’m not, but I learned along with them that it could work. To me, it’s not scary right now, because I already went through this. I learned that the things that I love about this music and this industry – and just my normal life – all fit together very, very well. I think the Top 40 sound is something that has been contemporized a little bit faster, but as Country radio makes this little shift, it’s just moving into a relatable sound for 2016.
RJ: Does the experience you had tracking WSIX, KNIX, and WUBL give you a head start on making a good first impression? In 2013, Bobby Bones came to this format – and he obviously had multiple stations and understood the syndicated thing well. He liked Country music, but he had never really done it before. I think – as an observer – he sort of tripped on his shoelaces a couple of times, but he has since settled in quite well. You had several years of real-time of experience working with the music and its fans. You probably know very well the nooks and crannies to go into – and not to go into.
TB: The only thing I’m scared of a little bit are that there might be pieces of time where I don’t feel my knowledge is as strong – only because, for instance, the last two to three years, I haven’t had my foot in the Country music format. But prior to that, when I was starting radio, the first music station I was ever on was a Country station – KTWB/Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The reason I’m in radio is because of KTWB. When I was a kid, my dad was a police officer, and he worked these really weird hours. Everybody would go to bed around the same time every night, like eight o’clock. I was the kid in the basement; two floors above me – all the bedrooms were in the upstairs part of the house. So for all of that time I was really uncomfortable. I was really far away from everyone, and I felt so alone; I would fall asleep listening to the radio. It comforted me that there was someone alive in the world aware of things. I went to sleep every night listening to Randy Travis and Garth Brooks; I knew that music so well, and I loved that music so much. That’s why I’m in radio. Top 40 just happened to fit my personality at the time. I have always liked the sincerity and the message and the emotion behind this music, too. I have a longstanding relationship with Country music.
RJ: You’re jumping into a room where you have Kelly Ford and Chuck Wicks. Kelly’s been in the format forever and is one of the greatest co-hosts that you could ask for. Chuck has been – and still is – an artist, who has made an excellent transition into becoming a solid an on-air personality. So you will have two very good parachutes in that room if you ever start to feel like you’re not sure of what’s happening. That said, how much time have you spent getting to know them and getting a feel for what role everyone will have in the room? What everyone’s “job” in the room, so to speak?
TB: Our primary objective from the start is to create stronger identities for Kelly and Chuck, and obviously for myself, that meet audience expectations every day. I am so excited about the team! Coming in here I was like, fingers crossed, I’m hoping it’s what it could be, and then Kelly blew me away just by the fact that she is just genuinely really, really good at radio and such an interesting person. Funny, edgy; she’s going to fit so well. I originally met Chuck as an artist. I was going out for the ACMs and the CMAs; I’m sitting down doing interviews, Chuck Wicks comes up and I’m like, “Damn it, I’m gonna have to take a picture with this guy that’s 25 times as good looking as I could ever hope to be.” And now he’s going to be in the same room with me every morning. Crap, I’m going to have to do my hair every day now. But, Chuck has come around on radio in such an intelligent way. He really loves radio, and likes this being his life. He’s a smart, smart guy. Every time I talk to him, he is just so interesting. I think the way that we’re going to see success is that we now have three people who can match the energy we’re looking for from this new iteration of the show. I don’t know what their history of collaborating was before, but mine has been all across the map, depending on who I was working with. With some people, it’s harder to all have the same vision, but in this case I think we all have the same sense of humor, sensibilities – and it’s really going to be a cool, think-outside-the-box experience every day.
RJ: Describe yourself as an air personality. What will listeners of AMS be hearing when they tune in September and moving forward?
TB: I’d describe myself as someone who likes to plan everything as far as we can ahead of time, and then that becomes our safety net; from there, everything becomes fair game. That’s something I think I’m able to do pretty well with impulsive things – engagement from whatever happens to come up from a listener – and that’s one thing you’re going to hear a lot differently on the show. You’ll hear a lot more interaction with the listeners. I want to pick up phone calls a lot more. I want to talk to them a lot more about their life and relate to pop culture situations that we’re dealing with, to what they’re dealing with in their personal lives, as well. It’s been a very informative show, but now we want to see it become a very relatable, interactive show that’s also just full of surprises. We’ll have that fundamental show planned, but we’ll be willing at any single moment to divert away from it and do something fun. There are moments in your career where you’re in the situation – and I’ve done it – and you realize immediately it wasn’t what you were hoping, and it broke my heart. In this case, I think so highly of the individuals above – whether that’s NASH Dir./Programming John Shomby, Cumulus VP/Country Charlie Cook, Sr. VP/Content & Programming Mike McVay, CEO Mary Berner, or Kirk [Stirland] and Susan [Stephens] over at Westwood One – I think they’re the most quality human beings in this business. And then to find out that Kelly and Chuck are as creative and special as I would’ve wished that they are… I just couldn’t be more excited about what I think the potential for this show happens to be. I am really thrilled about it.