Bobby Bones – The Face of Country Radio Consolidation

December 23, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  33 Comments

clear-channelWhen it comes to the business of saving country music, many villains get presented by fans as the face of the erosion of country’s roots, values, and quality; usually huge country music stars like Garth Brooks or Taylor Swift.  But behind-the-scenes there are other events, and other individuals that have just as much, if not more of a fundamental impact on country music than any single artist or band.

One of these such events was the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that was signed into law by then President Clinton, which for the first time allowed cross media ownership, meaning multiple media businesses like newspapers, and television and radio stations could be owned by a single person or corporation in the same market. The law was meant to deregulate the media business and spurn more competition, despite the concerns raised that the move would see the rise of big media giants and the lessening of local programming.

Within radio, these easing of the rules had a massive impact on radio station ownership. In 1996 when the Telecommunications Act first passed, Clear Channel, the largest radio station owner in the country, had a roster of 173 radio stations. In 2003 the FCC eased the ownership regulations for local radio stations even further, and by 2004, Clear Channel owned over 1,200 stations. In fact Clear Channel grew so quickly, the company incurred massive debt, and ended up going through a restructuring between 2006 to 2008 that included selling some of its stations, to where now Clear Channel owns around 850 stations total.

Since its restructuring as a private company, Clear Channel’s goal has been centralizing and nationalizing programming. The idea is instead of paying one DJ at each country station in the US for example, you can pay one DJ who can then be syndicated to all the country stations owned by the same company. Though Clear Channel’s station ownership has stayed steady, and even slowly increased in the last few years, they’ve been able to slash employees as they slowly implement a nationalized DJ roster. In January of 2009, Clear Channel laid off roughly 1,500 employees, and by May of 2009, that number had grown to 2,440 positions eliminated. Then in October of 2011, even more local positions were slashed, but the exact numbers have never been disclosed.

Then earlier this month, Clear Channel announced a partnership with CMT to create national country music programming to be distributed across 125 country radio stations, as well as some digital and television platforms. The move is meant to match a similar national syndicated format created by the second-biggest radio provider in the United States, Cumulus Media, who launched the NASH-FM national country network on 70 separate radio stations earlier this year. The deal means more programming will be created on a national level, and distributed to local stations. Though Clear Channel says the new deal will be good for local radio stations because it will give them access to national-caliber talent and programming through their syndicated network that local stations would otherwise not have access to, the move continues the trend for radio to lose its local and regional flavor in favor of programming catering to a national audience.

bobby-bones-showAt the forefront of Clear Channel’s country radio ideas is a DJ named Bobby Bones. Originally from Arkansas, Bobby started with Clear Channel as a local DJ in Austin, TX for the Top 40 pop station 96.7 KISS FM, with his Bobby Bones Show eventually being syndicated to a few other regional markets. Though Bobby had big offers to move to the West Coast, he stayed in Austin and became a local favorite, winning “Best Radio Personality” by the Austin Music Awards from 2004-2008.

Earlier this year, Clear Channel finally convinced Bobby to move to Nashville, and to make the switch from Top 40 radio to country. Bobby replaced the legendary country DJ Gerry House at WSIX in Nashville who retired in 2010, though some hypothesize that Gerry, like many other DJ’s on Clear Channel stations, was forced out. Gerry was also a songwriter, and country journalist. Chet Flippo once said about Gerry that he was the “only reason I still listen to any mainstream country radio.”

Moving from pop to country, and replacing Gerry House, Bobby Bones symbolizes the changing of the guard on country radio to say the least. Bobby Bones doesn’t look country, doesn’t sound country, says he doesn’t own a cowboy hat or a belt buckle, but he reaches more country listeners than any other country music DJ.

Gerry House

Gerry House

The Bobby Bones Show started on the WSIX flagship station being syndicated to 15 other stations across the country, and in less than a year is already up to a total of 50 stations. With Clear Channel’s new syndicated country radio network coming, these numbers could dramatically increase, and Bobby Bones could cross over into television—something he has already started to do, doing spots at big awards shows, and once guest hosting on Live with Regis & Kelly in 2011. Along with his weekday show, Bobby Bones also does at weekend syndicated show, Country Top 30 with Bobby Bones. He also does a syndicated Fox Sports Radio weekend show with tennis player and friend Andy Roddick.

Bobby Bones is not your normal DJ. He doesn’t have your stereotypical DJ voice, and his quirky, yet honest personality is what endears him both to listeners, and to country artists who seem more than willing to lend their name to his show and stop by for interviews. Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, and many more have appeared live on The Bobby Bones Show, and it is now the highest rated radio show in Nashville.

As a recent CBS feature points out, Bobby comes from very humble beginnings in Arkansas, from a very stereotypical “country” upbringing where his dad left him and his mom was a drug addict, being raised by his grandmother for part of the time. Bobby doesn’t drink or use drugs, and has a very hip, Austin-esque personality while still coming across as genuine to his listeners. Many old-school country fans and older radio listeners hate him. But with his current position at WSIX and Clear Channel’s big nationally-focused plan for country radio, Bobby Bones isn’t just poised to become the Gerry House of the next generation, he’s poised to become the biggest DJ in the history of country music.

33 Comments to “Bobby Bones – The Face of Country Radio Consolidation”

  • I quit listening to SIX when House left. I’ve never heard Bobby Bones, and from the way this sounds, I’m not missing much.

  • I lived in Austin while he was a different there and was not a fan. He is however the perfect complement to the pop drenched version of country music on mainstream radio.

  • Different strokes for different folks, but I’ll stick with Eddie Stubbs, Dallas Wayne, and Elizabeth Cook.

  • Are you sure that’s not Steve from “American Dad”?

  • When I lived in Nashville back in the 80’s Gerry House and WSIX were my guilty pleasure because I felt like I was cheating on WSM when I listened. I’ve been outta the radio listening loop for too long to have heard about House retiring but can’t imagine WSIX without him.

  • Thought Taylor had a nice/quick comeback in the clip of her interview.

    As far as what came out of the mouths of what Lady A guys and Rucker, I think I’d rather jam a pen in my ear than hear their opinions on anything.

    • You can watch a lot of his big interviews on YouTube. A lot of them are about as excruciating as watching grass grow, just because so many of these artists are so calculating. But his interview with Taylor was not terrible. It probably helps that they’re sort of from the same generation, but they had some good chemistry.

  • …and so even more and more people stopped listening music on terrestrial radio. The End.

  • My mom actually cried a good bit when Gerry House retired. Man, she was upset. The rest of the family was kinda weirded out by it.

    Never heard of this guy.

  • It seems to me that traditional radio is doomed, even the mega media conglomerates. I’m pretty old (69) and haven’t listed to a mainstream radio station in decades. I do listen to our local NPR music offering (MPR The Current) when I’m driving. And, Bill DeVille has an Americana segment I rarely miss. But at home I stream either Pandora, Soundcloud or iTunes Radio. When I put in “The Time Jumpers,” or “Western Swing” as the search term the resulting custom programing is quite good. I can even enter “The Cactus Blossoms” (watch this when you have a moment:!2893082978001) and get good results. My kids showed me these new streams to get the music I want. Younger folks don’t listen to much conventional radio…. they stream. Same for video.

    • I think that’s where Bobby Bones comes in, trying to entice a younger, more hip audience. And it appears to be working, at least to some extent, despite radio’s overall gradual decline.

    • Bill Deville’s “United States of Americana” is a fantastic program. The Current is great too,it’s basically the only radio station i bother with anymore.

  • I haven’t listened to radio of any genre in years, and this guy isn’t going to change that.

  • I always wondered if Hank 3 was referring to WSIX when he sang about “98.1” on Straight to Hell. It’s called “The Big 98″ but it’s call letters are actually 97.9.

    • I thought the same when I heard it.

  • This is obviously not a good thing but I’m not sure it would matter as much if all these local stations didn’t play the same songs. I’ve never heard this guy but I’ve never been into the whole wacky morning zoo type radio shows so I never listened to the local guys either.

    And the other question I have is how is this different than satellite radio? I listen to the Roadhouse channel on Sirius/XM all the time and they have Dallas Wayne in Austin and Wade Jessen in Nashville so they are basically doing the same thing. This is obviously true of most if not all of the music channels on SXM.

    Maybe this is just one of those things that happens as times change.

    • When the whole radio consolidation debate comes up, a lot of people say, “Hell, just get satellite, or stream a station online.” But as you point out, this doesn’t get to the fundamental problem of consolidation, which is the lack of regional flavor on the radio format. This isn’t just about giving us stuff we want to listen to. Local and regional radio help support local and regional artists, are able to get the word out about local shows and events that including developing talent. All of this is lost with national programming, regardless of where you get it.

      • I see your point, but I really felt like I ever got regional flavor on my local country stations, when I listened to country radio. I’m sure there are a few stations in Nashville, Athens, Austin etc., but I’ve lived four Southern States and the country music stations played the same stuff in everywhere, and none of them were owned by ClearChannel. I remember when I first began to get into Texas Country in college, I found some internet radio station (this was pre-pandora, forgot what it was called) which played Texas Country and I discovered a lot of great artists that way.

        I don’t think the internet prevents localization in this sense.

        Also there was syndication before the Telecommunications act, so it’s not like Bobby Bones couldn’t exist without it.

        • Yeah it feels like you have to go back a couple decades to find radio stations in major markets that were really locally flavored, at least in the area I live in. It’s not like that many major market stations pre-TA were locally owned (though some were) there just wasn’t the Clear Channels and Cumulus’ of the world owning entire groups of stations in every major market.

          I also think that some of what has happened is these corporations have done their market research and found that their listeners don’t look to radio stations for this kind of local flavor like they did in pre internet days. Instead it’s Facebook and Twitter where people find out about new music. Especially for the casual busy music fan who doesn’t scour the internet for the latest new acts.

  • Sad really but a victim of the rise of clear channel (main radio mover of the monogenere) is the local DJ. Just a few locally owner Texas Red dirt stations exist but I fear for their longevity going foward. Thanks goodness alternatives exist because ofr the internet and satellite..

  • These kind of things all result in centralized power like any good dictatorship model. Cause that’s what this is.

    a form of monopoly capitalism.

    I expect that they would be very happy to be the only radio network. cha ching.

    Centralized control, and more and more more money to less people. And no choice for the listener. Or the artist.

    There actually was a time, when radio play was based on people requesting a singer, or a song.

    This makes it harder for local musicians, performers, songwriters, to get anywhere.

    Now they all have to run to Nashville, and beg. Cause all of the power, control, and money is centralized.

    You’re better off buying a lottery ticket.

    Less people listen to radio, but lots still do.

    Thanks, gonna link this article elsewhere if that’s ok.

  • I didn’t know Gerry House retired. I listened to him every morning while getting ready for and driving to school in Hopkinsville Kentucky in the 90’s. As for Bones, never heard of him.
    With the rise in satellite and internet radio subscriptions, I can’t really see him or any traditional radio DJ having an impact on music genres much longer. We are staring to see artists finding initial exposure on non-traditional air waves before securing spins on the FM stations. Just like download charts, Internet and Satellite radios are starting to influence what the traditional radios play.

  • Didn’t like him when he was in Austin on KISS, don’t like him now.

  • Hell I thought he still did his show out of Austin, I guess the station makes it sound like that sometimes with the little commercials he does between segments about local Austin stuff. Don’t like his show at all, they spend 80% of the time rambling on about the most stupid stuff. They talk about stuff that I am sure is popular with the Kardashian reality TV world crowd and then the other 20% is basically spent playing crap music. I don’t get it, because to me the show is not funny or entertaining at all.

  • If you have a legit country album there’s nothing you can do except go on this guys show and then talk about how much you like him if you want to be a main stream artist. The big stage has a really heavy toll these days (your self respect and dignity). Maybe it’s possible to ignore people like this and still have a big main stream country career??

    The only country station talk show I listen to anymore is Hawkeye and Doresey on 96.3 in Dallas Fort Worth. They’ve been on the air for maybe 25 years now (although mostly they talk about the news). Not sure if they’re syndicated or not.

  • While not a fan, I don’t hate Bobby Bones. When the sports talk stations are on commercial break during my long morning commute, I have definitely lingered for a minute or two on his show. None of Nashville’s three major FM country stations are worth a s**t. They all have the same playlist.

    What I REALLY find objectionable on WSIX is some show/gimmick that they air on Fridays at 5 PM. Given WSIX’s ownership, I would imagine that this is some syndicated nationwide programming but I certainly could be wrong. At 5 PM on Fridays, they have a DJ put beats beneath the top pop country hits. I’m talking techno beats under Gary Allen, for example. It’s beyond awful. Almost indescribably bad.

    • WSIX is horrible.

  • I know it may have its issues but in alot of ways NPR radio can pick up some of the slack from the mono-genre dreck played on Cumulus and Clear Channel. Here in NY if you want country your only over-the-air choices are NASH or NPR. Whatever your view is of the stereotypical NPR listener it is the only station around here that actually plays Brandy Clark, Valerie June and Caitlin Rose from time to time. With a hat-tip to Donald Rumsfield, you have to get in the car with the radio you have, not the radio you wish you had.

  • Bobby Bones and the rest of the Austin morning talk shows were the reason I got satellite radio. I hear no difference now except a pop jockey trying to be pop country.

  • This is another one of those examples where a big conglomerate screws an established personality and brings out a young punk who does nothing but probably steals bits from other morning shows.

    Great example, for a few years I used to listen to a morning show that was based out of Dallas, TX and used to have an affiliate on the rock station KEGL in Dallas prior to me listening to that show (btw it was called the Lex and Terry Show). Prior to me listening to Lex and Terry, KEGL was listed Number 5 in the ratings in Dallas but consecutively held the Number 1 Spot in their original home-base of Jacksonville, FL. Naturally you would think that ratings like that would keep a show like Lex and Terry on both Dallas and Jacksonville Airwaves right?

    WRONG ANSWER!!! Prior to me listening to Lex and Terry, Clear Channel unceremoniously plucked them out of both KEGL and WWJK even though both stations were high in the ratings. As a result, KEGL is practically dead last right now and WWJK is now a BOB station (kinda like what we have out in Gulfport, MS)

    Lex and Terry to me are the greatest examples of what Clear Channel thinks of success. They don’t give a flying crap about it.

    FYI: How I was able to listen to Lex and Terry you can thank USTREAM for that. I don’t listen to them anymore because one of the shows castmembers has been acting like a whiny ass and they won’t get rid of him.

  • When Bobby Bones was a DJ in Austin, he was that polished pop loving DJ that played the new ke$ha, Britany Spears, and Pitbull song over and over to the point of bleeding ears and crying eyes. So disappointed that he is the “new face of country music radio”. The shear fact that one morning I’ll turn on my radio and hear Taylor Swifts “I knew you were trouble” on country radio and the next he legitimately has an indie pop band in studio just cause he’s “into it”. Bobby Bones if that’s what you wanna here, come back to Austin and get back on 96.7 and off of my country music radio.

  • By the spring of 2015, Bobby Jones will be the morning show on all of Clear Channel’s country stations and perhaps some non-Clear Channel country outlets (other than those owned by Cumulus, where Blair Garner’s syndicated show has mornings).

  • In a country that has made the Kardashians famous, it shouldn’t surprise me (but it still does) that bobby bones is taking over the country music airwaves. So I guess I’ve given up on having my local DJ back in the mornings. I’m not giving in though. I’ll do what I do when the Kardashians come on, I’ll change the channel.

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